Here is my Sunday column for the Jan. 27, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. An audio version of this piece aired yesterday on Northern Community Radio’s “Between You and Me.” I offered some additional thoughts (and cool whale art) on Friday.
Thar she syncs: Accepting my e-fate
By Aaron J. Brown
Behold, me lads and lassies. I’ve tacked an iPod Touch to the mast of our ship. It be for the one who spies the first glow of the Great White Screen.
Many say that physical, paper books will never truly be replaced by Kindles, Nooks or iPads — perhaps you are one such person? I was too. Even though I’ve charged headlong into the world of new media writing and strung-out internet addiction, I held off on e-books. It was about pride. I was going to save books. Just like how I saved newspapers 10 years ago. You know, before I started my blog. (sigh).
Well, I got a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. I wanted to make a statement in choosing my first book to read electronically, so I chose what is literally the Great American Novel, certainly in terms of raw paper weight, “Moby Dick.”
This story of the whaling vessel Pequod’s ill-fated expedition on the high seas of the 19th Century is required reading for most American literature students. I remember reading it in English class at Cherry High School, in an anthology so cumbersome it could only be read at a desk or in a weightless environment such as the International Space Station. I recall Mr. Haapala allowed us to skip a number of chapters dedicated to whale anatomy, allowing us to focus on the more literary passages found near the beginning and end of the book.
Of course, in “Moby Dick” a daydreaming, often hapless narrator named Ishmael (he told us we can call him that) recounts Captain Ahab’s prideful mission of revenge: to find and kill the storied White Whale that took his leg on a previous voyage. They sail the world over, killing many whales, a profitable endeavor we learn, for the lights of the whole world run on whale oil at this time. But only the death of Moby Dick will comfort Ahab.
Just as the life of a whale is found mostly beneath the waves, so too is the meaning of Moby Dick. Ahab’s quest for Moby Dick dooms this vessel. Fate dictates that the White Whale was supposed to take Ahab’s leg, as it maimed and took many sailors before and after. To pursue this whale was to pursue death, something even Ahab seemed to understand:
“By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.”
This said, Ahab persists. In the throes of gruesome battle with the whale, the ship’s faithful first mate warns:
“Oh! Ahab,” cried Starbuck, “not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, thou, that madly seekest him!”
Soon after, Ahab is killed by an errant rope line. Moby Dick stoves in the ship, instantly committing the Pequod to the bottom of the ocean. But one survivor avoids the whirlpool, our narrator, who watches a familiar sea bird land gently on the hammer of a sinking crew mate, as it, too, sinks to the bottom.
Though my nightstand is stacked with books in which I’ve made varying degrees of reading progress, I finished “Moby Dick” in just 10 days on the e-reader, something I would not likely have tried otherwise.
Now I have accepted what has always been true, that the value of books is language and stories: as old as humans, found in as many varied forms as people can imagine and recreate through telling. I’m reading a paper book now, but surely I will return to the digital seas. For after reading a tome so enjoyable and vast as “Moby Dick,” one rightly seeks both land and sea. Let not pride keep us locked in one age or the next. As Ishmael said of the well-traveled whales that indeed would outlived the Pequod:
“Oh man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”