Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (Arion Press facsimile edition)

Tuesday morning concluded what I believe was my first real vacation in about four years--I spent a little over a week on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts with my family. My parents have a house in Madaket (a small village on the Western tip of the island) and we've been visiting fairly regularly since I was young. As with any time off, I always try to make the best of my open schedule and get through a massive book that's been on my bookshelf for ages. No matter how many classics were reaching out to me, only one made sense for this trip: Melville's Moby-Dick.

I've had a beautiful paperback copy of Moby-Dick sitting around untouched for about five years. It's a facsimile of a rare edition by the Arion Press from the 1979, designed by Andrew Hoyem with illustrations by Barry Moser.

The trim size, illustrations, and typeface all create a book that is exquisitely balanced; the entire design of this book is so celebratory and passionate that it truly contributes to a more pleasurable read.

Those of you who don't know the actual bulk of Moby-Dick, I'd say about half the book is made up of a crash-course in whaling. Any action of the book is chopped up with short chapters on harpooning, roping, cutting-in, and so on. All at once, you get a classic of American literature and instructions on how to scoop out a whale head.

These whaling lessons are at times a little dry, and Barry Moser's incredible boxwood engravings break up these pages in an exceptionally well-calculated way. Seeing the beauty that Moser was able to extract from what are essentially quite boring chapters really strengthens your appreciation of these historical sidesteps. There's quite a bit of artistry in the history of whaling and the nature that surrounds it, and it's something I fear other editions of Moby-Dick would not be able to show.

I spent two summers on Nantucket with my girlfriend in college. She spent her time at the Nantucket Historical Association while I worked at what I still believe is one of the best bookstores on the planet, Mitchell's Book Corner. During those years, Mitchell's was run by an incredible woman named Mimi Beman. She caught me at the genesis of my book love and helped me grow into who I am today. The passion that is in me now and the desire I have to share books with people all stem from Mimi's store and what she taught me. At the end of my last summer there, Mimi gave me a this copy of Moby-Dick. She didn't expect me to read it right away (as she knew there was always a time for these things) but she thought I should have it. Mimi died last Spring. I'll miss her very much--she is responsible for so much of my love of books, and it's an honor to have shared such wonderful summers with her on Nantucket.

"Sing out for every spout, though he spout ten times a second!"


Currently reading:
Zoetrope: All-Story (edited by PJ Harvey)

Currently listening to:
Woodsman, "Collages"

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