Link & Jones (Thoughts on Books 7, 8 & 21 of the #TBR20 Project)

Books I've read on the left; books still to read on the right.

Books I’ve read on the left; books still to read on the right.

I am now eight books into #TBR20 – my project to read 20 books from my To Be Read (TBR) pile before buying more.

My first piece of exciting news is that #TBR20 got a mention on the Guardian Books site earlier in January!

In other exciting news, my friend Nicola has launched a books podcast with her friend Holly. #TBR20 gets a shout out in the very first episode. Nicola’s an experienced film critic for BBC radio so the podcast promises to be a well made and entertaining fortnightly look at books. Check out the Bookish Blether tumblr for more information.

magic for beginners

7/10 Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link (2005)

Book 7 of my project was a collection of spooky and fantastical stories from American writer Kelly Link.

The nine stories in Magic for Beginners are brimming with fantasy imagery and invention that makes reading them a very visual experience (indeed several reference paintings, both fictional and real). Most often, Link takes adolescents and their coming-of-age struggles, or adults looking back towards youth while stranded in their failed relationships, and sets them against the subtly sinister tensions of off-kilter worlds. Zombies are real, say, or the living and dead can marry, or a TV show character breaks the fourth wall and telephones the protaganist asking for help. The banalities of suburban American life meet the banalities of magic. I adore horror and ghost stories and reading Link I had a strong sense of a writer working passionately with these genres and making them her own.

For me, the stand-out story was Stone Animals, a properly strange tale of a haunted family in a haunted house with a superb opening scene. I also especially liked The Hortlak, about a young man working in a convenience store frequented by zombies (the story creates a sense of subtle dread that turns out to be as much about life’s missed chances as undead customers). The title story Magic for Beginners, about a TV-show-obsessed teenager and his parents’ struggling marriage, is both funny and poignant, and the family and friendship dynamics are beautifully observed.

You can read two stories from the collection free online via the author’s website (Some Zombie Contingency Plans and The Faery Handbag). Link’s next collection of stories, Get In Trouble, is out in February 2015.

known world

21/20 The Known World by Edward P Jones (2003)

Note: I’m listing this as 21/20 because I picked it from my shelves and read it for my book group this month. See my fuller note in the The Rules section at the bottom of the post.

The Known World is set in the antebellum American South in a fictional county of Virginia. Using the death of Henry Townsend, a black man who owned slaves, as a starting point, it depicts the lives of an ensemble of men, women and children marked by the existence of slavery.

The setting (and my edition’s sepia cover) had led me to expect the straightforward storytelling of a genre historical novel, but Jones is doing something different. The novel never truly settles. The death of Townsend takes place in 1855, and the novel ranges across several decades to either side of that date. Often, when characters are introduced, we are told how they will die or given a significant act they will perform decades from the current moment in the prose.

Each character is a complex shading of grey, and each is cast in his or her relationship to God. Often, those suffering find strength in God, and those exacting violence find justification. Some are afraid to leave the small world of Manchester County. Some dream of a wider world – perhaps a more enlightened one.

The great strength of Jones’s prose is how quiet it is. There are no fireworks here – none of the packed, quirky detail of hysterial realism, and no wearisome attention-seeking acrobatics. Jones’s prose is wise rather than clever.

The – very few – moments of rage and violence in the novel curl nastily out of that quiet tone and are more disturbing for it. A man punished and chained alone in a barn studies the sparrows in the rafters of the building (Moses is another slave in the plantation):

He wondered if he would be there long enough for the birds to have eggs, then chicks, to see the chicks grown and then make their own nests. Take straw to the nest, go back for more. To see the grandchildren sparrows become parents. He could wring the neck of everyone on the plantation, it was just a matter of whether to start with Moses or the master. Moses’s neck was thicker. The children’s necks would be the hardest. But over and done with in a snap. He could close his eyes tight with them, with the children, and with the old people. The women would scream the loudest, but God, being the kind of God he was, would give him strength.

