The Moby Dick Project–Log 1: Introduction and First Observations

moby dick book cover

Location: end of Chapter 1

Status: Pleasantly surprised

As I stated in my “Summer Reading” introduction blog, I’m tackling the challenge of reading Moby Dick for the purpose of discovering if it’s a) possible to create high school lesson plan around this book that students will engage in and b) if it’s worth the effort to try.

Here’s a little back story: My first true encounter with the text of Moby Dick happened in an American Novel literature class when I was an undergraduate. My first impression: a paradoxical mixture of apathy and utter loathing. I didn’t understand why the book is set up the way it is, what is so profound about it, why I should care…I just didn’t get it. My professor didn’t seem to think much of it either, because he literally only assigned us certain chapters, which amounted to about half of the book. I barely remember the lectures on the book, and the most memorable parts to me were the parts I thought were completely absurd, like the out-of-date whale biology textbook that finds its way into the middle of the narrative.

So when I expressed my doubts about being able to teach it in a high school curriculum, I was surprised that someone would oppose me. I mean, clearly the book was not going to grip students! I’m a classic literature enthusiast. I give everything a fair shot, and I can’t even stand it. But a teenager I know thinks I’m wrong, and so begins The Moby Dick Project. I am on a quest to find out what is compelling about this book so that I can teach it to my high-schoolers if ever the need arises.

I decided to arm myself for the task and do a bit of work to make this project worth the time and energy: The first thing I have done is listen to some lecture by a professor who is actually both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the text. I have gotten a lot of historical context and background information that I was missing the first time around, and that alone is helping me hate this book less. The second thing I have done is get a good audiobook to read along with. This is making an even larger difference than are the college lectures, because for the first time, I can hear Ishmael. I hear who he is. What kind of man he is. The right voice actor can give a soul to a character that you never knew he had, and that is what happened when I listened to this audio book. I found Ishmael’s soul.

Every week, I will log my progress in the book, as well as observations on ways to make the book relatable in the classroom. I’m feeling a little bit more optimistic about this project now that I have the right tools. I will also try to catch up with my teenaged challenger and find out how he is faring with the book, and whether or not he is ready to give up yet. Wish me luck!

Yours Truly,

Regina, the Pensive Ponderer


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