Thursday, March 19, 2009


A few weeks ago, Booking Through Thursday, asked the following question:

Have you ever been put off by an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse - a biography has made you love an author more?

And it lead me to think that I had a question of my own. Do you often read the author's biography?

I know that I try to read the author's bio if there is one in my book, however, I never do until the end of the story. So, if I liked the book, a bio has never made me change my mind and dislike it. However, they sometimes make me understand the story more, like in the case of Charles Dickens writings. And when I found out that Herman Melville had spent time as a whaler, it gave a new insight to the story of Moby Dick. So,personally, I really like to find out more about the author, but I prefer to find out that info, after I've started the book rather than before.

So for this months in between question, answer any of the above questions, however I'd also like to pose the question, would you like an Author Post every month? - A post about the author of the current months book's author? I don't mind relaying the information that I find about the authors every month, however, if no one else will want to read them then I won't bore you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Very Close Race and Some Questions

Apparently I chose three very interesting books to decided between for April's book. By one vote the winner is:

Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne.

However, all three books received more than one vote, which has lead me to ask some questions that have been on my mind lately:

About 2 weeks ago, I started looking into the book choices for next years time frame, and to be honest I'm having a hard time coming up with enough classic novels, and I've been wondering how to remedy the situation.

Here are my ideas for fixes so far and I would appreciate your inputs.

1. We can have an assigned book, instead of voting. (for example we could say Jan. book IS the Odyssey, by Homer- no voting)

2. We can have both books and authors to vote on. (for example in Jan we can read the Illiad by Homer, however in Feb. the topic will be Plato and you comment on which ever of his works you found and read that month during discussion time. This is a much more you have to do some work alternative.)

3. We can combine the Ancient-400 time frame with the 400-1600 time frame. (getting through all of these books in one year instead of two.)

4. We can spend the first 3-6 months of 2010 continuing this years era and read some of the books that have narrowly escaped the votes, like: Great Expectations, Les Miserables, Bleakhouse, The House of Seven Gables, and others that I'm sure will come close later this year, etc. before moving on to the ancients the second half of the year.

I realize that you have all been very kind in letting me run the show since I took over for Mrs. Brooke, however, I really do want you to feel like this is YOUR book club too. So please let me know your feelings about how we should keep the group going next year.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Whale of a Tale

Forgive me for posting a little late today. I had lots of notes to go through.

I realize that this was a long and and tedious book, and that it didn't have a happily ever after sort of ending. But for very personal reasons I took a lot away from this book. You see, my hubby is retired from the Coast Guard. I am married to a sailor and almost immediately I was drawn to the similarities between the sailors of old and the sailors of today. So I hope that you won't mind that a lot of my thoughts are what I took away and learned about my own sailor.

It started in the 1st paragraph of the book when he spoke of wanting to knock peoples hat's into the street, and following funerals, etc. I'm sure that it was meant to make us laugh and get the point across that he got bored on land. My husband very easily gets cabin fever though. And it made me giggle to know that it is a common trait in his profession. And while he is content to move on with his life and is glad that he has more time to spend with his family, I know that he very much misses parts of his military life, especially the ocean.

When he spoke of all roads leading to the sea and other such comparisons to water. I thought it was a little strange and then he says, " Why upon first voyage as passenger did you yourself feel such a Mystical vibration..." And I was immediately taken back to my first time on the open ocean. My husbands ship did a day pleasure cruise for the crews family and it was "mystical". I saw a humpback whale. I felt the roll of the waves and how endless the water felt. I got to go on deck and seethe areas of the ship, all the instruments and steer the boat. It's a memory that I will never forget and I have an understanding of how some could find it addicting. The same statement also made me think of Robinson Crusoe and how addicted he was to the sea even after all the times the deity had stepped in to intervene for him, he couldn't stop himself from going back.