This superb novel gives the reader no easy place to rest. There are no clear heroes, only people doing their best to survive. They act sometimes with grace and kindness, sometimes with weakness and malice. There is also no clear present time in the novel, so the legacy of slavery and suffering seems to stand permanently, hidden behind the face of all things. And there is no easy relationship to God. The omniscient view in the novel follows some characters beyond death, but only for a few steps. When Townsend, a black man who owned slaves, dies, Jones writes one of the eeriest scenes I have ever read. As he dies Townsend finds himself climbing into a house, and the house is wrong:

Whoever was renting the house to him had promised a thousand rooms, but as he traveled through the house he found less than four rooms, and all the rooms were identical and his head touched their ceilings. “This will not do,” Henry kept saying to himself…

In The Known World, there is no telling how men might – or might not – be punished for what they do.

lost in the city

8/10 Lost In The City by Edward P Jones (1992)

I had picked Jones’s novel for my book group because I knew I would be reading his debut collection of stories for #TBR20. The stories are just incredible. Jones is phenomenally successful as a short story writer – several of the stories in Lost In The City appeared in the New Yorker and the collection was nominated for America’s National Book Award and won the Pen/Hemingway Award.

In the introduction to the 20th Anniversary Edition I own, Jones writes that he was inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners: ‘I admired Joyce’s bold and evident love of his Dublin people; I knew all the people in that book because they weren’t doing anything different than what black people in Washington, DC, were doing.’

The 14 stories in Lost In The City are realist, and all centred on contemporary Washington DC lives. I enjoyed each of them, but my personal favourite is An Orange Line Train To Ballston. The way he sets the tannoy announcements of a train journey against a woman watching her children chat to a man in the train carriage just seemed absolutely beautiful to me – a perfect evocation of the city.

The moments that moved and stunned me in his stories are powerfully quiet. It’s difficult to quote Jones to convey the experience of reading his stories, since so much of it is subtle and cumulative. In his Guardian series on the short story, Chris Power identifies this as a problem when writing about Chekhov (see the seventh paragraph) and I find it here with Jones. Lost In The City is a remarkable collection, and I very much recommend that you read it for yourself.

Other Fiction Reading

I’ve been reading the New Yorker story every week. A new story appears every Monday. Since I last posted I’ve read The Ways by Colin Barrett, The Crabapple Tree by Robert Coover, Breadman by J Robert Lennon and Inventions by Isaac Bashevis Singer (trans. Aliza Shevrin). I’ve also started reading a classic English novel in the mornings before work (again, one I already own) but I’ll keep the details of that one quiet until I see if I stick with it.

The Rules

The only cast-iron rule of #TBR20 is that I must read 20 books I own before buying more. I’m also avoiding library loans. I’m focusing entirely on the books I already have. I’m allowing one exception to that library rule each month so that I can keep up with my book group.

I’ve also started picking some novels from my shelves outwith my TBR20 pile. I’ll count them as an addition to my total (so I might end up doing a TBR23 or 24 or whatever). The Known World is the first of these, so it’s 21/20. The 12 books I have left on my #TBR20 pile are all short stories so I’m enjoying adding some novels back into the mix.

Join In

Join in on the #TBR20 tag on Twitter, check out my post about TBR20 participants, and give me a shout in the comments – I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

Books, Books, Books: A Gallery of Pics From #TBR20 Readers

Books I've read on the left; books still to go on the right

My #TBR20 pile of books. I’ve read those on the left (plus Magic For Beginners, which I finished on 3rd Jan 2015).

I started my project to read 20 books I own before buying more in November 2014. On 2nd January 2015, there was a spike of activity on the #TBR20 hashtag on Twitter as people decided to join in the New Year. Lots of people tweeted photgraphs of the books they’d chosen (but you can pick as you go if you like, too). My post about what I picked and why is here.

I absolutely love getting a peek at these book pics. I wanted to try compiling them here for two reasons: first, not everyone interested in #TBR20 is on Twitter and this will be an easy way they can get a nosey at the pics too. Second, I’m genuinely and pleasantly surprised by how #TBR20 has struck a chord with people and wanted to curate something here to give an idea of all the activity.

If I’ve managed to miss you out, give me a shout and I’ll include you (and if I’ve included you and you’d rather not be on the blog, just give me a shout too). I’ll also update this post as more pics are tweeted.

#TBR20 came out of @An1081 & I chatting on Twitter, and @AggieHH was the third person on Twitter to click with the project and join in. There are several on Aggie’s pile I want, but the one I’ll be buying soonest after #TBR20 is Thunderstruck after Aggie and I chatted about it. She loved it.

An is doing both a paper book and ebook #TBR20! Check out her blog via the link in her Tweet for her thoughts and rules on the project.

Poppy was another early adopter of the challenge back in early December. Great picks.

Fantastic selection from Agri (including a novel by one of my absolute favourite authors, Jean Rhys).

