Thar She Blows

A few weeks ago, before I had ever gotten wind that 2666 intersected with Moby Dick via a sermon by Barry Seaman resembling a sermon by Father Mapple, I found myself playing with the idea of proposing Moby Dick as the next Infinite Summer read. I’m not sure how I feel about it now, frankly. The IS crowd seems to dwindle with every book, and I now imagine myself trying in some way to lead or guide a group read only to discover that I’m the only one interested, that I’m doing the work for the benefit of no one but myself. Which would be fine (benefitting only myself), were it not public and, in its failure, embarrassing. So I thought I’d take your temperature on the matter, Internet.

I think that part of the reason Infinite Jest was such a popular read was because it was one of those books that smart people had been meaning to read forever but had put off. Here was kind of a kick in the collective pants to read the thing. I suspect that many have passed over Moby Dick as well and that a subset of those folk would enjoy doing a group read of it. Misery loves company, I guess. (Though there’s not much of misery in reading Moby Dick. I don’t understand why people don’t like it or think they won’t like it. You’ll watch an hour of How It’s Made or follow over the course of several months the labors of the Sea Sheperd or of the ships on Deadliest Catch, but you can’t bring yourself to read this dramatic, tender book that encompasses elements of those shows, but in high literary style and with humor, passion, and compassion?)

Another thing that made Infinite Jest a good pick was its emotional appeal. The people who love this book really love it. Many who give it a chance wind up feeling emotional about it. Moby Dick is one of my favorite books, but I don’t feel emotional about it in the way that I do with Infinite Jest. So maybe that’s a strike against Moby Dick‘s shot at being a successful group read selection.

What do you think? If I were to line up a schedule and see if I could find the occasional guest writer or define a set of themes, a la Matt, to track, would you be interested in participating? Or should I just read at my own pace and blog my thoughts if and when inclined?

23 thoughts on “Thar She Blows

  1. David Savarese February 25, 2010 / 12:26 pm

    I didn’t finish it the first time I tried, and probably wouldn’t with or without support.

    Pushing for Gravity’s Rainbow.

    – D. Savarese

    • Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 12:57 pm

      Thanks for your honesty, David. A group did a GR read right after the Infinite Jest read last summer, so you may be a smidge late. I’ve read GR (after several false starts over several years), but I’m not sure I’m man enough to lead that group. 🙂

  2. David Savarese February 25, 2010 / 1:19 pm

    Alack alack alack.

  3. Joan February 25, 2010 / 1:42 pm

    Hey Daryl,

    I’m also one of the people who list Moby Dick as an all time favorite and I think I would enjoy reading it again. I first read it with a book club and I was the only one in the club to finish – absolutely loved it. But I’d have to give some serious thought to doing it again in the near future given all of the other books piling up. But if you want to go for it I say yes!

    And a very quick apology here – I haven’t vanished and I am drafting up a short post for the blog. I am basically brain dead for various reasons which are starting to be resolved and have barely kept up with the reading schedule. I haven’t even had the time/energy to keep up with the blogs! I’ll be back in the swing of things in a couple of weeks.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 2:51 pm

      Good to hear from you Joan. No worries about not posting; the pay here is such that slow output is acceptable. 😉

  4. Dan Summers February 25, 2010 / 2:28 pm

    I would probably play along with Moby Dick. But I think you’re spot-on about Infinite Jest and its emotional appeal.

    I might also try to read something light and easy between these Big Reads.

  5. Dan Summers February 25, 2010 / 2:36 pm

    PS> The ONLY way I can imagine making it through GR after several false starts (or even being willing to try again — I have a relatively dim view of Pynchon these days) would be through a fun group read like this.

  6. Lisa Grab February 25, 2010 / 2:53 pm

    I have tried and failed to read Moby Dick at least four times. It’s not that I don’t like it. I just don’t have the stamina. I would love to have it be the next book because I know I would finally finish it!

    But Gravity’s Rainbow would be great too.

  7. Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 2:57 pm

    Dan, reading Pynchon for me is something I don’t really enjoy but figure I ought to do. It’s kind of like going to the gym. I fucking hate going to the gym. There’s lots of stuff I could be doing that I’d, in the moment, prefer to be doing (e.g. sleeping). But it turns out to be good for me. My chronic back pain isn’t as bad when I’m regular about the gym, and I have more energy, and I just feel better. But I still hate it. Still, I wind up ultimately being glad I’ve been going. Pynchon offers, for me, occasional spots of brilliance and humor, but a whole lot of discomfort and disorientation (and, frankly, boredom), and I don’t enjoy a lot of the reading while I’m reading. But when I’m done, I look back and figure it was good for me and that I’m glad I did it. Might even do it again one day. The only one of his books I’ve gotten through without a false start is Against the Day.