I giggled out loud when she said he always went to sea as a sailor, not a passenger and never as an officer. My husband used to have a saying, "Don't call me sir, I work for a living." He too, was enlisted his whole carrier, never an officer. And when in the book he says, "Why pay to doing something that I can get paid to do?" I wondered if the cruise that my hubby and I always talk about going on would really bring him any fun or happiness.
I think that T (my husband) would also very much agree when he said that "The commodore on the quarter deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle." I knew very quickly that the real work is done by those lower on the totem pole and that those in charge were only as good as their crew.

My favorite quote of the whole book was on page 15 in my copy. "The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah, how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!" So true.

The next likeness that I saw to T was when he spoke of what made him think to try whaling this time around. He speaks of the danger and the unknown. "With other men perhaps such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror and could still be social with it- would they let me- since it is well to be on friendly terms with the inmates of the place one lodges in." My T wanted to travel so much more in his military career than we did. He wanted to go over seas. See new places and cultures. meet with new people and experiences. I was the one that was a scaredy cat about it and begged him to stay in the states. He isn't afraid to take on new challenges and he handles bad times with coolness and calm. 20/20 hindsight, I know that we'd have been fine anywhere.

I was immediately drawn into the story of Queequeg. And took many favorite quotes from that aspect of the story too.
"What's all this fuss I have been making about... the man's a human being just as I am... Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."

I learned to think of closure differently when it spoke of those left behind when loved ones died at sea. "Oh ye, whose dead be buried beneath the green grass... You know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these." I realize that seeing a casket put in the ground or having a grave to go to, does bring peace to some and that peace is taken away if there is no body to bury and to know that it isn't even resting peacefully, it's being devoured. I feel for those that aren't able to find the peace that they need to overcome such a heartache.

I also like how he could subtly mention his religious beliefs. I don't think that he was the type of person to say he belonged to a certain religion, but the way he felt about Queequeg and other things he said proved that he did hold faith in a higher power.
"In fact take my body, who will, take it... me thinks my body is but less of my better being..."
(when speaking of the preachers sermon:) "Who to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty!...Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness."
"You cannot hide the soul."
"...for I cherish the greatest respect towards every bodies religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to under value even a congregation of ants worshipping a toadstool..." I wish that the world as a whole could be more like this. If we could all learn to love each other as creatures of earth instead of different religions there would be much more peace.

"The world is a ship on it's passage out and not a passage complete, and the pulpit is it's prow." It reminded me a little of, "All the world's a stage..." but with an more religious undertone.

I LOVE that he and Queequeg became friends over a book! I was also struck with how Ishmael admired how Queequeg was so okay by himself, yet after one good visit and a smoke he embraced him and swore allegiance even to death for their friendship. I think it proves that everyone is happier when not alone. Even those who seem content by themselves, appreciate true, unjudgemental, friendship.

It also brought to my mind that there is something to be said about friends that you live with. T often called his shipmates his brothers. They became as dear as family and they trusted each other with their lives and that is a special friendship indeed.

When speaking of warmth: "for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast." It reminded me of the saying that without sadness there can be no happiness. And I appreciated him trying to teach and express that.

From Queequeg's story, I re-learned that there is evil in all parts of the world. Queequeg was surprised by how the "Christian" sailors spent their time and money. And that made me sad, that, this had to be his first example of Christianity. -What kind of example am I to those around me? There is always some one watching. And as Ishmael said:
"...Heaven have mercy on us all- Presbyterians and Pagans alike- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."

On a totally different note. I can not imagine having to pack for a 3 year trip! The thought of all that would entail, made my head hurt.

I also really like the 'Honor of Whaling' chapter. While I definitely don't agree with the practise, I realized how many jobs are looked down upon. It made me glad that shows like Dirty Jobs are out there trying to bring them some praise.

The 'Cetology' chapter also made me laugh and spoke of the true character of some people. He lists all the reasons that science gives for classifying whales as mammals instead of fish and then says that he still thinks they're fish! Some people are so stubborn and nothing can be said to change their thinking or their ways.

On the same note however, I am one who is fascinated by sea life, especially the marine mammals, so I loved how he argued the name killer "For we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and sharks included." I make my kids call them orcas.