Epic pile of books from Claire. I basically want all of these. Except A Winter Book – I already have it and it’s on my #TBR20 pile.

I’ve noticed The Miniaturist and The Golden Notebook on a few piles, and as @AggiHH observed on Twitter, Gilead is making quite a few appearances too. It would’ve been on mine if I hadn’t decided to focus on short stories.

Jess has written a great post about the project on her blog and has startled everyone by including Infinite Jest. I am in awe.

Superb selection from Katherine. Woolf is another #TBR20 favouite.

I love that Betty has such a mix of books here – the poetry is an unusual pick for #TBR20 so far. Also: Don Quixote!

One of the nice things about seeing other readers’ TBRs is spotting a book you’ve read and loved and thinking they have it to look forward to. Hoping Cindy enjoys Cloud Atlas as much as I did.

Nice mix of titles from Phil, including Empire of the Sun which is excellent. I’m a big fan of Ballard and need to read more of him.

Click the Instagram link to see Clare’s picks. I’ve spotted Greene in another #TBR20 pic too and I’m really keen to get round to reading him. Clare recommended Brighton Rock as a particular favourite of hers.

Speechless. (I’m just as bad).

The McBride is brilliant, the Wyld is a beautifully done page turner and I picked up the Vásquez after it won the Impac Prize last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are loads here I haven’t read that are on my wishlist too.

Superb selection from Ali, particularly a lot of 20th century women. Plenty I haven’t heard of here and will need to check out. And she has included the wonderful Alice Munro. Ali has written about #TBR20 on her blog.

A good fiction/non-fiction mix from Helen, including some heavyweight politics picks.

Delighted to see McBride on another pile. And plenty of Knausgaard! I’ll be checking out the ones I haven’t heard of here. Enard’s Zone is near the top of my post-#TBR20 wishlist.

Selection of mostly contemporary novels from Rosie. I’ve read the Levy and Flynn and enjoyed both. Have the Hall on my shelves. Would like to read Sebald soon. Rosie has written about #TBR20 on her blog.

Amazing selection from K, a Danish book blogger. One word: Proust.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor is on my wishlist – the slim white spine underneath is her novel Wise Blood. I’d say I loved Wise Blood, but that would be a strange way of putting things for that book. It’s incredible.

Nice mix of books from Mary and yet another appearance for The Miniaturist on a #TBR20 pile. Looking forward to reading it later in the year.

A properly looming TBR pic from Carol! Bring Up The Bodies is on my electronic pile of books. Very much enjoyed Wolf Hall, so I’d like to get to it soon.

Great selection from novelist Savita. I am especially tempted by Smiley’s book on the novel and by O’Flynn’s Mr Lamb’s Holiday (I enjoyed O’Flynn’s first two books).

Elizabeth has impressively included both The Goldfinch and The Luminaries, two 700+ page contemporary novels. And this is a second pile with Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies in it, reminding me I haven’t read it yet. The Smith is on my wishlist – she has recently won both the Goldsmith’s and Costa prizes with How To Be Both. It intrigues me that the same book won both of those.

A great fiction/non-fiction mix from Michael. So many books in this pic I’d like to try. The only one I’ve read is A Visit From The Good Squad. Also: fairy lights and a guitar! I have to say Michael’s is one of the most atmospheric #TBR20 images yet.

Click on the link to see Kate’s #TBR20 choices – lots of great stuff here. I love Munro and very much enjoyed One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey.

Naomi has blogged over at her excellent The Writes of Woman blog about taking part in #TBR20 with a twist – have a read of her post to find out more and to see her TBR20 pic.

Plenty of readers are picking as they go, including:

July, Wigfall, and Constantine (Thoughts on Books 4-6 of the #TBR20 Project)

Books I've read on the left; books still to go on the right

Books I’ve read on the left; books still to go on the right

I’m nearing the end of the second month of my project to buy no more books until I read 20 I already own. Over Christmas I read three contemporary short story collections.

When I committed to my project in November, I had forgotten Christmas sales and the massive ebook discounting that goes on at this time of year. For example, being able to buy one of 2014’s bestselling novels for only £1.80 on Kindle. Or picking up the short story collection that won this year’s Green Carnation Prize for 99p.

But most exciting and tempting: the Verso Books sale. Verso are running a 90% -off ebook sale until Jan 1st. There are some superb books in there. And, importantly, the ebooks are DRM-free, so they really are yours when you buy them.

