Moby-Dick; Or, The Marathon

Brendan O'Connor in The Oyster Review:

Moby dickIt can be hard to talk about reading a book like Moby-Dick without sounding like, well, kind of a dick. The book has taken on a cultural significance that outweighs its admittedly hefty pages; it is a status symbol, and having read it a signifier of a particular status. You read Moby-Dick and you have evidence that you are a person of taste and some intellectual fortitude. Of course, the trouble with having read a book—rather than being in the midst of reading it—is that you needn't carry it around anymore, and if you're not carrying it around anymore, how is anyone to know that you've read it? Troubling thoughts, these.

I've only read Moby-Dick once, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. Most of it I read on a vacation that took places almost entirely on the water, in warm places. I thought there was something clever about this. (Like I said, it was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college.) I finished the book some weeks later, sitting in a diner in Southborough, MA on a day off from the summer camp I was working at, far from open water and anyone with whom I might have felt comfortable sharing my excitement about the book. I do not believe there to have been anything disingenuous about the excitement I felt as I finished the book, muttering over and over again to myself, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” But how to share that feeling with someone else? “I just finished Moby-Dick,” is never not going to sound like bragging, even if the idea is just to try to bring someone else aboard. The canon is like that, I think. There are books—and films and works of visual art and pieces of music and whatever, really—that come to be ruined by their own context.

Read the rest here.