It took 25 hours but I finally finished Moby Dick, my 35th book I’ve read this year. I took it on for a few reasons, not least of which I wanted at least one or two crazy long books under my belt this year, along with my goal of reading 60 books. 

When I said I was going to read it several mama bears chimed in with stories of woe when they tried to slog through it. Indeed, it was almost funny how plodding this book was. I mean, no one goes to sea until chapter 30 or so. It’s more than 20 hours of narration before Moby Dick is even sighted. 

There are side chapters and side chapters about whaling. The dignity of whaling. What goes in the larder of a whale vessel. The rules around royal sovereignty over whaling spoils. All the many, many uses of blubber. Why it took biologists so long to understand what a whale is. What is the face of a whale like? Does it have a nose? What about the tale? How does it move through water? What happens if a crew wounds a whale but another crew catches it? Do they have to give the harpoon back to the first crew? I know all the answers to these questions now. I am understating the absurdity of the details of whaling crammed into this book.

But in being so exhaustive on the topic, the book is much more than just the story of one man hellbent on destroying the whale who took his leg. It’s the story of a time, an industry, a type who set out to sea, and a dangerous but necessary economy that fueled lamps the world over. I do feel like I glimpsed and appreciated an entire world I didn’t know about before. 

It also had to be so long, and so plodding to mirror the journey the crew went on across the Atlantic, around Africa, and through Indonesia and into the Pacific. You felt the same payoff as the reader finding Moby Dick as the crew itself. You had to also be weary and exhausted from the journey. “It can’t be!!!! FINALLY!”

I see why it’s a masterpiece. 

There’s also the moral of it. The cost of obsession. The toll of seeking revenge. And in this there’s a gender overtone. I know so many women who are treated like sh*t, counted out, cast aside, and become driven to prove those people wrong. I have been driven by that in the past. But I’ve found that wild-eyed pursuit of proving myself out of anger and revenge almost always steers me wrong. At a key moment in the book Moby Dick swims away from the ship, almost oblivious to it and Starbuck—the moral center of the book in many ways—says to Ahab, “Dude! Look! Moby Dick doesn’t even give a sh*t about you. You are chasing something that doesn’t even know you exist! This two way grudge match is all in your head!” (I’m paraphrasing…) Ahab wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t by then. His entire identity had become revenge. He’d already given up too much in this quest. 

It’s taken me 20-plus years to learn this, but it’s far better to follow your own true north, than a mythical whale that doesn’t even remember eating your leg. Forget “massive success is the greatest revenge.” Massive success is massive success. And we all deserve that for ourselves.

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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