Monday, January 26, 2015

The (Original?) Unreliable Narrator: Ishmael of Moby Dick

Call me suspicious. 

The main evidence of who Ishmael is—and by extension his reliability as a narrator—takes place during the first part of the story where he actually talks about himself and his actions.  After that, he sort of fades into the background.

Ishmael’s relationship with Queequeg seems to me strange, because of Ishmael’s initial reaction.  It’s almost as if he’s a greenhorn, with no experience of the sea and in awe of everything around him, especially those of different cultures, rather than someone who has been to sea before—as Ishmael claims.  And yet if I disregard Ishmael’s assertion that he has been to sea before and is simply looking for a different ship, then that may explain his complete ignorance to seafaring life, but not his immediate acceptance of Queequeg as a friend and equal in a time when a colored man would be treated as a servant or property.

As for the type of relationship they have, I’m not convinced that this “bosom friendship” is very deep, since they don’t communicate very well.  Not that words necessarily speak louder that actions, but even when they get onto the Pequod, Ishmael doesn’t mentioned Queequeg individually all that much.  It doesn’t seem like they are all that close after Chapter 10.  In fact, aside from inform us what the other characters are doing, Ishmael himself doesn’t seem close to anyone. 

Take “The Mat Maker” chapter: The entire crew gets involved weaving a swordmat, and the metaphor of the loom could be interpreted as the relationship between fate, free will, and chance. 
Ishmael says that he “kept passing and repassing” as Quequeg and the others remained stationary in their tasks.  He’s like a shuttle weaving back and forth between static threads.  While every individual life on the ship was fixed in place, only Ishmael’s fate is, at that moment, in a state of flux.

Is this guy Ishmael reliable?  We know he says “Call me Ishmael,” but is that really his name?  He says he’s been to sea before, but doesn’t seem to know the major port of Nantucket all that well.  He narrates the ongoing thoughts of Ahab and Starbuck among others, while he as a character is entirely passive, almost completely fading from the activity of the Pequod.


So, barring Melville’s awkward use of the novel genre—we know it’s his first novel, and he sometimes incorporates elements of drama—either Ishmael has some mental-telepathy thing going on, or maybe he doesn’t really exist at all.  That is, he doesn’t exist in the same way the other characters exist.  It’s like he’s on another plane of reality, in a way that transcends identity, which is why he identified with Queequeg and Ahab and knows everyone’s innermost thoughts.  It’s like he’s a phantom, which makes him being the sole survivor of the Pequod ironic.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


This sounds familiar...

“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”


Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Monday, January 19, 2015


In this day of Electronic Media Saturation, I usually think of bookmarks as "paper pause buttons." 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Because though I'm no artist, I am interested in the way stories are simplified into their most overt symbols in order to market them:




Comparing Book Covers with the Posters of Their Film Adaptations – Flavorwire

Classical Cravings

In the winter, some animals go into deep hibernation.  For them, the entire world slows down, even down to their heartbeat.  And, with sub-zero temperatures, icy roads, flu season, and the general post-holiday blues, I earnestly envy the animals.  At this time of year, when the days are supposedly getting shorter but the darkness still wraps around me like a cocoon, there's  nothing I'd like more than to curl up by a fire with a plateful of chocolate chip cookies and a good long book.  

Though I can't actually stay home--alas!  alack!--I do indulge in the 'good long book' portion of this fantasy.  And, if I can't slow down my metabolism like a bear, I can at least read about times that were set in a slower era.  

Therefore, to ease my craving for a classic, to enjoy the slower pace of a "simpler life" of days of yore, and also to experience a sort of springtime in the depths of the tundra, I've started The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.  (I admit I had no idea how much I longed for the Great Outdoors until I started reading it yesterday.  The opening scene describes an English countryside, evoking mental images of babbling brooks, singing birds, and the rare color green.) 

And, because I also have wanted to participate in more Reading Challenges this year, I've decided to start there, solidly grounded in the classics.  So, in order to start from a familiar spot (in the hopes of venturing forward into the unfamiliar), I'm going back to the Back to the Classics (2015) Reading Challenge, which I participated in during 2013.  

