Monday, November 28, 2005

BOOKS: Moby Dick and Other Books I Will Never Read

Blah blah blah I've read this book blah blah and that book blah blah blah that book was okay blah that one sucked blah blah.

Here at 50 Books HQ, I'm always going on about books I've read and books I'd like to read. How about books I will probably never -- for various poorly formed reasons -- ever read?

You know what I'm talking about. Not the plethora of mediocre books that are published every year and rapidly scuttle along the literary food chain to the remainder bin. I'm talking about the Important Books you always believed that, as a book lover, you'd get around to, but somehow the fire has died. And you're one hundred percent cool with that.

Rusty, it's James Joyce's Ulysses. He got a copy back when we were English students, even though it wasn't required reading, and it's been hanging around his neck ever since. He packed it across the country when we moved from Ontario to BC. He even schlepped this huge book all over Thailand and Cambodia in his backpack, thinking that hours of lying in beachside hammocks would finally give him the necessary time to savour and digest Joyce's prose.

I recently asked him what he ended up doing with all those hours.

"Break hammocks," he replied.

(True fact: Rusty wore out three hammocks at one guest house. When he finally packed up to come home, the owner hugged him and said it was like watching a piece of the furniture get up and leave. He still considers this one of the most touching things anyone has ever said to him.)

Rusty finally said goodbye to
Ulysses -- with fond memories and no regrets -- during the Great Book Purge of '05. I got rid of some albatrosses of my own. And good riddance, I say. Here are a few.

The Last Temptation of Christ by Niko Kazantakis
I think I only got this book because it came out at a time when, for me, bugging Christians seemed like a fun, anti-establishment activity. I like a revisionist retelling as much as anybody (I've eaten up Not Wanted on the Voyage, Wide Sargasso Sea, and most of Gregory Maguire's novels with a postmodern spoon), but I just never got fired up enough to read it. You might say I wasn't tempted. Ha! Ergh.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Same deal here. And then I heard it wasn't even that great, at least not compared to Rushdie's other work. I feel kind of guilty for not caring enough about a book that caused its author to go into hiding for years... but obviously not guilty enough.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I used to have this super-impressive old hardcover edition of
Moby Dick, and I think I started to fear and resent it. It sat there on my shelf, unread and judging me in leather-clad stentorian tones. Well, you know what, Mr. Melville? I've already read The Old Man and the Sea, and I think I've had my fill of "the fish was HOW big?" stories.* At least Hemingway had the decency to make his short.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles (or anything else by
Thomas Hardy, for that matter)
Dude, I've already ploughed through the unexpurgated edition of Clarissa. And I've read The Mill on the Floss. How many spirited-young-woman-of-virtue-violated-and-wronged classic novels am I expected to read in one lifetime? And why do I suspect that the popularity of same in the canon is someone's attempt to send me a message?

David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, etc., etc.
I've read my share of
Dickens: Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pickwick Papers, and of course A Christmas Carol. And that feels like enough to me. Any more and I'd have to bust out my fake Cockney accent, and nobody wants that.

Dune by Frank Herbert
A few years ago, Rusty insisted that I at least attempt to read
Dune. I tried, but there's just some bad writing in there. It's the tragedy of most science fiction: fabulous plots, terrible prose. I know there are some folks out there, and I salute you, who can overlook the latter in appreciation of the former. I am not one of them.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Look, I've seen the movie and have no idea why it was such a smash, so I'm really puzzled by the success of the book. (Depending on whom you ask, it's the second-biggest fiction bestseller of all time... yes, even beating out all the
Harry Potter books.) I know you're never supposed to judge a book based on the film, but in this case I'm going to go with my gut.

The Bible
You laugh, but in my younger days -- like, when I was around ten -- I had a plan to read the Bible in, I believe, under a year. A certain number of chapters per day, books per month, etcetera. It all fell apart when I got to Exodus. I may not have wandered forty years in the desert, but it sure felt like it. All those "begats" and lists upon lists of rules. ("Thou shalt not wear linen with wool"?) They beat me. Since then, I've read some of the books -- Psalms, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, parts of Corinthians 1 and 2, and of course Job and Revelation -- but randomly. Reading the Bible cover to cover? It ain't gonna happen. I don't care how hip they make Jesus.

*Yes, I know that whales are not fish.


Kay said...

The reviews for the EXTREME!!!! Teen Bible are pretty effing hilarious.
"Make no mistake! This bible is filled with so much EXTREMENESS that you'll become THE person to talk to at your high school when the entire cheerleading squad wants to know about how Judas betrayed Jesus. This bible will change your life. It will transform you from a nerdy overweight dork to a stunning slick-haired hunk almost instantly."

Sharpie said...

Oh, even better than that extreme bible is Revolve, the Bible as fashion magazine. Truly brilliant, in a "people take this shit seriously?" way.

Tammy said...

Oh my god, Kay, you're right. I can't believe I didn't read them earlier! My favourite so far:

"Halfway through John's Gospel and already I knew I wasn't extreme enough for this book. JC filled me with an urge to snowboard down the Rockies while screaming "screw you Satan" during my run. I almost ran out and got WWJD tatooed on my forehead. Man, that woulda been extreme. So instead I settled for some Extreme Mountain Dew and Yogurt bars while I played Tony Hawk pulling off my signature move (you guessed it), Christ Air.

