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If You Want To Read Moby Dick


If you want to read Moby Dick, there are some great boats and shipmates for you, especially for you greenhorns who don’t know yet what ye have shipped for. Start anywhere on this list. Everybody gets to have their own personal relationship with this classic of American literature. Let these boon companions lead you to the text in their own way and in your own time. Each artist and curator has made the story of Moby Dick their own and added to my understanding and appreciation. I thank them all for their noble work.

Matt Kish – Moby Dick in Pictures

I love this big, heavy book. Graphic artist Matt Kish interpreted each page of the book with an original piece of art. I really enjoy his contemporary vision and fervid imagination.

Nathan PhilbeckWhy Read Moby Dick

Philbeck, now a Nantucketer himself, gives a much better introduction to Moby Dick than any Spark notes.

Nathan PhilbeckThe Heart of the Sea – about The Essex

Philbeck is also an expert on whaling and maritime tragedies, like this one—The Essex—the true story of a whaling voyage gone bad. The Essex tragedy was one font of inspiration for Herman Melville in writing Moby Dick. It didn’t all begin here, but some of it did.

Sena Jeter Naslund – Ahab’s Wife

Naslund took a brief reference to Ahab’s young wife and created an entire feminist world that complements Moby Dick and even makes Ahab out to be kind of a nice guy. An adventurous life at sea and on Nantucket, this is a great example of how Moby Dick inspires other great fiction.

China Mieville – RailSea

Out of the science fiction and fantasy genres comes China Mieville’s original re-telling of the Moby Dick story. Terrific for younger readers, rail enthusiasts, and mole catchers.

Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye – Moby Dick! The Musical

So irreverent! Nothing is sacred! Find some YouTube videos if you can’t find a community theater production near you. Rhinoceros Theatre did a famously LGBT version several years ago.

Jake Hegge and Gene Scheer - Moby Dick, the opera

Not to be confused with Moby Dick! The Musical, this is a new American opera co-commissioned by Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera, and State Opera of South Australia. San Francisco Opera produced a DVD of its performance. You can sometimes see it on PBS; otherwise you can buy it here. Jay Hunter Morris makes a searing, seething Ahab.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum

The mother lode of all North American whaling history, artifacts, ephemera, art, and ship models, including the half-scale model of The Lagoda. Annually hosts the Moby Dick Marathon. And the Seaman’s Bethel is just around the corner. Not to be missed!

The Nantucket Whaling Museum

A smaller museum by comparison, but it’s on Nantucket, home of the most esteemed whalers in the world. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t visit whaling museums too often, there is always something new to learn or see. Like the bawdy scrimshaw in this museum. I got to handle a real harpoon and lance—the former was heavy and the latter heavier.

The Maui Whaling Museum

And yet one more smaller whaling museum, but it’s just the right size if you have only an hour or two, want to see everything and not be overwhelmed. Whaling ships regularly called upon “the happy islands” for all sorts of repairs and restoration.

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