Title: Moby Dick
Author: Herman Melville
Genre: American Classic
Rating: 3.5 of 5
To me, Moby Dick feels like an excellent novella that bloated into an unfocused novel. Melville lards on every “fact” and opinion about whales, whaling, and whalers that he can think of, moralizing as he goes. Some of it is relevant, some of it is interesting, some of it is disturbing, but the cumulative effect is to submerge the compelling main story in a sea of tangential boringness.
That said, I can’t think of a better portrayal of the destructive and contagious nature of bitterness, obsession, and vengeance than Captain Ahab and his crew. I won’t even try to analyze what (if anything or many things) the white whale stands for (ask Ron Swanson) since I think that Ahab’s prideful self-obsession and clearly expressed rage against God and nature are the main point.
Overall, this richly deserves its place as an American Classic, even if I wish Melville had saved 80% of his whales and whaling info for a separate non-fiction book.
(Also, I will be using this for my Classic About an Animal category over at the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021)
Title: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Author: Laurence Sterne
Genre: 18th Century Classic
Rating: 3 of 5
Have you ever wanted to read a book that was one long string of digressions and rabbit trails, detouring through risqué jokes and never quite getting to the alleged point of the story? Then this is the book for you! Our narrator and eponymous hero isn’t even born until somewhere in volume 3 (of 9), and we learn far more about the life and opinions of his absurdly opinionated father and sweet, eccentric Uncle Toby than his own.
The whole series-of-ridiculous-digressions “plot,” naughty jokes (more than half left to the imagination and self-censored with lines of asterisks), and other weird typographical choices (a marbled page, curly lines representing the plot up to this point, chapter lengths varying from a couple dozen pages to a single sentence, etc.) were amusing at first and made my chuckle occasionally. However, 540 pages of it (and this is a relatively low page-count edition) was a bit much. Also, I read this in an edition completely without explanatory notes of any kind, so I’m sure that a lot of the literary-allusion humor was lost on me. It was interesting to read as an example of British humor before the straight-laced Victorians, but I’d suggest getting an annotated version of some sort if you decide to read it so that you can fully appreciate it.
And one more thing: I’m using this for my Very Long Classic (>500 pages) category over at the Back to the Classics Challenge. My edition was 540 pages and many (most?) are significantly longer.