I do want to support Verso (and will, in future, now I know they do DRM-free copies) but although I was tempted I’m glad I didn’t succumb. This time last year I’m sure I spent £20 or so on discounted books and I don’t think I’ve read a single one of them. It still feels good to have stepped away from that consumerism for a while.

noonebelongsheremore

4/20: No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July (Canongate, 2007)

I had just finished reading the Heath short story anthology, a collection of 62 classic short stories, when I picked up American author July’s collection. After the anthology, settling into a collection – a debut, no less – took a bit of adjustment. However, it also meant a return to the pleasure of considering the voice and preoccupations of a writer across stories. I love this about reading collections – it feels much like visiting an art exhibition or assessing the work in a degree show.

If the 16 stories in July’s collection were paintings, almost every one would be a portrait of a slyly naive woman, smiling cheerfully from the canvas while sex, chaos and seedy consequences unfold in the background. Most of these stories, whether told from the viewpoint of a middle aged woman or a very young woman, have a similar voice – upbeat even under strain; new in the world. By the end of the stories, the narrators have either revealed the off-beat darkness in their lives or faltered as they encounter it outside of themselves.

For me, the stand-out story was The Man on the Stairs, a six-page piece that uses that voice and July’s penchant for spot-on 20-something observations (‘I thought these were just my starter friends and the real ones would come along later’) to create a genuinely poignant piece. Several of the shorter pieces seemed less complete or satisfying to me, and in those I became tired of the collision of woman-child narration and seedy or bleak reveal. I most liked two of the longer stories: Something That Needs Nothing and How to Tell Stories to Children. There’s something unforgiving in the way the first unfolds against the narrator. The latter uses the wearier voice of an older woman negotiating an unusual set of relationships. I thought it hinted beautifully at the sinister (and often unwitting) attempt at ownership some adults make on youth.

July won the 2007 Frank O’Connor Award for this collection. Her debut novel The First Bad Man is out 19th February 2015 with Canongate.

Clare Wigfall

5/20: The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall (Faber & Faber, 2007)

I bought this collection secondhand a few years ago when I took a notion to reread her BBC National Short Story Award winning story. Wigfall won in 2008 for the story The Numbers, which is the first in this collection. It’s the story of a woman on a Scottish island with no viable suitors as she ages, and I’ll leave it at that for fear of spoiling it for you. It’s available to read online for free. The voice in this story is bewitching and the ending is powerful and strong. The rest of the stories in The Loudest Sound don’t, for me, quite reach the level of The Numbers, but each is worth reading and they cover a wide range of characters and circumstances (Hollywood husbands, anxious mothers, 1930s outlaws…) My favourite apart from The Numbers is the second story, The Parrot Jungle. It left me with a nagging desire to live back in its world again for days after reading it. It’s full of the tension of potential – of the desire to make more of a life that might not have more to offer.

Tea-at-the-Midland

6/20: Tea at the Midland and Other Stories by David Constantine (Comma Press, 2012)

Here’s another collection I picked up after liking a BBC National Short Story Award winner. Constantine took home the prize in 2010 for Tea at the Midland, the title story of this collection (you can read the story free online). It was interesting to read this immediately following the July and Wigfall debuts – Tea at the Midland is the fourth collection of stories from a writer who is also an established and acclaimed poet. The stories have an advanced level of clarity, unity and depth of vision. Set mostly in England, they contemplate ageing, loneliness, and the pain of relationships and being alive. I loved this collection, including the experience of rereading the prize-winning story and finding new subtlety within it. My absolute favourite, however, was An Island. At about 40 pages it’s the longest piece in the book. I read it on Christmas Day and was drawn absolutely into the beauty and bleakness of its world. It’s remarkable. It takes place over Chrismas, too, so I couldn’t have planned my reading better. A highlight of my reading year.

Other Fiction Reading

In the past week I’ve spent a lot of time on Nuruddin Farah’s excellent New Yorker story The Start of the Affair. Click on the link to read the story online and check out the discussion of the story at the Mookse and Gripes blog.