Which I will be sure to do.  Once I have hunted down that plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reading Challenge 2014 Summary

In 2013 I completed four reading challenges.  In 2014, rather than try to one-up myself and end up reading for quantity rather than quality, I put a ban on my signing up for any reading challenges online.  Instead, I self-imposed challenges which will hopefully diminished that behemoth To Be Read pile that swallowed up my nightstand, bed, and pretty much half my room.  

So here were my two challenges:
1) To read 100 books in a year.  I have done this a few times before, but this time I restricted which books I actually count--viz., I will no longer count picture books (for the obvious reason that they're too short), graphic novels/manga (because they're mostly graphics rather than reading words...besides, I hardly read any of this category of books anyway), and how-to books such as cookbooks or sewing books (which I read voraciously, but again are very short).  This way I was more likely to tackle the longer novels or nonfiction that have been tapping their proverbial foot in impatience.

2) To finish reading the books on my history bookshelf (yes, my books are organized according to subject.  No, they're not in Dewey Decimal order...yet). Now that I have a job that sometimes allows me to read, I've been taking these books and slowly making progress.  It's much like the stereotype of secretaries reading People Magazine while filing their nails or chewing gum...except I'm usually learning about the politics of Imperial Rome instead.

Now I am happy to say that while the TBR pile is NOT very much diminished, I DID reduce my Pending History shelf quite a bit, and even finished reading 100 books in time to have a few months left...during which I did some rare re-reading of books I've been meaning and wanting to revisit for some time now.  But while I plan to review those books in separate posts, these are the 100 titles I read for the first time just this last year.
   