It was at about this point in the book that I discovered that I think this book was as much Melville's forum for voicing his views on politics and life, as it was to tell a story.

The following quote jumped out at me. "For not only do fabulous rumors naturally grow out of the very body of all surprising terrible events... but in maritime life... wild rumors abound." We know where "fish stories" came from, by his own admission and I couldn't help thinking if that wasn't also his way of admitting that even this story is exaggerated?

In the second half of the Moby Dick chapter when he speaks of Ahab, his revenge is so well described and so obvious that it had taken over not just his life but his soul. I knew then and there that this was a dangerous man to be with.

In the Whiteness of the Whale chapter, I had never likened so many symbols to a single color. I was awed by all the examples of white that he had. Yes he rambles a bit but it was interesting to me.

His advice, "... be economical with your lamps and candles.! Not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it." stuck with me as well. Certain fisheries are still one of the most dangerous industries, but it made me think about how many other things do we take for granted as conveniences that weren't convenient to get?

With the first whale sighting and him describing what the different heads did to get their men to row, I loved what he said about Ahab, "These were words best omitted here..." They were fit only for the sharks. This is why I love the classics. He very clearly painted the picture that Ahab 'cursed like a sailor' without having to pollute our minds with that filth. I was a little disappointed later in the book when their were a couple of words I'd have preferred not to read, but over all I was very thankful for him sparing me the worst of them. Something that today's books and movies don't feel they need to do.

I also had a smile brought to my face in the Monstrous Pictures of Whales chapter. To hear of all the terrible artwork he had seen of "whales" I can see how it must have been so frustrating to someone who had seem them up close and personal to see others so poorly educated about them and it made me appreciate that I live in a time of cameras and videos that allow me to see the truth of more creatures and their lifestyles.

At this point in the book, I must admit that even I was acknowledging that Yes, Moby Dick is full of un-needed chapters. However in the Line chapter, it reminded me that it is only through these bits of over explanatory parts that history is recorded. In reading classics such as these we have a picture painted of how life really worked. Of exactly how things were set up and done. So that we can now see how a couple of small boats with six men in them could really catch and kill and tow a whale without killing each other. It does seem mundane to you and I, I found myself thinking 'get on with the story already' but it's because of details like this that we know so much about the past.

His view of how they could do such a dangerous job struck me. "All men live enveloped in whale lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale boat, you would not at heart feel one more whit of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side." I think many do feel that way. Life is dangerous no matter what, and you can either be scared of it, or live it.

In Stubb's Chapter. I can't imagine how hard and tiring it must have been to tow in that whale. The fatigue must have been unbearable. Especially since you would have already been so tired from getting to it and killing it in the first place. What strong, strong men! And then to have sharks eat so much of that hard work! It must have seemed heartbreaking.
I also earned a strong dislike for Stubb though. With the way he gloated and how he treated the "old black man"... I wanted to smack him. And I think we learned later that he was a total follower without much of a backbone, compared to Starbuck.

Another totally random quote that will only mean something to me is when he asked? "Do you believe in Ghosts." I have it on very good authority that Sailors are the most superstitious beings on earth! And that there are many a haunted lighthouses along the coasts.

It sounds cheesy, but I almost cried when Queequeg jumped in to save Tashtego from drowning in the whale. Melville really won me over and I loved Queequeg. My heart is sad for all the ill that came to him. Life is certainly not fair.

The "Old Whale" chapter very much upset me. They already had two whales the Jungfrau (other ship) had none. They capsized the other ships boat and leave them there, and then they kill an old whale that had been abused it's whole life and it sinks! What a waste. Such a sad reminder that there is pride and greediness everywhere. I was just sick for that poor old whale. Couldn't even die peacefully in his old age. AND the trick on the other French ship was horrible. Yes they may have been the means for killing some of those whales, but there were rules and that is part of the job and they were underhanded and dirty about it. I guess that's what they mean by a 'dog eat dog world'.

