I read “Moby-Dick” in high school, and then again in college, but that was a long time ago. It’s hard to enjoy the books you read in school, because you did not choose them yourself, and often they require adult perspective that you lack. Also, for me at least, I think the school process required thinking too much about books too soon.
I think the first time you read a novel, you should just experience it, the way you would a TV show or popular movie, and not spend too much energy on analysis. The delay between reading and analyzing can be a few minutes or a few hours, but you should let the analysis flow naturally and organically.
When you’re reading for school, the analysis is the whole point, and you’re instantly thrust into the icy cold waters of symbolism, themes, etymology, Christ imagery, and all that literary stuff, without an opportunity to get used to it.
I do remember enjoying a few school reading assignments. One was a Stephen Vincent Benet short story called “By the Waters of Babylon,” about a barbarian centuries in the future exploring the ruins of a 20th Century city. Another was “Alas, Babylon,” by Pat Frank, about a small town in Florida that survives a nuclear war. The third was “Lord of the Flies,” for which I enhanced my enjoyment by reading one chapter ahead of the assignment, so it was more like I was reading at my own pace.
I remember a few things about my high school encounter with “Moby-Dick.” It has the reputation of being the Great American Novel, the pinnacle of book-length prose fiction, alongside “Huckleberry Finn” and, well, that’s it. Those two. The two best novels ever produced by American writers.
“Moby-Dick” has the reputation of being difficult to read.
I recall our high school teacher saying that many people in the 19th Century read it as an entertaining adventure story. As she said this, she seemed to be looking down on those people. The better people read for the symbolism and themes and all that good literary stuff, she said.
Another thing I remember is the passage at the beginning, where Ishmael meets Queequeg and they share a bed and Ishmael wakes up with Queequeg holding him like a wife. Later, there’s a big scene where all the sailors on the ship are sitting around squeezing sperm. My high school teacher said this was definitely not gay, nope nope nope, and we were all being childish for thinking it was and she was disappointed in us.
For these and other reasons, I think my high school English teacher was not very good.
Then I was assigned to read the book again in college, and the professor said of course it was gay. It’s a big gay novel. But we did not talk abut it much because this was the mid 1980s.
I also remember something about the whiteness of the whale being horrific, and something about the whales swimming in various depths of ocean being like layers of reality.
And oh yeah everybody dies except for Ishmael, the narrator. Should I have put in a spoiler alert for a 171-year-old novel? Sorry.
Within the past few months, I’ve started encountering the idea that “Moby-Dick” is actually an enjoyable novel to read. For fun. As one would watch a TV show or see a popular movie, or read any other novel. The first time was on the Hugo Girl podcast in January, which is a fun series featuring three millennial women talking about books, their friendship, and whatever else comes to mind, with lots of laughing. Usually they talk about Hugo Award winning science fiction and fantasy novels, but this time they decided to do a special episode on “Moby Dick.”
The second was here, where someone translates one of the first sentences of “Moby-Dick” into Zoomer-generation language. Before:
“… 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.”
Translated to 21st Century language: “yeah so a few years back i was thinking about going joker mode on a crowd of innocent bystanders, but then i realized i was getting too blackpilled so i decided to get a job.”
According to this online annotated Moby-Dick,, “hypos” means “periods of depression, anxiety, or ennui.”
Ishmael is saying that when he starts feeling depressed or anxious, he has to resist temptation to just go out into the street knocking people’s hats off—or get out a gun and kill people. When that happens, instead he goes to sea.
I found it intriguing.
I realized this morning that I want to keep this blog—mitchwagner.blog—for my own writing and photos, and post found media and links elsewhere, on Facebook, Twitter, and my Tumblr blog, Atomic Robot Live.
So that’s what I’m going to do, and over time I’m going to actually start deleting the ephemera posts from here.
But what about the newsletter? I only have 24 subscribers to that, but the folks who do subscribe seem to enjoy it, and I enjoy entertaining them.
I think I’ve figured out a workaround for that. I use MailChimp to distribute the newsletter, and I just now discovered a feature called Email Beamer. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to go back to automating the newsletter using Tumblr’s ghastly RSS feed, and resign myself to sending out an incredibly ugly, broken newsletter until Tumblr gets around to fixing its feeds.
