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Nathaniel Philbrick Visits FPL

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“I was harpooned from the very beginning.” Nathaniel Philbrick on Moby-Dick.

Last night Nathaniel Philbrick revisited the Falmouth Public Library to talk about his new book Why Read Moby-Dick. You may recall he was also here in February 2010 when the town wide read was Melville’s Moby-Dick. He spoke then on “The Real Moby-Dick: the Wreck of the Whaleship Essex and the writing of an American masterpiece”. Last night he told us he was just beginning to write the new book when he was last here. When he went on tour for his last book The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he spent lots of time in airports. What he brought with him on this tour was his copy of Moby-Dick, and reading Moby in airports was “like getting oxygen.” As Philbrick said, everyone knows the plot but few people get beyond “Call me Ishmael”, so his new book is urging new readers to give it a try. He suggested it was one of the three great books of American Literature along with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby, but the least read of the three. What is great about any great book is: “we change, it changes with you.”

Philbrick has read Moby-Dick twelve times, and last night said “I’m almost like a Trekkie when it comes to this book.” When he came to live on Nantucket he felt like he already knew the island: “I knew about the island because I had read about it in Chapter 14.” He also said of Moby-Dick that “inside it is the DNA of America”, and emphasized that it is also such a contemporary novel because reading it lets you know “what it feels like when you are on the edge of disaster.”

One of the great joys of Philbrick’s visit was learning that while he grew up in Pittsburgh, he spent two weeks every summer visiting his grandparents in West Falmouth. We’ll let you know as soon as his talk is ready to air on FCTV. It is well worth a listen, and if you still haven’t read Moby-Dick … why don’t you start with Philbrick’s book Why Read Moby-Dick as a way to get your toes wet before diving in.

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