  1. In A Pickle - Beth Overmeier (JF)
  1. The Faith - Charles Colson and Harold Fickett
  1. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam - James M. McPherson
  1. Homer and the Epic - G.S. Kirk
  1. The Odes of Horace
  1. Party Politics in the Age of Caesar - Lily Boss Taylor
  1. Between Man and Beast - Monte Reel
  1. The Tomb of Zeus: A Laetitia Talbot Mystery - Barbara Cleverly
  2. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Religious Convictions - Gregory Koukl
  3. Rome - M. Rostovtzeff
  1. The Last Camel Died at Noon - Elizabeth Peters
  1. The Golden Days of Greece - Olivia Coolidge
  2. The Under Dog and other Tales - Agatha Christie
  3. My Inventions - Nikola Tesla
  4. A History of Egypt - James Henry Breasted
  5. A Right to Die - Rex Stout
  1. The Legacy of Greece - ed. Sir Richard Livingstone
  1. The Kreutzer Sonata - Leo Tolstoy
  2. The Minoans: The Story of Bronze Age Crete - Sinclair Hood
  3. The Echo of Greece - Edith Hamilton
  4. The Tesla Papers - ed. David Hatcher Childress
  5. Laugh Again: Experience Outrageous Joy - Charles R. Swindoll
  1. Five Children and It - E. Nesbit
  1. The Idylls of the King - Tennyson
  2. The Greek Way - Edith Hamilton
  3. The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie
  4. In Search of the Castaways; or, The Children of Captain Grant - Jules Verne
  5. "The Making of a Marchioness" and "The Methods of a Lady" - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  6. The Near East -Isaac Asimov
  7. The Egyptians - Isaac Asimov
  8. How Right You Are, Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse
  9. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom - Christopher Healy
  10. The Greeks: A Great Adventure - Isaac Asimov
  11. The Roman Republic - Isaac Asimov
  12. The Roman Empire - Isaac Asimov
  13. The Dark Ages - Isaac Asimov
  14. The Shaping of England - Isaac Asimov
  15. Dreamhunter - Elizabeth Knox
  16. A Day in Old Rome - Davis
  17. The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog - Elizabeth Peters
  18. Such Wicked Intent - Kenneth Oppel
  19. Parzival - Wolfram von Eschenbach
  20. Fall of the Roman Republic - Plutarch
  21. The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle - Christopher Healy
  22. The Quest of the Holy Grail - trans. Pauline M. Matarasso
  23. Cristoforo Colombo: God's Navigator - Douglas T. Peck
  24. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling - Henry Fielding
  25. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God - Bob Kauflin
  26. The Last Days of Socrates - Plato
  27. Postern of Fate - Agatha Christie
  28. The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty -Kenneth Libbrecht and Patricia Rasmussen
  29. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts - Simon Garfield
  30. Wisconsin Underground - Doris Green
  31. Measuring America: How the United States Was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History - Andro Linklater
  32. Tristan - Gottfried von Strassburg (with "Tristran" by Thomas)
  33. A Preface to Paradise Lost - C.S. Lewis
  34. A Princess of Neptune - Quentin Dodd
  35. Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide - Robert R. Coenraads
  36. Medieval Mysteries, Moralities and Interludes  - ed. Vincent F. Hopper and Gerald B. Lahey
    1. Abraham and Isaac
    1. Noah's Flood
    1. The Second Shepherd's Play (I'd already read this)
    1. The Castle of Perseverance
    1. Everyman (already read)
    2. Johan, the Husband
    3. The Four PP
  1. I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference - Thom S. Rainer
  1. Seven Steps for Planting Churches - Rodney Harrison
  1. A Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw - Christopher Healy
  2. Pandora Gets Frightened - Carolyn Hennessy
  3. St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography - Philip Freeman
  4. Wisconsin History
  1. Thucydides' Complete Writings - Thucydides
  1. Publishing Your E-Book - Daniel E. Harmon
  1. Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism - Katherine Gleason
  2. In the Land of Invented Languages - Arika Okrent
  3. The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime - William Langewiesche
  4. Food - Ogden Nash
  1. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
  1. The Pirate Queen - Susan Ronald
  2. From Alexander to Cleopatra: The Hellenistic World  - Michael Grant
  3. The Enormous Room - E.E. Cummings
  4. Eggs, Beans and Crumpets - P.G. Wodehouse
    1. All's Well with Bingo
    1. Bingo and the Peke Crisis
    1. The Editor Regrets
    2. Sonny Boy
    3. Anselm Gets His Chance
    1. Romance at Droitgate Spa
    1. A Bit of Luck for Mabel
    1. Buttercup Day
    1. Ukridge and the Old Stepper
  1. The Golden Spiders - Rex Stout
  1. The 39 Steps - John Buchan
  1. The Moving Finger - Agatha Christie
  2. Elephants Can Remember  - Agatha Christie
  3. Robur the Conqueror - Jules Verne
  1. The Hippopotamus Pool - Elizabeth Peters
  1. The Black Mountain - Rex Stout
  1. 12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northrup
  1. Sketches by Boz - Charles Dickens
  1. The Romans - Alfred Duggan
  1. The Byzantines - Thomas Caldecot Chubb
  1. The Northmen - Thomas Caldecot Chubb
  1. The Prairie - James Fenimore Cooper
  1. Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie
  1. And Be A Villain - Rex Stout
  1. Black Orchids - Rex Stout
  1. Three Act Tragedy - Agatha Christie
  1. Witness for the Prosecution - Agatha Christie
  1. The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk
  1. English and Its History: The Evolution of a Language - Robert D. Stevick
  1. An Introduction to Modern English Grammar -Jean Malmstrom
  1. Passenger to Frankfurt - Agatha Christie
  1. Cress - Marisa Meyer
  1. The Unending Mystery: A Journey Through Labyrinth and Mazes - David Willis McCullough

Monday, January 5, 2015

Those Crazy Captains VI: Captain Queeg of The Caine Mutiny

Herman Wouk’s masterpiece The Caine Mutiny is a fictitious account of (guess what?) a mutiny aboard a minesweeper U.S.S. Caine in the Pacific during World War II.  It could be regarded as war fiction, but really the main conflict of the novel is not so much physical as it is psychological, as one inexperienced “by-the-book” captain attempts to take control and earn the respect of a ragtag and undisciplined crew, only to have everything go horribly,  horribly wrong.

The main character of The Caine Mutiny, Willie Keith, and his whole coming-of-age transformation from a high-class, lazy momma’s boy to a self-driven Navyman, is very much like Humphrey van Weyden and Harvey Cheyne Jr.  But really, Keith’s journey—and his B-plot romance with the struggling singer May Wynn—is really secondary, almost to the point of being superfluous to the plot. 

Just like Ishmael is the narrator but not the protagonist of Moby-Dick, Keith is the primary perspective, but the main character and driving force of Wouk’s novel must be Captain Phillip Queeg, orbited by the sardonic academic Keefer and the simple and good first officer Maryk.  The main question the novel poses the reader is: Is Queeg insane?