Moby Dick, the classic whaling novel by Herman Melville, has drifted untouched in my Audible queue for three years now. Every night I’ve seen it there. I’ve scrolled right past it to open middle-school-level space operas, Koontz McThrillers and self-aggrandizing, ghostwritten memoirs.
And every time I’ve said to myself, tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll open up Moby Dick and listen to that iconic first line, “Call me Captain Ahab, because I’m in charge of this whaling operation now.” Is that close? I haven’t read it yet.
I only bought it because it was on sale for $1.99. One of the most highly regarded novels in the English language, for less than two dollars? That’s a steal. I’ve paid that much for a single chapter of The Dresden Files. What a great opportunity to go back and read the book over which I took an entire essay test in the 10th grade. I prepared for that exam by extrapolating a plot from the drawing on the front cover, which depicted, among other things, an old-timey ship, three guys with harpoons, and a whale that looked very upset. I got a B, so… that cover artist must have really captured the spirit of the book. Did they? Like I said I haven’t read it.
I’ve procrastinated for three years. Over that span of time I’ve managed to re-listen to the Dark Tower series, tackle four different historical fiction sagas, and endure a 60-hour Great Courses lecture on Baroque music. Some of that must have been more boring than Moby Dick, I’m sure of it.
So what’s wrong with me? Every time I’ve hovered a fingertip over the Moby Dick icon, something has stopped me, the way those three harpoons finally stopped Moby Dick from terrorizing 19th century swimmers along the Eastern seaboard. Is that what happens? I know it’s the plot to Jaws, but maybe Jaws was inspired by Moby Dick. Was it?
I know who Captain Ahab is, through cultural references, and I take it he’s the main character? He’s essentially an irritable Santa Claus pirate with an eye patch, judging from the cover art of that book I had in 10th grade. Or was it a peg leg? It might have been two peg legs, and a parrot, now that I think about it, and no eye patch. I’m pretty sure he was pointing at the whale too. I don’t know any of his dialogue in the novel, but his body language on the cover art said, “Hey, you three harpoon guys, get that whale over there, see where I’m pointing?”
I think him getting that whale is the whole point of the book, maybe. Like when someone says something is their “white whale,” it means a thing you go after for a long time, then point at so your harpoon guys can murder it in the ocean.
Does he even get the whale at the end? Or does it get away? I’m dealing with a real Schrodinger’s whale situation. If I don't listen to the book, Ahab both catches and doesn’t catch Moby Dick, but as soon as I open the file and listen to it, I’ll never get those twenty hours of my life back. That’s what Schrodinger’s cat is, I’m pretty sure. The cat’s both alive and dead inside the box until you open the lid, then you find out you were bored the entire time.
Tomorrow, I’m starting Moby Dick. Tomorrow, I will point at that icon in my Audible library, and my mental harpoon guys will impale it through the blubber, and I will listen to it. The whole thing. Unless, of course, Ahab doesn’t actually get the whale in the end, in which case, it’s much more fitting that I never listen. What better way to honor Melville’s story? I suppose I could just google and find out what happens in the end, but then again, I don’t want to spoil anything. I might want to listen to Moby Dick someday. Tomorrow, probably.