The Rules

The only cast-iron rule of #TBR20 is that I must read 20 books I own before buying more. I’m also avoiding library loans. I’m focusing entirely on the books I already have. I’m allowing one exception to that library rule each month so that I can keep up with my book group. Join in on the #TBR20 tag on Twitter or give me a shout in the comments – I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

Kristóf, Bâ, and 62 stories (Thoughts on Books 1-3 of the #TBR20 Project)

I’m five weeks into my #TBR20 project to read 20 books I own before buying more. So far, on my own shelves, I have found a novel trilogy masterpiece, a remarkable feminist novel of late 70s Senegal, and a collection of essential literary short stories.

kristof 3 volume

1/20: The Notebook (tr. Alan Sheridan); The Proof (tr. David Watson); The Third Lie (tr. Marc Romano) by Ágota Kristóf (Grove Editions, 1997)

I bought this volume of three novels on 5th February this year, along with Seven Terrors by Selvedin Avdic. Guardian articles inspired both purchases: the Avdic thanks to Nicholas Lezard’s review, and the Kristóf thanks to a piece by Slavoj Žižek on the wonder of the ‘authentic ethical naivety’ of the twin boys in the novel.

In 1956, Kristóf left her native Hungary because of revolution and settled in Switzerland, where she wrote the three short novels of her trilogy in French in 1986, 1988 and 1991. They tell the story of twin brothers who adapt to survive in an occupied country. The first, The Notebook, was released in the UK this year by CB Editions and is a perfect standalone work of strange, sparse and fable-like beauty. But reading the second and third feels like watching the author coldly dismantle her creation layer by layer, until the lies at the heart of it are laid bare. Together, the three works form a remarkable and bleak enquiry into truth and story. By the end of The Third Lie, Žižek’s ethical naivety has been discarded, but the merciless authenticity remains.

ba so long a letter

2/20: So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ (tr. Modupé Bodé-Thomas) (Heinemann African Writers Series, 1981)

I bought this slim little Sengalese book a few years ago. I have a dim memory of seeing it on a blogger’s list of feminist novels and being attracted to the title. Only 95 pages long, it takes the form of Ramatoulaye’s letters to her closest friend as she deals with the aftermath of her husband’s death. Her husband had taken a second wife shortly before he died, and she must navigate the complexity this has created in her grief. For such a short work it feels densely populated, teeming with the narrator’s family, friends and acquaintances (a particularly vivid character is her friend’s mother-in-law, who schemes for years to demolish her friend’s position in the family). The letters are eloquent and powerful expressions of grief, acceptance and the strong belief that women are owed a better place in society.

heath antho

3/20: The Heath Introduction to Fiction (5th ed), ed. John J. Clayton, (DC Heath & Company, 1996)

This book is an out-of-print edition of an American college anthology of 62 classic short stories from the 1800s to mid 1990s. Various editions of the anthology seem to sell for about £30 online, but I got my copy for £2.50 in a Glasgow charity shop several years ago.

It’s a great selection, ranging from anthology classics such as Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Chekhov’s The Lady With The Dog and Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, to contemporary writers new to me such as Toni Cade Bambara and Susan Minot. It also contains thoughtful essays on how to read and write about fiction, genuinely useful notes on each story and short biographies of each author from the editor John J. Clayton.

There are too many highlights to mention (it really is a superb selection) but I was particularly pleased to discover Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. I was also gripped by Stephen Crane’s The Open Boat. Sea stories are my catnip, apparently.

There are also now several collections I want to buy – particularly Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter. Her story The Jilting of Granny Weatherall is just stunning. I’m also interested in reading more by Tillie Olsen, as I have a particular interest in fiction by working class writers, women especially.  I’ll also read more Flannery O’Connor as soon as I can (I love her novel Wise Blood and this anthology included A Good Man Is Hard To Find). My only gripe about the anthology was that I could find no mention of the translators of translated pieces. A baffling omission.

Reading Short Stories

The Heath anthology was an ambitious choice for my third book of the project, not least because I would never normally contemplate reading so many short stories close together – particularly stories held up as great examples of the form. A great short story detonates perfectly in the mind, clearing a blast site in which nothing else can grow for a time.

Incidentally, this is also why the notion that short stories are ideally suited to busy modern lives is nonsense. Stories require full concentration for a single sitting, the length of which is determined by the story itself; require the reader to tolerate a heightened level of ambiguity and allusion in a form that is not simply a short piece of prose; and require immersion again and again in singular visions afforded only by a glancing pass.

A great short story is not the convenient tidbit of literature. It shines, hard and glittering, and is left alone in favour of the soft, friendly cloth of a popular novel. I wouldn’t be without those novels (or my favourite TV boxsets), but short stories are a different form entirely.

I realised last weekend, despite the difficulties of reading a large quantity  of short stories, that I very much wanted to continue to spend time completely engaged with short fiction. This would have value both as a reader – many of my best reading experiences have been with short stories – and as a writer, since I am working on stories of my own.

