Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Okay reading this whole thing kinda took me out. For such a famous old book I wrongly assumed no matter how long it was, I could read it quick. Wrong. I am, admittedly, a slow reader, even slower when the book I'm reading makes continuous references to events and places and people I have never heard and has seemingly endless chapters about the various whale species, the consistency of the spermaceti from a whale, and descriptions of watching for whales from a crows nest. But still, I'll give the book its due. It is exquisitely well written, poetic, sometimes a little long winded, but I'll let it pass because the language is so beautiful. Theres so many scenes and themes and motifs I love. Ishmael and Queegqueg becoming bosom buddies, the pulpit scene at the beginning, Starbuck's struggle with morality, and final break as he decides to kill Ahab, but ultimately can't do it, the chapter of them pulling ceaselessly on ropes, ropes, ropes for hours on end, hands raw, sun-poisoned, and delirious. The absolutely beautiful descriptions of the open ocean, and I know for a book about whaling thats kind of a given, but still. Credit where it's due and all. The acutally-pretty-transparent-and-obvious-homosexual-references."Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. But let me continue. This book manages to capture and put into words the feelings which I have never been able to articulate. The maddening circumstances of being doomed and you know there's nothing that can be done about it. Being stuck with people, alone. How a man will debase himself to survive, before giving into the crushing, overpowering waves of fate and circumstance that can't be changed. I've included here a few of my favorite quotes from the book.
"Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves. And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience; and the great mundane soul were in anguish and remorse for the long sin and suffering it had bred."
"Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!
1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray
Very strange book, but extremely intruiging. Basically about a man who locks himself in a hotel room to kill himself, but before he does goes through every sexual fantasy he has ever had, all while revealing things about his past that have led him here. Very different and stream of conciousness, which I love. He'll stop a sentence half way through if he wants to start over or start somewhere different. "Janine is worried but trying not to show it..." The novel ends with him ultimately not committing suicide, but instead committing his life to his one true love, his fantasy thats stuck with him for years, Janine. I feel inclined to include my favorite passage from the book, dare I say one of my favorite pieces of prose, a moment where he wishes.
"I wish I was the sun, living at the perpetual height of noon, staring down at the middles of great continents. Does sunlight enjoy touching the bodies it allows us to see? If it does a lot would be understood: why life began for instance. Oh I wish I was the sun. How delighted all women would be to feel me, each one undressing without shame and opening far more to me than to any mere man, on private beaches and patios and lawns, the deliciously young, the ripely mature, the small girls, the aged grannies all languidly turning to let me toast them equally on both sides... Mirrors reflecting mirrors are the show where ignorant armies clash by night that thicks man's blood with cold."