But I'm not giving up on JC, oh hell no. I may not be Extreme enough for the Extreme Bible, but wait until the "Holy Bible: IM Version (LOL)" comes out. I'm all over that. Christ and I will be ROFLing at all you sinners as we chat it up. OMG I can't wait! Ok, gtg ttyl lol!!!111"

Essy said...

In school I had a list of authors-I-wished-death-upon. I used to take great pleasure in crossing off the ones who were already dead.

I realise I didn't kill him personally, but being able to cross out Nathaniel Hawthorne all 'Ha! Take that Mr. Anvils O' Symbolism' still felt like a victory.

Hardy was on the list initially, but removed when I realised his short stories didn't annoy me like the novels did.

Anonymous said...

I read Tess for a huge paper I wrote as an was okay. But I have never read one word of Dickens -- and that includes in that Crick class "The Novel" in fourth year when Bleak House was assigned toward the end of the year. I knew I wasn't doing a paper or a seminar on it and I knew there wasn't an exam, so I skipped it. But I did crack the spine to front like I hadn't.

Tammy said...

See, Wing? This is another example of your superior studenting skills. I don't even remember Bleak House being assigned. I could make a shortlist of novels I faked my way through for that class. After Bleak House comes Tom Jones...

Do you think Crick knew? Or was he too beleagured to even care?

Anonymous said...

I think that the mouth-breathers in that class probably depressed him so much that he would have let us skate by on a lot less gold-bricking than we actually did. God bless that man.

Anonymous said...

Don't judge Gone With the Wind based upon the movie. In comparison to the book, the movie sucks wind (ha ha). I've read GWTW too many times to count and it's the best book I've ever read each time. Trust me, you'll love it.
I had the same goal in HS about the Bible too - and Exodus is right about where I gave up as well. Begat this.

Shirky said...

I have a coworker who carries a laminated card bearing a quote from Moby Dick in his wallet. I only wish I knew what the quote was, the better to mock him.

Tammy said...

Well. See now, Jodeci and Monty? Now you're making me regret my decision. You're making it very difficult for me to trumpet my opinions with the ignorant conviction I crave.

And Shirky? Where do you work? I have to come by and punch your co-worker in the nose.

Anonymous said...

I'm talking about the Important Books you always believed that, as a book lover, you'd get around to, but somehow the fire has died. And you're one hundred percent cool with that.

Totally. I just recently had my own "Great Book Purge of '05" and took well over a hundred books to the local used bookstore (gaining $200 in credit). Quite a few were of the "No respectable bibliophile would be caught without this on their bookshelf" variety. One of them was Ulysses. No clue why I bought that in the first place. I did read Tess a few years ago, and it wasn't half bad. The bitch kind of got on my nerves, though.

Tammy said...

"I did read Tess a few years ago, and it wasn't half bad. The bitch kind of got on my nerves, though."


Antipodean, I won't just pray for you. I'll light a candle for you.

Anonymous said...

Oh good, someone else who does not plan to read Moby Dick. After making my way through Billy Budd I just couldn't take any more Melville on the seafaring life.

If you've survived Clarissa, there's a bit in Thus Was Adonis Murdered, by Sarah Caudwell, that you'll enjoy. (The Caudwell books aren't great literature, but they're delightful reads.)

Lisa said...

Those darned begats get me everytime, too!

Moby Dick was a right of passage in my high school. It was on the summer reading list for Miss Adams's class and had been for eternity. I read it during downtime at my summer job and would have people of all ages saying, "You must have Miss Adams."

I have so many books that I bought because I thought I ought to read them and never have.

Caro said...

Aw, c'mon! I liked Moby Dick! All that running around dressed as a whale penis and holding hands in the sperm cracks me up when I think of the fact that my dad read it to me when I was nine and he kinda glossed over that part. Also, it's a real immersion into a different world.

Tammy said...

Caro said:

"All that running around dressed as a whale penis and holding hands in the sperm..."

Whuh? Seriously? Are you sure you aren't thinking of the movie Moby Dick 2: The Sperminator?

BabelBabe said...

satanic verses is BRILLIANT but sweet jesus, it's a lot of work. read ground beneath her feet or midnight's children instead.

have read ulysses (for a class) - yawn.

tess - oh for god's sake, woman, grow a backbone! she made me NUTS. much prefer wharton to hardy :)

and gwtw - total beach read. never seen the film but the book was total fluff!

Em said...

I think my dad gave me a copy of the extreme bible or something very similar to it. I recognize the bright colours and radical fonts. All I remember was there were colour pages every so often that explained the Bible's position on various topics related to teens. It was like Bible Cole's notes. And I read Revelations when I get bored...and then I start looking for signs of the Apocalypse and start getting paranoid about my soul.

Caro said...

Hah! I don't make this stuff up. The truth is too amusing to my inner 12-year old:

From Chapter 95:

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!

Tammy said...

Well, all I have to say to that is "Ewwww." I mean, I love gay porn as much as the next girl, but there's a limit.

Anonymous said...

I had to put Moby Dick down when I got to the sperm squeezing bit I was laughing so much. Actually I laughed pretty much every time there was 'sperm' without 'whale' right after it, there's just so many possibilities....