Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Intimidating Volumes

I am listening to Moby Dick at the moment, and am enjoying it thoroughly. I was always a little intimidated of this book in the past, but am finding it to be very accessible and enjoyable. This makes me wonder - what put me off reading it for so long?
It seems there are a list of books in our heads which we feel we 'ought' to have read. I understand this, and how sometimes this can be useful. Also, as reading is such a democratic thing, open to so many, that some readers feel a pecking order is required.
As a young man, 'Ulysses' was the great unexploded bomb on my book shelf. I tried and failed a few times, but the great literary status symbol was denied me. I compensated with Proust, but literary gentlemen seem to feel that Joyce has a more masculine cache. And more importantly - it's very hard to understand. Pushing 120kg on the benchpress is nothing to breezily discussing Joycean idiom - at least in some circles.
As I have got older I have got impatient with all this nonsense. A story either holds my attention, or it does not. It stays with me, or it does not. And as for symbolism - I find I can discover my own meanings in works without having a cryptic 'message' buried in the narrative for me by the author. I have nothing to prove to anyone, at least not by displaying my bookshelf.
The worry is that all this baggage has prevented me from reading a book I am enjoying so much now. Perhaps I needed to grow up first.


Stewart Wills said...

Glad you're enjoying Moby Dick, Chris -- obviously, it's been an important book to me over the years. I've actually read it more than a few times, and I would definitely second your comments -- though I first read the book in college (though not for any assignment), I've found the repeat readings later in a life much richer experience, and I would say that "having nothing to prove to anyone" is one reason. (I'll probably read it yet again someday, though the LV project may have finished me off for Moby for a while!)

Anyway, hope it continues to hold your interest.

(As for Ulysses, let me make a clean breast of it -- I used [gulp!] Cliff's Notes when I read it many years ago. Perhaps I should give it a try without that crutch . . .)

ChrisHughes said...

Hi Stewart. Yes - Moby is a great read, and very well read, if I may say. Melville seems to be writing in almost a playful way, having fun with the whole idea of writing a story, and winking to the reader throughout.
As to notes etc, I was a heavy user of such things before, and footnotes, prefaces, book of criticism etc. and have come to the conclusion that it is actually unhelpful to me in an understanding of the work. I was always reading between the lines, and not reading the lines themselves.
Part of my enjoyment of a Librivox recording is the fact that the book is stripped down to its barest essentials. And as I am usually driving while listening, I am prevented from dashing to the encyclopedia to check up on the background details.
As for Ulysses, I see LibriVox have a recording nearly finished. I might be tempted to listen when it is complete. Perhaps not.