Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dan Beachy-Quick, A Whaler's Dictionary

This is a pretty interesting book -- certainly if you're a fan of Moby-Dick, but especially if you want to see one reader's approach to exploring a single work of literature.

What Beachy-Quick creates here is less a "dictionary" proper and more an alphabetical listing and explanation of themes, major concepts, terms, and connections derived from having read closely the Melville novel for more than ten years. As he points out in "Apology," "I meant not to exhaust Moby-Dick of meaning, but to exhaust myself of of the meaning I found in it." Consequently, each chapter is a brief meditation on any number of significant aspects of the novel that helped inform his reading of the text, whether they be reflections on a theme ("Fear," "Hunger"), or an odd thread he follows throughout the novel ("Profit" vs. "Prophet"), or even the resonance of an allusion Ishmael drops but fails to develop ("Jawbone"). Reading A Whaler's Dictionary is like reading one reader's ongoing notebook reflections of a text, or watching that reader organize and reflect upon the marginal annotations s/he's made over multiple readings.

This book is a strangely compelling look at how a reader thinks about the text he is reading.

Read A Whaler's Dictionary because you enjoyed Moby-Dick, or read it because you want to see how a reader tries to make sense of a text's complexity. But do check it out!

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