December 17, 2014

Chris Reads Moby: Ishmael and Queequeg’s Excellent Adventures

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Bill_&_Ted

Before there was Bill and Ted, Harold and Kumar, the dudes from Dude, Where’s My Car?, there was Ishmael and Queequeg.

I’m trying to make up my mind about Ishmael and Queequeg. Are they more than besties? When Ishmael wakes up that first morning, he finds Queequeg’s arm wrapped protectively around him: it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me. Then things take a humorous turn when Ishmael can’t wake Queequeg up. Oh, those guys! Later, the pair become better acquainted and Queequeg splits his worldly goods with him. [H]e pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends. Bosom friends. Sure. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair. They then spend the night cuddling under the covers.

So, okay, I know there are cultural differences, but I’m pretty sure they’re a couple now. Even in the 19th century, this would be clear, right? In the previous chapters, Ishmael claims that no man wants to share a bed with another man, even his own brother, and now he’s totally down with it. What changed, bro?

For fun, look at this artwork created by AmbrMerlinus. It’s pretty awesome.

During these chapters, Ishmael spends some time observing Queequeg. At first, he finds his habits strange, but looks beyond their differences to see the man that Quuequeg is. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor. His forehead reminds Ishmael of George Washington. He admires his aloofness: content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. That aloofness makes me wonder. Here was Queequeg, surrounded by strangers who show little interest in him other than revulsion, when this very intense weird guy shows him all this attention. Was Queequeg lonely? It’s hard to say, since this story is told from Ishmael’s POV. I can only guess, but I would say yes.

Queequeg tells Ishmael his origin story. He was the son of the Chief of his homeland and was all set to take his father’s place, except he had the wanderlust. One day he just up and hops on a ship and is gone. It’s like if Prince William became a stowaway on a mission to Mars without telling George and Kate. He thought by learning the Christian ways he could make his people happier, but found out they were a miserable bunch. Still, he enjoyed whaling well enough: They had made a harpooneer of him, and that barbed iron was in lieu of a sceptre now.

Queequeg

The pair decided to travel to Nantucket together to search for work on a whaling ship. They catch a packet schooner to the island. There is a bit of a kerfuffle when a young jerk starts making fun of Queequeg. Queequeg grabs the guy and tosses him into the air! While the Captian has words with Queequeg, the guy he tossed is swept off the boat. Queequeg rescues him and when the whole ship congratulates him, Queequeg acts like it’s no big thing. Ishmael puffs off with pride. “That’s my man!” I imagine him thinking.

Yojo, Queequeg’s god, has decided that Ishmael will find them a ship. Ishmael begrudgingly accepts the task, though he thinks an experienced harpooneer would be more qualified. While Ishmael is gone, Queequeg settles in for a fast in their rented room at the Try Pots inn. Ishmael calls this “The Ramadan” because Ishmael knows nothing about religion. Queequeg takes this fast seriously and sits unmoving for hours, until Ishmael arrives and finds him locked out of his room. Eventually he breaks down the door, but Queequeg remains in a trancelike state until morning. At this point, Ishmael tries to argue that this religious practice is bad for him, but Queequeg is deaf to his entreaties: He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.

Religion has come up twice now. I think I’ll have some thoughts on that later on.

That’s the story of Ishmael and Queequeg so far. What do you make of them if you’ve read it?

Next Post: There are other people in this book.

MOBY DICK READS

December 15, 2014

Media Madness Monday: The Ugly Podcast Sweater Edition

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media madness monday 1

I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

 

Tunes

ugly sweater

Want an interesting Christmas tunes playlist? If you have signed up for Spotify, give Ugly Sweater Party a listen. It’s an eclectic mix of new and old Christmas songs. There are some regular favorites: Santa Baby (Eartha Kitt), All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey). Then there are the unusual ones: Christmas Wrapping (The Waitresses), Christmastime (Smashing Pumpkins). It has some of my old faves: Last Christmas (Wham!), Funky, Funky Christmas (NKOTB) (Everyone shut up. I like it. I don’t care.) I’ve found some new faves among the playlist. It’s great for trimming the tree, though you might want to skip Merry Xmas Says Your Text Message (Dragonette) if your Granny is over. (My husband commented, “That’s more swearing than I’m used to in a Christmas song.”)

