On a whim…

Life without whimsy is not much of a life at all; without it, a walk in the dark is no laughing matter.

Melville, Moby, and me…

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Remember the books we were supposed to read when we were in middle school or high school? Books that, if they were food, seemed as palatable as sawdust? I can think of many of these unread-never-to-be-read books. Recently my grandson started complaining about a book, “I don’t understand it. I don’t know the words.” These observations should be translated: “It is boring. I don’t like it.” In response to dictums and ultimatums, vainly intended to compel him to read, he resorted well honed avoidance mechanisms. “Oh, Poppa, I can’t read it now… I need to do long division first.”  or “I really need to get to bed early, Poppa, it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow.” One of these was very inventive, “The book is so very good that I like to read small parts. That way I can enjoy it longer.”  Yeah, right, lots and lots longer.

So, I reasoned, how can I insist he read his book when there are books that I find opaque? And I thought, of all the books I, as a self proclaimed book worm, would never choose to read. What book would become my second choice if it were set as an alternative to water boarding? Yep, you guessed, “Moby Dick”.  For all of my teen age and adult life “Moby Dick or The Great White Whale” has been near the top of this list. Unfazed by related movie scripts or fame of the book it seemed more broodingly malevolent than the eye of any Great White Whale. It was to that book I resorted. “Son, I am going to read a very long and very boring book. I am doing this because I know that misery loves company. You and your book certainly seem in need of companionship so here I come.” And indeed, he resumed reading.

We found ourselves sitting together during a wintery afternoon while on vacation. If he sensed that my eyes were wandering from the book to my email he would challenge me, “Poppa, are  you reading?” Oh the tedious chore of Melville’s opening paragraphs! They seemed to confirm the fear on which my loathing was built. But I persisted; the boy’s eyes were ever upon me. Then, a strange thing happened. the book, that is the characters, became interesting. Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck, and Ahab seemed alive with interest. Alas as their interest grew, my dislike of the book faded. I grew to fear that my plan was failing. My revulsion became a transparent ruse. Now, though he continues to watch me, he reads less. I suppose he thinks, “After all, Poppa likes his book (now).”  Like an mouse upset by a plough, the quality of Melville’s writing has proved to be unexpected though not entirely unwelcome. Is there a lesson here?

Oh, perhaps I could say something like, “See son, if you stick with a book you will soon come to like it.” or, “Well now, even a boring book has its moments.”  Alas, the real lesson is not for him but for me. Never try to outsmart a child at a child’s game. That would be like trying to harpoon Moby Dick and some of us know how that turned out.

Written by David Wilkerson

8 March 2012 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Writing

Tagged with , ,

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