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Off-Day Recommendation: Read Moby Dick And Hope The Sox Aren’t The Pequod

There’s no baseball tonight; here’s something else you can do.

Chaim Bloom as Captain Ahab with ship’s rigging behind him.
Chaim as Ahab.
Maura McGurk

What to do with free time? It’s too precious to let slip through your fingers so plan ahead for tonight, when there’s no Sox game on.

Here’s what I suggest: read the first chapter of Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

The first chapter doesn’t take long. And you already know that iconic first line: “Call me Ishmael.” You can even read it online.

I’ll be honest: there’s a serious love-hate relationship with this book. Some call it a candidate for the great American novel. The New Bedford Whaling Museum hosts a marathon reading of Moby Dick every year that draws a big crowd (though only a dedicated few stay for the full 26 hours). During the pandemic, they started streaming the reading, so maybe you can catch it next January.

If that doesn’t convince you, here’s a partial list of artists, writers and institutions who have been influenced by the book. There’s something for everyone here:

  • Led Zeppelin
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Bob Dylan
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Philip Roth
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Tony Kushner
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Star Trek
  • Starbucks (yes, named after a main character)
  • The Simpsons

In other circles…well, not so much. Even my 10th grade English teacher can’t stand it.

Moby Dick? God, I can’t stand that book. - Mr. Riola

But it’s weirder and better than you remember or have heard. Really!

It mashes up different genres and types of writing before that became cool. Melville gives us recipes, stage directions as if he were writing a play, encyclopedic entries on whale species, instructions on various elements of the business of whaling, and a delicious array of made-up words and phrases.

It was ahead of its time in other ways too. Melville discusses an awareness of caring for one’s mental health, and what people are willing to do for money. He lobbies for conservation of natural resources. And while not every passage stands up to our 21st century standards (the book was published in 1851, after all), Melville makes a point of promoting equality. No matter where they’re from or what color they are, all sailors are respected for their skills and contributions. Considerable efforts are made to bridge language barriers, in the interest of forming friendships. There’s respect for – even sharing in – different religious rituals and a notable scene where two men present themselves to each other as married.

Getting a little closer to home, this is such a Massachusetts story! It’s a deep dive into a way of life that’s extinct but used to be very important to Massachusetts. Although the first chapter takes place in New York City, where Ishmael becomes restless and depressed and aware of the need for a change in his life, most of the parts that occur on land happen in New Bedford. Good ol’ New Beige. It was a large whaling port then, as well as the richest city in the world due to reliance on whale oil.

Getting even closer to home, whenever I see Chaim Bloom, our fearless leader, I see…Captain Ahab. I literally and figuratively see Captain Ahab.

You probably already know about Ahab…the stubborn, single-minded villain of the piece, who risks the life of his entire crew in order to carry out his personal agenda. Yes, it’s debatable whether the baseball agenda belongs to Bloom alone, but does this tunnel vision sound familiar at all?

We may be in some trouble, floating out here at sea (err, .500), even at this early date in the season. Hopefully we won’t all go down with the ship. I’d love to be wrong, and there have been some reasons for hope recently (thank yous are in order, especially to Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Masataka Yoshida, Yu Chang and Kenley Jansen).

But the way Chaim Bloom has constructed this roster – frequently ignoring holes and seemingly content to nibble around the edges – could be the death of us. Single-mindedly scouring every corner for talent at bargain prices. Regularly and foolishly moving players outside of their natural positions. Hoping for magic. This is Chaim Bloom’s White Whale.

Did that get dark? Enjoy your off-day!