DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Dec 28 2015

Whale of a Story

by Hope L

SmithsonianDec2015My favorite quick read, which is available at DCPL (natch), is Smithsonian Magazine*–and the December issue certainly does not disappoint.

The article “Quakers with a Vengeance” is all about the history of Nantucket, so of course it delves into the history of whaling–and, of course, it talks about Herman Melville and Moby Dick. And it explores a more recent item: Ron Howard’s new movie In the Heart of the Sea, now in theaters.

One fascinating tidbit I just picked up from reading this piece is that Melville had never been to Nantucket (the place where his famous classic is at shore) when he wrote his famous story. Turns out he only visited it a year after Moby Dick was published. I did know however (being a Card-Carrying Know-It-All and everything), that Melville’s book was a flop during his lifetime, which is indeed a shame. The more I read about Herman Melville, the more I respect him as a writer and an adventurer. (You, too, can be a Card-Carrying Know-It-All by signing up today for a DCPL library card.)

I haven’t been this excited about whaling since I visited Provincetown, MA, a few years ago. Not quite Nantucket, but it’s the closest I’ve been to the world-famous home of whalers, that little island out there off of Cape Cod. It also turns out that Nantucket and its environs had little in the way of whales in any nearby waters after about 1800, having been all fished out. Still, the infrastructure was in place for the processing of whale blubber, and Nantucket continued to be the top producer of whaling oil in the world.

The thing about Melville’s Moby Dick is that initially one could mistake it as a difficult and monotonous read, as I did before I became a die-hard ship/sea stories/whaling aficionado. But when I read it years later, I was smitten.

melville

Melville’s tales of his seafaring adventures led to his success as a writer with Typee published in 1846. Other books followed, with Moby Dick being published in 1851 to little acclaim.

So, if you care to dream about ocean adventures while in landlocked Atlanta, DCPL has an assortment of whaling and seafaring books in addition to Melville’s writings, for example:

Looking for a Ship (1990) by John McPhee

Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting (2006) by T.R. Pearson

The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America (2008) by Lorri Glover and Daniel Blake Smith

*The Smithsonian Magazine is available in print (paper) at various DCPL branches. Check with your local library. You can read full-color, digital issues of the Smithsonian Magazine in our DCPL Zinio Library Collection, and the magazine is also available full-text via EBSCOhost from GALILEO.

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