Melville the Blogger?
I have yet again started reading Moby Dick and think Melville may be an early blogger. Previous attempts to finish the book stalled as the details of whales and whaling life posed walls to enjoying the book. Trying to digest all the information packed into each chapter and connecting them to the larger aspects of the book in a few sittings felt rushed and unsatisfying. This time, however, I took a different tack. I searched for some critical reviews to guide me and that helped. But the structure of the book offers the key to my current enjoyment of the book. The chapters are quite short. One can read one or perhaps two chapters a day quite easily. So just as I sometimes read short story collections (I recommend The Elephant Vanishes and Strange Pilgrims) to see a range of an author’s thoughts and complete a reading in a short time, I chose to read the book in the same way.
That is when it dawned on me that Melville’s Ishmael is similar to a blogger. Most of the chapters are first person. He seems to share whatever is on his mind. Some passages advance the story; others provide details (maybe inordinate details) about rather peculiar interests. Blogs often have a single topic. They offer one person’s view of the topic and sometimes wander into musings about the world and the universe. One can read them in short bursts. Over time one gains a sense of a voice, a view, and sometimes a vision. Reading Ishmael’s account of the world as he goes from the New England whaling community to the sea as a journal of what catches his eye as worth documenting freed me to enjoy the book. Taking each chapter as a discrete unit or post allowed me to appreciate the way the recitations of details had embedded observations about life. Those hidden and seemingly untethered ideas often linked to later ideas. Like a blogger’s writings some of the details may mean nothing. They may amuse or intrigue or educate for a moment. That moment passes. Still some musings, or even just a sentence in the musings, may stick and compel further thought or action. Sometimes the text may not connect with the reader. He may put down the book or stop reading the work for some time. The text remains. If the reader chooses, he can pick it up again and find that as a new reader with new experiences and understandings the text is new and speaks more directly to him. So much so that his promise of only a chapter or two a day becomes a way to savor the text and extend the time it takes to finish it which he still hopes to do.