 

Podcasting

serial

I am probably the last person to find this but, have you heard about Serial? Yeah, you did. If by some chance you haven’t, here’s the deal. The podcast series from This American Life covers one story over one season. The host Sarah Koenig investigates the story and follows it wherever it may lead. This first season tells the story of Adnan Syed, who went to jail for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee

I wasn’t sure about this podcast at first since these are real people. Adnan is still in jail and both his and Hae Min’s family are living with her tragic loss. I thought I would feel icky about it, but Sarah presents the story with respect to all involved. She does get emotionally invested in the story, though she tries to preserve journalistic integrity.

I’ve listened to every podcast so far, all eleven, and am curious to see what the twelfth and final episode will bring. It’s been very interesting.

For something completely different, there is Sawbones. Sawbones is a medical history podcast hosted by a real life married couple, Dr Sydnee and Justin McElroy. Since Sydnee is a physician, she brings in her expertise, while Justin brings the comic relief. The podcasts are fun, informative, and sometimes gross. Want to learn about gout? They got you covered. Want to know a good cure for hiccups? Like to know when did women start surviving C-sections? Ever wonder why the Victorians so into enemas? You’ll find the answers on Sawbones.

December 8, 2014

Thar She Blows!: Chris Reads Moby Dick

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I know that title sounds dirty but it was unintentional.

I’m taking on a Big Project. I’m going to “read” Moby Dick. By read, I mean listen to at work. This already has varying success. If there is juicy gossip happening around me, I’m all “Moby Who?”

mark and moby dick

Here’s What I Know About Moby Dick:

There’s a dude named Ishmael. He’s the narrator. His captain is Ahab. He’s obsessed with a white whale. That’s it.

Why am I reading it?

Because everyone says I should. It seems like a big deal. I’ve read some other big deal books: Les Miserables, War and Peace. I’d like to add this to the list of Books I Have Read That People Claim To Be a Big Deal. Also, Moby Dick is referenced so much in pop culture. My blog posts are going to be filled with Moby Dick gifs!

Let’s Get Started!

Getting to Know Ishmael:

Ishmael starts things off with, “Aw, the sea! Where a man goes to be free!” Since he’s a man, he can go wherever he pleases and the sea pleases him. I wondered- does Ishmael have a wife and ten kids somewhere and he’s running off on them? Hmm.

So Ishmael looks for lodging at The Spouter-Inn (*elbow nudges* Get it? Spouter?). There’s no room at the inn, but Ishmael can share a bed with someone. This is totally not weird, I guess. The innkeeper tells him he can sleep with a guy named Queequeg, a harpooner. He wonders what kind of name Queequeg is, but after thinking about it decides he doesn’t want to sleep with a stranger. That would be my call also.

No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. I don't know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely multiply.

The alternative is an uncomfortable table and after a while, that stranger’s bed seems like a good idea. The only problem is Ishmael is sleepy and Queequeg hasn’t returned from his errands. Which are? he asks the innkeeper. Selling his head, he says. This doesn’t go over well. Ishmael thinks this guy is messing with him, and he does seem to get his giggles here. Ishmael flips out. Calm down, says the innkeeper, he’s literally selling a head, one he bought during his travels.

Ishmael has enough of this nonsense and goes to bed, only to have Queequeg arrive and start noodling around the room. Ishmael gets a look at his face and sees marks there. At first, he thinks he’s been in a fight, but comes to the conclusion that he’s tattooed. Also, hmm, his skin is not white. All this time Ishmael has been staring at Queequeg and hasn’t said boo. He begins to realize that this isn’t polite but how to introduce himself now?

This is solved when Queequeg tries to get into bed and reacts like anyone would when finding an unwanted stranger in our bed. He’s all. “Eek! Who are you? What are you doing here? Get out!” He also makes threatening motions with his harpoon. Ishmael yells for the innkeeper.

The innkeeper makes introductions. Queequeg politely offers his bed to Ishmael and after these thoughts he accepts:

What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” should be cross stitched on a pillow. That’s some good advice. In the end, Ishmael has the greatest sleep of his life.

