Thursday, December 12, 2013

Camping with American Literature 101

I have the feeling I may have told this tale, or part of this tale in some other forum before. A seven second search of my blog assures me that it wasn't here. Good enough for me ...

There are several ways I actively deal with having the melancholy or the ill humours (one of those ways is to refer to depression by its 19th century English monikers), and one of the most effective ways is by re-reading, at a minimum, the opening chapter of Moby Dick. Sometimes I keep going, knocking off as many of the early chapters in a single sitting as I can. It may not have the restorative powers of heading out to sea itself, but it is close.

Overall, I've read the book as a whole at least four times. It is my favorite book. A classic of American literature. Frankly, I don't care to analyze what it's all about and what it means. That's one of the benefits of no longer being in college. Whales. I just like it, like a lot, okay?

But that wasn't always the case.

Let's say I was less than impressed the first time I was introduced to Moby Dick in American Lit 101. God lord, the thing is long. And boring. There must have been about 177 pages on the proper selection of a harpoon barb. The friggin' whale doesn't even eat anyone until the last couple of chapters. Where the hell are Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider when you need them.

I was somewhere around the 87th page of the paragraph about everything blubber had been used for since the beginning of the time when I packed my paperback copy of Moby Dick in my bag as Randy and I took off for a weekend camping trip to New Hampshire. Now camping wasn't exactly a regular thing for us, but about once per summer, we would take whatever VW bus/camper/hippiemobile Randy may have owned at the time, took it into the woods. Maybe went for a hike, maybe drank beer, mostly slept in the back of whatever vintage VW transport Randy owned at the time.

This particular trip we figured a campfire might be something that would fit in with the whole camping motif. We had matches. I'm assuming we had something wooden and loglike to burn. The only thing we didn't have was something paper or kindling like to get from the match to the loglike things.

But luckily, I had my paperback copy of Melville's classic meditation on society and nature, or whatever the hell I thought it was about at the time. Friggin' whale hadn't even done anything yet. Great white whale my ass. Anyways, we discovered that cheap paperback copies of American Lit 101 texts are excellent firestarters.

Luckily, the 700 pages of Moby Dick were enough to get a roaring fire started. We danced around the fire like drunken Queequegs and Starbucks and didn't have to endanger the copy of Last of Mohicans I had stashed somewhere under my grateful dead tie-dye.

All these years later, I've obviously come around on Melville, slowed down to reflect on the larger story and style without caring that it takes a good 113 chapters to ramp up to anything that could reasonably described as Die Hard on a Whaling Ship.

And I think we would have been better off burning the tie dye and Last of the Mohicans.


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