Moby-Dick or The Whale

Re-reading this incredible work always leaves me rejuvenated and wanting more. It’s been several years since my last perusal, and I picked up some things this time that I hadn’t before. Such as, I hadn’t seen Jaws yet during my previous readings, so missed the homage to Moby in the movie with the singing of “Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies” (chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle). And though it might be obvious, the overtly Shakespearean references were something I had forgotten about, along with the enormous amount of homosexual references. Reading this book alongside Ulysses leaves me thinking that Joyce was significantly inspired by Moby-Dick. I might try a companion book with this next time to glean even more from it.
A friend of mine asked me why I read this book so often, don’t I know how the story goes? With this book, the story is not the point. We all know the ship goes down, Moby-Dick swims away victorious. The journey is through the mind of Melville, as he writes prose that continue to delight and soothe no matter how many times you read it.
Chapter 94 has Ishmael squeezing sperm:

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 around; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

I’ve marked passages in nearly every chapter that have delighted me across several readings, but what other book starts out so strongly as this?

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

Melville’s words continue to soothe me, and it is a joy that this book must needs comfort me throughout my life.

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Won the Pulitzer, but I’m not convinced. Perhaps it is the jarring effect of reading this alongside my current reading of the mighty Moby-Dick and Ulysses, but I didn’t appreciate the technique of each chapter being from the perspective of a different character. All craftsmanlike, but obviously so, as if she sewed the seams to be seen and admired.
Best part by far was the powerpoint slide section put together by the 12 year old daughter of Sasha, exploring the obsession her older brother had for identifying and appreciating the pauses in songs.
The characters of Bennie (music exec), Sasha (his assistant the kleptomaniac), Scotty (troubled guitarist turned janitor), Lou (older music exec who has an affair with Jocelyn the teenager, and a young woman he takes to Africa), Dolly (the PR magician who sets a genocidal dictator up with an actress for a softer image), Lulu (Dolly’s genius daughter who is the puppet master for the “parrots” – the new viral marketing) and probably dozens more I’m forgetting.

The Blue Flower

Weird dreamlike book set in Germany in the 1790s. Fritz, the poet, must find work as a Salt Mine Inspector in order to earn wages respectably as a member of the nobility. He falls for a 12 year old girl, Sophie, whom he calls “my Philosophy.” His brother Erasmus also falls in love with her. Oddly reminiscent of Woolf’s The Waves, each character stating something but not necessarily in conversation with the others.
Sophie becomes ill, several operations performed to attempt to save her. Goethe visits, she says nothing except that the city they are in is bigger than where she came from.
I was most interested in the character of “the Bernhard”, the youngest of Fritz’s brothers and sisters. “I’m going out to walk by the river in the darkness. That is the effect the music has had on me.” Early in the story, he runs away from home and wedges himself in a riverboat. Inexhaustibly drawn to water. In the afterword, we learn that he dies by drowning a few years after the story ends.
Reco’d by Five Dials to “anyone with a pulse” but I beg to differ.

My Uncle Oswald

My love affair with Dahl continues (I call him Baby-Dahl and he calls me Sweetums). This story is a continuation of one of my favorites, The Visitor, which introduces Uncle Oswald as a character driving in the Sinai desert who gets stranded when his car breaks down, and lured into a local wealthy man’s home.
In this book, Uncle Oswald explains how he earned his fortune through a combination of chicanery, talent, inspired judgement, and luck. Before starting Cambridge, Oswald heard of a miracle beetle that acted as Viagra for the early twentieth century, and procured a massive amount of these beetles from Sudan, ground them into powder, then created pills that he sold to Ambassadors to France from other countries for large sums.
His entrepreneurship was interrupted by a few months at Cambridge, whereupon he hatched the second phase of his plot for cash: selling the sperm of famous men to wealthy women who wanted their own Proust/Stravinsky/Renoir/Puccini/royalty/etc as a child. He enlists the help of his professor (Woresley), who invented the technique of freezing sperm for later us, along with an incredibly sensual woman (Yasmin) whom no man would turn down, especially after dosed with the beetle powder.
The rest of the book is a madcap whirlwind of running around Europe seducing famous men and filling up their sample case. A hatpin is jammed two inches into the King of Spain’s buttocks to stop him from continuing. Freud stops to analyze the situation before proceeding. Einstein cannot fathom what is happening to him and smells a fish. The artists and musicians are all enthusiastic and unquestioning while the writers are more skeptical. There is a twist at the end, of course.
In Oswald’s own words:

I was a sybarite. I wished to lead a life of luxury and leisure. I would never get bored. That was not my style. But I would never be completely satisfied unless the luxury was intensely luxurious and the leisure was unlimited.