    • Dan Summers February 25, 2010 / 4:28 pm

      Oh, my GOD. Are you serious? I managed to make it through both V. and The Crying of Lot 49, and actually enjoyed both. But Against the Day was (in my very, very humble opinion) just the pits. I still have the bookmark in it at what I call my “fuck you, Pynchon” moment. (It’s about page 300, give or take.) I figured that if I didn’t have a damned clue what the hell was going on by then, it was just not worth the trouble.

      I find it highly amusing that it’s the only one you’ve gotten through.

      • Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 5:00 pm

        Hmm, I may have stated that poorly. I’ve gotten through GR, V, TCoL49, Vineland, and AtD. I didn’t finish M&D. AtD was the only one (among the long ones) I got through without false-starting (ie, without having to start over on four or five different occasions separated usually by several years). I found parts of it very light and fun (wait, was that whimsy I just spotted in a Pynchon book?), but then he switched over to all the European intrigue — which is the stuff that gives me trouble in the other books, which is troubling because that’s pretty much all there is to GR and V — and I kind of checked out. For my money, GR is the best, but AtD, at least early on, is one of the most accessible.

  8. Terrell Williamson February 25, 2010 / 3:02 pm

    I love Moby Dick and would enjoy reading it as a group. Sorry to hear that I missed a group read of GR because it is one of my favorites as well. For everyone having trouble with GR, you might consider reading V. But then you might be accused of being like Bolaño’s young pharmacist who Amalfitano derides for not tackling the “great, imperfect, torrential works.”:)

    • Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 4:01 pm

      GR was my first try at Pynchon, I think (though I may have tried Vineland first). V was the first one I got through. (Oh, wait, I need to recant my earlier confession — I did get through Crying in one try, but it’s just a quick little waif of a thing next to Pynchon’s other books, so it hardly counts in terms of finding momentum.) I didn’t much like V while reading it either (it’s not as funny as parts of GR, if I recall correctly, though neither is it as dirty), but I’ve read a lot since and might find it more palatable if I tried it again. I was optimistic for the first 50 – 100 pages of Vineland, which I found charming, but it turned into the same old stuff after a while and began to have the usual taste of medicine. Mason & Dixon I was enjoying when I put it down; I just got sidetracked and never came back to it. Really, I don’t know that there is a good Pynchon book to start on; you can stomach it or you can’t, I think, and the parts that I find tedious or problematic in one of them I find to be more or less the same in all of them.

  9. Jeff Anderson February 25, 2010 / 3:14 pm

    I’d be all over Moby-Dick. (Funny that you should post this today, because I was just considering asking whether you’re up for another book in the future.) I think a short break would probably be well-advised, but otherwise I quite like the idea.

    And holy crap am I relieved to see that Gravity’s Rainbow is basically out of the running. More on that today or tomorrow, though. 🙂

  10. stevebrassawe February 25, 2010 / 4:09 pm

    If you determine to do Moby Dick, I’m in.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston February 25, 2010 / 4:23 pm

      Steve, I’m glad to hear it. I was afraid, having read you elsewhere, that 2666 was the end for you. 😉

  11. Todd Murry February 26, 2010 / 6:51 pm

    Moby Dick is my favorite book, period. IJ comes in second (sorry). I’d be excited to reread Moby Dick… it’s been awhile. I’d like GR too. One book I’ve read that I’d suggest is Blood Meridian, which is in my top 5, and I think would lend to all sorts of interesting discussion. Does House of Leaves need a read along (it’s sitting on my shelf… haven’t gotten to it)? Maybe the Recognitions? Trying to think of books people don’t finish, here.

    And tCoL49 is clearly the place for the intimidated Pynchon aspire-ers to start (short, has the most “handholds”).

    • Daryl L. L. Houston February 27, 2010 / 10:11 am

      Todd, House of Leaves is on my list (but not yet on my shelf). I wouldn’t mind reading Blood Meridian. I interrupted a reread of The Recognitions in order to pick up and reread 2666 again, though I really hadn’t intended. Seems you and I are on the very same wavelength. The feedback so far to my query is making me want even more to pick up Moby Dick once we’re done with 2666.

      • Jeff Anderson February 27, 2010 / 3:49 pm

        House of Leaves definitely benefits from collaborative reading, and it’s a lot of fun—I’d certainly enjoy reading it with everybody—but Moby-Dick is a more exciting idea, I think.

  12. Trent February 27, 2010 / 4:04 pm

    I’ve read Moby Dick but would love to read it again as a group read. I also just bought House of Leaves and would love the opportunity to read that for the first time as part of a group.

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