Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall. I dove.
— Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair
Writer Franz Kafka, age 5
I love reading another reader’s list of favorites. Even when I find I do not share their tastes or predilections, I am provoked to compare, contrast, and contradict. It is a most healthy exercise, and one altogether fruitful.
This book simultaneously demystifies the writing of Moby-Dick while also romantically propping Melville up as some sort of God/prophet of American literature. Of course, my favorite bits concerned Melville’s influences: Philbrick cites meeting Nathaniel Hawthorne and reading Shakespeare at a later age as the major events that lead to the book becoming what it is now. Turns out—surprise!—Melville was an artful thief:
Melville drew upon his own personal experiences in his novels, but he was also a great pillager of other writers’ prose. During the composition of Moby-Dick he acquired a virtual library of whaling-related books, and passages from these works inevitably made their way into his novel. The writing process for Melville was as much about responding to and incorporting the works of others as it was about relying on his own experiences.
The book’s a quick 125 pages, and worth the read if you a) plan on reading/have read Moby-Dick b) don’t want to bother reading it but want to know what the fuss is all about.