Call Me Melville

I finished The Art of Fielding.  Again.  It’s a lovely first book by a great writer, Chad Harbach.  It’s the story of a small Wisconsin liberal arts college called Westish, and the guys on its baseball team.  The school has a love affair with Herman Melville, who gave a speech there one night in the 1880’s.  They built a statue of him overlooking Lake Michigan and renamed the teams the Harpooners.  They refer to Moby Dick as “The Book.”  The students walk around campus wearing sweatshirts that say Westish on the front and “Our dick is bigger than yours” printed on the back.

While I was reading it the first time, I kept wondering if I’d get more out of it if I had ever read Moby Dick.  I luckily managed to avoid that one in my schooling.  I never had any desire to tackle it.  700-plus pages about a whale.  Yawn.  I know it’s considered one of the Great American Novels, and I love most of the others on that list, but, damn.  A whale?

It became an obsession and I had to read it.  I can see why some people love Moby Dick, but I can see more easily why so many people hate it.  It was like homework for most of the read and I had to force myself to continue.  There are entire chapters about the whale’s phsyiognomy, from his head (many, many, many chapters about whale heads), skull. spout, tail, and cock.  I just wanted to cry reading all this.

I’m glad I met Ishmael, Starbuck, Queegueg and mostly, Ahab, a rough tough sailor who talks like Hamlet.  I’m happy to be able to say I’ve read it, but my mark of a good book is, “Do I want to read it again?”  No. No.  Never.  You could get away with reading the last twenty pages where all the good stuff happens, since the whale doesn’t show up until the final chapter.  To get through Moby Dick, you have to be as single-minded and obsessed as Ahab.  And in the end, it did not help with my reading of The Art of Fielding.  Sigh.

I loved The Art of Fielding until I got to the end (Major spoilers ahead-you’ve been warned.)  I don’t like baseball stories where every pitch, throw, hit and catch in the championship game is perfect.  I felt like I stepped into a Disney story by the end. Every character did not need a happily ever after.  That’s why I love The Bad News Bears.  They lose to the Damn Yankees.


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