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Defector Reads A Book

Defector Reads A Book Is Gonna Kiss That White Whale

1:48 PM EST on December 13, 2023

Whale stranded at Winterton, 1857. 'This fine specimen of the whale tribe was driven ashore at Winterton by the gales which visited the coast of Norfolk...When the whale found himself upon land he roared loudly, and he struggled most lustily to regain the deep...The colour of the outer coat is dark brown on the back, vanishing off towards the body of a bluish grey. The body is white; also about two feet of the nose and baleen is white; the rest of the outer part is black. We understand that the skin, head, and tail were removed from the carcase for exhibition. The whale is stated to weigh about 25 tons'. From "Illustrated London News", 1857.
The Heritage Collection/Getty Images

Now is the winter of our list content, the slow slide into the worst and coldest part of the year, and as such, Defector Reads A Book is determined to give you all a book to read that will hopefully facilitate some sort of electric, transcendent experience, allowing you to shake off the crudded-on rust of a long year, or, barring that: a long book that will soak up a lot of time. We have received your emails and tweets and dispatches, wondering Where's the book? and Didn't Patrick pick the last one, so whose turn is it now? I can only answer the first question: The book is at the bottom of the damn ocean, the "wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glide to and fro." Grab your harpoons, it's time for Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

There is no dignified way to say this, but I'd like to show you a tweet. Sadly, the author (Nathan Rochelle DuFord) made their Twitter account private after posting it, but it's one of my favorite tweets of the year and it's acutely relevant to our subject, so:

What a bar, and if you don't have it in you to read this whole-ass novel, at least check out its official companion piece in the paracanon, the /r/literature thread "Was Herman Melville homosexual?" and join us in the comments when it's time to chat.

I first read Moby-Dick when I was profoundly unemployed and mildly unemployable, right after college, when I was living in the Inner Sunset in a windowless laundry room of a building that later burnt down. My thinking was like I need something to do all day, and this book is long as hell, and so I would ride the bus all around San Francisco, reading Moby-Dick and waiting for a blogging job to fall into my lap. That was long enough ago and I was sufficiently stupider so that I'll be coming into this second read reasonably fresh, though I do remember Melville's prose stylings coloring my first experience of living in the city in a really lovely way. I would read these beautiful bloglike passages where Melville would interrupt the story for a two-page exegesis on how the ideal sleeping conditions are a subzero bedroom and a mountain of blankets and think That's kind of how I'm living right now low-key ... or attempt (and probably fail) to adequately digest passages on the nature of madness or how all men are born with halters around their necks or the hundreds of different knots one has to learn how to tie on a whaling boat and be struck by the care of Melville's style, stealing new words to try out in my own flaccid writing. If I hadn't killed off the first book club I started by assigning everyone Hopscotch then leaving the country to make them figure it out by themselves, I would have made them read Moby-Dick.

The good news is now I can do just that (the book was Barry's idea, but I banged the gavel and took it on myself to write this blog post, so). Seeing as how this is a dense book, we're going to take a couple months. And seeing as how this book is about pursuing one's obsession to the point of self-annihilation, we will see you on Valentine's Day, Wednesday, Feb. 14 to talk about it. You can get it at the library, your local independent book store, or Bookshop.org (where you’ll also find a list of previous Defector Reads A Book selections and some other staff favorites).

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