Words to live by

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

So says Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, shortly after meeting his room/bedmate, the South Seas islander Queequeg. I must say it’s a thought that’s given me pause since I heard it the other day.

If you have not already discovered it, allow me to recommend the Moby Dick Big Read, a fantastic audio project spawned by a 2011 symposium and art exhibition on the whale at Plymouth University. All 135 chapters of Melville’s classic have been read aloud and recorded, to be released for free download, one chapter a day from the middle of September to the middle of January.

I know someone whose father read her Moby Dick as a bedtime story when she was little. She recalls those evenings with warmth and fondness, and believes they instilled in her a life-long love of the sea and all things maritime. Listening to these audio files, I imagine myself a small girl, snuggled beside my friend beneath a billowing comforter in her childhood bedroom. Even the shadows in the corners seem to bend closer to catch the animated cadences of her father’s voice, rising and falling like the sea.

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3 responses to “Words to live by

  1. I enjoyed reading the above. I also enjoyed the novel Moby Dick. I found allot of comparison to the Bible in the novel. The story itself, lends at time. Other meanings than just the story. For one, the hipocracy of the two Quakers.. Taking about shares to be given to the sailor Ishmael. It is ok for them to store up money for themselves, but, not for the common sailor. Another one is the comparison of the color of white, being all good. Not so if one compares it to the Great White Shark. I found many passages in the book that does compare to life and made ,me ponder man and God.

    • Melville was deeply interested in questions of religion and God, and there is much reflection and commentary on those subjects in Moby Dick. The friend mentioned in my post has told me that her father seemed to relate to Moby Dick much like many folks relate to the Bible: he turned to it for advice, comfort, and inspiration, and was always quoting portions of it he had committed to memory.

      I hope you are able to listen to at least a little of the Big Read audio version — it’s a real treat! Thank you for stopping by my blog, and for commenting.

  2. Pingback: Nantucket sleigh ride in the sky | The Daily Compost

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