I had read or heard that William F. Buckley once said after reading Moby-Dick at the age of 50, "To think that I might have died and never read it." Now, I can't find that quote attributed to him or anyone else. Odd. Frustratingly odd.
I'm now 51, and have just finished reading Moby-Dick this past weekend. It took me longer than it should have, due in part, I'm quite sure, to the inherent distractions of being a 51-year-old. Do I recall correctly that Buckley had read it on a transatlantic sailing voyage? If not, can we blame age itself, for mixing up literary allusions as a prank?
I was captivated and mesmerized in the early, let's say, third of the novel, by the basic richness of every sentence. But, somewhere in the middle, that same richness got to be a little fattening. By the final third, I'd grown weary of cross-referencing every allusion (and the novel is chock slam full of those), that I was mainly reading to cross the finish line and be done with it.
Now, after having done the finishing, and looking back on it, I can only say that I hope to live long enough to read it again. Which, of course, implies the leisure to do so. On a sailing voyage, perchance.
From Wikipedia, a phrase on its style that gets straight to the heart of the Moby-Dick reading experience, I think: Most of all, the book is language, or, as Bryant and Springer sum up: "nautical, biblical, Homeric, Shakespearean, Miltonic, cetological, alliterative, fanciful, colloquial, archaic, and unceasingly allusive." The last two words are the most significant, for they describe the most Melvillean of the characteristics of Melville's prose. Yet Bryant and Springer mention another one: "Most amazing are the paragraph-long sentences that defy the gravity of normal syntax, and yet stay grammatical and alive."
Allusive...unceasingly so...indeed. I wonder if anyone has ever quantified the allusions in Moby-Dick. That would truly be quite a feat. Perhaps I'll even have the leisure to do that when I read it the second time.
Worth noting that I read the entire novel online via Bartleby.com and the experience was surely impacted by the limitations thereupon. A second reading will hopefully be of a more portable and natural medium.
I can say that hunting the Leviathan didn't kill me, or even cost me a leg. And, I shall hunt him again. As should you.