I've heard that even now, fishermen do their own dental work while out at sea, but the Carpenter chapter made my stomach churn a little. He must have been a very talented and busy man though. I had much respect for him.

Queequeg stole my heart again when he said, "..if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him..." I've know people like that and their strength and determination astound me. I hope that I can learn to be more like that.
On a separate note. After learning what they used as dental and doctoring skills and knowing that true bathing isn't really an option. I think it's a miracle that the whole crew didn't come down with the fever.

My heart also felt so sorry for little Pip. It's amazing what our own minds can do to us after a traumatic event. It's probably also a wonder that they didn't all lose their minds too. (which also made me think back to the man that followed them around at the beginning of the story. I know he was meant to be their omen, but I wouldn't have believed the crazy loon either. I'd have just thought, he'd had one to many voyages of his own.)

The Blacksmith's story was also very sad. Oh, the vile alcohol, it is indeed a robber. I thought that was a beautiful analogy. It does strip so many of all they hold dear. And it made me wonder, how many men joined crews because they thought they wouldn't make it back home? Is that really the kind of mate you want sleeping next to you knowing that your lives could depend on each other? Scary indeed.
When the Blacksmith answers Ahab, "Because I am scorched all over... thou can not scorch a scar." I don't think he was just talking literally. I think that he was referring as much to his soul as to his skin.

When Ahab gives him his razor blades and says," Take them man, I have no need for them for I now neither shave, sup nor pray..." I knew that he had been completely taken over and this was not going to end well. By his own admission, Starbuck was right and "Ahab must beware of Ahab."

A quote that really struck me was the following: "Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe. I'd like all of your thoughts on this one. I think it can be taken in so many ways.

Ahabs speech/prayer/threat in the typhoon gave me the willies much more than any of Queequegs Idol worship. No wonder Starbuck thought that God was trying to tell them something. Especially when he thought that the winds could be used in their favor to get back home.

So shortly later when Starbuck was faced with the thought of murder I understood it. It seemed he was the only one listening to Providence. He knew that by letting Ahab live, it would be their death, but as a good Christian man, he could not commit murder. I would have felt the same way and did not envy his position. What would you do?

Disgust is the only word I can find for describing how I felt when they( Ahab) would not stop for one day to help the ship Rachel. But I must say also that I wanted to know, what the heck a 12 year old was doing on a whaling ship!?

When I learned that Ahab had been 40 years a whaler and only three of those years had been spent on land, my first thought was, no wonder the guy went crazy when he lost his leg. Some people just don't have their priorities in order.
But shortly later when he said, "Omen? Omen?.... If God thinks to speak outright to man, they will honorably speak outright....." Then I realize the fact was that his real problem was that he never learned how to recognize the voice of God, or he'd let his revenge take over and forgotten.

Starbucks tears as he begged Ahab not to lower his boat the final time, touched me. To this point the only character I had really learned to care for was Queequeg, but as Ahab had himself lowered anyway and I saw that Starbuck truly cared for this man he knew to be a monster and did not wish him harm. I knew that he was indeed a good man and I felt for the heartbreak he must be feeling.

I personally felt that the story ended quite abruptly, especially after so many of the other parts seemed to go on forever. I hurt when it was Queequegs coffin that saved Ishmael and I realized that he really had been inspired both to have it made and to have it turned into a buoy. It made me sad all over again that his sweet life and Starbucks were taken because of the acts of a terrible man. And it was ironic indeed that it was the Rachel that came to his rescue.

While it didn't in any way, I think, have a happy ending. I do see why it's such a classic. There are so many life lessons that can be learned through this story. Lessons in history, religion, love of your fellow man and pride and revenge. And while it was a hard on to get through, especially in one months time, I think that I am better off for reading it.

Well, I think I've rambled long enough, now the discussion turns to you. What did you think/learn of Moby Dick?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Got Time?

So, I think this is the longest book we've read so far and I know that most were having a hard time getting through it. Will we all be ready by Thurs. or do you want to postpone the discussion until the 10th-15th?

(Normal schedule will still apply, for March's book.)