This is definitely a hold-my-beer kind of thing.
I do enjoy doing these little online experiments, and thank you for your patience in following along with me.
Gmail will call the cops on you based on the content of your emails. By Cory Doctorow. Google falsely told the police a father was molesting his son. The boy had a painful, swollen penis, and the doctor asked the man to send a photo. The man emailed the photo—and Google intercepted the mail, decided it was kiddie porn, and suspended the man’s Gmail, Photos, and phone service. The police cleared the man, but Google is still holding the man’s data and services hostage.
What’s the best way to respond to an ageist comment? — This Chair Rocks
Here’s why the ‘Girl Explaining’ meme is all over your Twitter feed How a photo of a woman yelling in a guy’s ear became a viral meme. By María Luisa Paúl at The Washington Post.
The Ghost of Workshops Past: How Communism, Conservatism, and the Cold War Still Mold Our Paths Into SFF Writing. By S.L. Huang at Tor.com. The classic method of teaching writing workshops dates back to the 1930s, and was popularized at the University of Iowa in the 1950s, with CIA support, as a method of opposing Communism. It has served many writers very well, and thrives today in science fiction and fantasy workshops such as Clarion.
But it fails many writers, particularly BIPOC people. Leaders of today’s writing workshops, including Clarion, are reevaluating the methods.
I Went Viral in the Bad Way. By Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic Galaxy Brain
Second time recently I’ve seen recommendations to just read Moby-Dick as a novel.
House Flippers and Landlords Have Taken Over American Interiors By Amanda Mull at The Atlantic. “If you, like me, have frittered away a frankly embarrassing proportion of your one wild and precious life watching women with perfect blowouts and annoying husbands gut-reno houses on HGTV, or idly scrolling through Zillow listings you have no intention or ability to buy, then you know that the gray floors rarely travel alone.“
Should we be trying to create a circular urine economy? Nitrogen and phosphorus in urine are pollutants when released into water bodies, but great fertilizer. However, separating urine from wastewater will be tricky.
“Circular urine economy” will be the name of my punk band.
Why Don’t Millennials Have Hobbies?. By Alisha Sawhney. “I sought the help of an algorithm to figure out how to spend my free time. It made me question my generation’s relationship with leisure.”
What you and I are doing right now is the closest I come to having a hobby.
Amazon’s “fast and frugal approach has proven a tough fit for some health professionals.… some health professionals who worked for the service said Amazon sometimes prioritized pleasing patients over providing the best standard of care.” Amazon’s health ambitions sometimes clashed with medical best practices, nurses say By Caroline O’Donovan at The Washington Post.
Cory Doctorow: The Business Roundtable, whose membership includes 200 CEOs and some of the biggest companies in the world, unveiled an ambitious climate plan three years ago—and then spent millions of dollars lobbying to kill it.
The Roundtable bills itself as “an association of CEOs of leading US companies working to promote a thriving economy & expanded opportunity for all Americans through sound public policy.” Its members include the CEOs of the country’s most politically connected corporations, including Apple, Pepsi, Walmart and Google – the most powerful people in the nation.
there is no course of action so radical that these corporations and CEOs won’t promise to take it – provided they never, ever have to lift a finger to follow through on that promise.
“I guess, like all teenagers, they don’t necessarily make sensible decisions.” Seal breaks into New Zealand home, traumatises cat and hangs out on couch
This could be me. I never heard of Rob Gronkowski before seeing this tweet, and will probably forget who he is in a few seconds.
Watch the short video. Reminds me of “Doc Hollywood.”
We watched the entirety of the first season of “Succession.” It’s a great show, and we enjoyed it, I guess. But I think we’ll take a break a few weeks before diving in to season 2. It’s intense.
We’re currently watching “Succession,” “The Old Man,” “Grantchester,” and “Sandman.” That is a dark lineup of entertainment. Even “Grantchester,” the least heavy of the bunch, has at least one murder per episode, plus alcoholism, thwarted love, PTSD, and closeted homosexuality.