Thoughts:

This is an excellent start. “Call me Ishmael.” Obviously, the narrator. That’s direct and to the point. Ishmael doesn’t like being teased, but he is a tolerant guy. He has the ability to look at his preconceived notions and challenge them. Queequeg is a man like him. They are in the same business. They have different ways of looking at the world but, hey, who doesn’t? This is a likeable guy.

I know Moby Dick is going to get complicated, but for now I’m enjoying it. I’m hoping that by blogging about it, it will force me to pay attention and get as much out of it as I can.

Have you read Moby Dick? What did you think? Maybe you haven’t read it. Are you bananas enough to read it with me?

Next post: The friendship of Ishmael and Queequeg.

MOBY DICK READS

December 2, 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters: Review

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paying guests

Frances Wray and her mother fall on hard times after the Great War. Her father left the women in debt after his death. Although they live frugally, the bills aren’t getting paid. The only solution is to let out a part of their large house to a married couple of “the clerk class.” Things are awkward at first between the Wrays and their new tenants, the Barbers, but soon Frances warms to Lilian. She warms up to her a lot.

Thrown alone together for most of the day, Lilian and Frances become friends and eventually lovers. But there’s the little problem of Lilian being, oh you know, married and all that. Frances is all for them running away together, but will they do it?

If I could give Frances some advice, I’d tell her to NEVER GET IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMEONE ELSE’S RELATIONSHIP. It won’t end well. In fact, her friend Christina (what a wise person’s name) tells her the same thing. It’s too messy.

I have a lot of thoughts about Lilian and Frances. Frances was quite a bad ass during the war. She marched against the war and for suffrage. Then her brothers were killed during the fighting, and her father died and left them broke. Suddenly, Frances had the responsibility of taking care of her mother and the house. Her days were filled cleaning and cooking. She wasn’t even thirty and she’d given up. Lilian comes into her life with her problems and adds some drama to her days.

I didn’t like Lilian and I couldn’t figure out why until I’d finished reading the book. Lilian is flighty and weak. She’s the kind of person who needs someone else to solve her problems and take care of her. First that was Len, then it was Frances. She’s a woman who will forever be a girl. I didn’t like how Lilian burdened Frances with her problems and needed her to clean up her messes. Literally.

As for Frances, I wondered if she fell in love with Lilian simply because of proximity and boredom. She was so active in her younger days only to become a drudge later. She needed something to make her feel alive again. Lilian seemed like such a bad match for her. Christina with her tell-it-like-it-is attitude would’ve been better. Christina knows her so well, but that shipped sailed long ago. When she says that Frances is a mix of conventionality and impulsiveness, she hits the nail on the head. It’s that combination that leads her into trouble with Lilian. 

I tried to muster up some sympathy for Lilian. She was young when she married Len. Okay. She was forced into it as much as Len was. Sure. They are miserable together, so why keep going? It’s not like they are particularly religious. They don’t live in a small, judgey town where everyone would be in their business. I think they liked making each other unhappy. They’re both terrible people.

Being familiar with Sarah Water’s other books, I was expecting a Big Thing to happen. When it did, the events following the Big Thing were kind of a bummer. How could anything good follow that? As much as I enjoy Water’s writing, there were moments where I wanted the plot to hurry along. There were too many “Oh no! What are we going to do? Oh, let’s just wait it out” moments. The inactivity was boring.

I can’t say that The Paying Guests is my favorite of Sarah Waters. The whole thing hinges on my feelings for Lilian and what happens in the last third of the book. My expectations were high for this one and because of that it didn’t meet them. I’d put this one in the middle of the list.

November 30, 2014

Let’s Never Talk About Women’s Fiction Again

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There have been so many articles and blog posts in every newspaper in the world about women’s writing that I can’t even bother to list them. David Gilmour poo-poos the ladies’ books. What are ladies writing about anyway? Oh the domestic, the feelings, the uteruses (uteri?). So many doilies cluttering up the place. How is a manly man supposed to read about that stuff?

Stop. Right. There.

I just read a book written by a man (The Book of Strange New Things) in which there are not one but two thorough descriptions of semen. What it looks like, how it smells, how much there is (a lot).

gross

If I can read that without my eyeballs bleeding, I think the manly men can handle the domestic interludes in women’s fiction.

nrelate