I decided to commit to spending the rest of #TBR20 reading short story collections. You can see a photograph of the books I’ve chosen here. I’m a little anxious that a short-fiction fatigue will creep up on me. But mostly I’m excited to be dedicating almost three months to reading and studying the short story.

The Rules

The only unbendable rule of #TBR20 is that you will read 20 books you own before buying more. The rest is up to you. Check out this great post from @An1081 setting out her rules for the project and showing us the 40 – yes, 40! – books she has picked. She has committed to separate paper and ebook #TBR20 projects. I am in awe.

Join In

Take part via the hashtag on Twitter at #TBR20 or in the comments below. Check out my update post from Sunday 7th December for a photograph of my short-story TBR pile and links to other TBR pile pics from the lovely folk taking part on Twitter. Since that post, @maudie43 also tweeted a great pic of her 20 books and @AshleyJStokes posted a pic of the first book he completed.

If you’ve decided to join in, I’d love to hear about it. What have you chosen to read?

#TBR20 Project Update: The Books I’ll Be Reading

In early November 2014 I began a project to read 20 books from my To Be Read pile before buying any more. There is now a group of us taking part on the #TBR20 hashtag on Twitter. I’ve had great fun over the past few weeks getting a look at the stack of 20 books others have chosen. Check out these TBR book pictures from @AggieHH, @poppypeacockpen, @A9ri – and here’s an ebook selection from @An1081. There is something very satisfying about seeing these (and, as @AggieHH put it, oddly consoling).

I’d avoided committing to a particular 20 so that I had more flexibility about where my reading mood might take me, but this evening I’ve decided to take the leap. So far I’ve read two novels and my third book, which I should finish in the next few days, is a short story anthology of 62 classic short stories. I’m getting so much out of reading the anthology that I have decided to read short stories for the rest of the project.

In no particular order, the remaining 17 books of my project will be:

2014-12-07 19.40.35

Rules

The only rule of #TBR20 is that you must read 20 books you own before buying more. The rest is up to you. I’m avoiding library loans, too. Some of us are picking out the books in advance, and others are choosing as they go. If someone gives you a book as a present, that doesn’t count as a breach of the rules (unless, of course, you have browbeaten a friend into buying it for you because you feel that desperate for a new hardback. If you’re doing this, you’re a hopeless case and #TBR20 probably can’t help you).

Join In

Follow the #TBR20 hashtag on Twitter or give me a shout in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the project. If you’re taking part, let me know what books you’ve picked.

The TBR20 Project: Taking A Break From Too Many Books

Some of the short story collections I own and haven't read.

Some of the short story collections I own and haven’t read.

I own too many books. I rent a one-bedroom flat in Glasgow and I have: a cupboard full of books; a separate bookshelf full of books; and a chest of drawers upon which are piled several piles of books. There is no more space. Volumes wash up like driftwood on all available surfaces of the house. Paperbacks, acquired on holiday and unpacked from my case. An impulse buy or three in Waterstones. A stack of bargains bought second hand.

Most of the books I own are unread. But most of what I’ve read in the past five years is still there too. I enjoy re-reading, both in full and in part. Perhaps a scene or sentence I read comes back to me months later and I return to relive the memory. Or perhaps I identify a problem in my own writing and I remember I’ve seen it solved somewhere, that I followed another writer as she breathed life into the very thing I’m trying to do.

I am also a slow reader. I am slow partly through disposition (the sentences! the world unfolding! my own pace, taken!) and partly through time constraints. I work full time. I write, I exercise. I attend political meetings. I’ve a modest but happy social life and an enthusiastic desire for sleep. And I really do like to see my boyfriend now and again.

Some of the unread novels lurking in my flat.

Some of the unread novels lurking in my flat.

In the first week of November this year I decided, not for the first time, that I needed to stop buying books for a while. I needed a project or a detailed resolution. A thing like this isn’t undertaken lightly, you understand. You can’t just think ‘Oh, I just won’t buy books’ and then it happens. It goes deeper than that. It needs some sort of apparatus to make it stick.
This time, though, I was stuck. I’d tried everything before. I thought about the time I’d promised myself I wouldn’t buy books for the entire year. That had failed in the first week of February. Later I’d resolved I wouldn’t buy any books for a month. That had failed, too. What about only buying a certain number of books a year? What about only buying one book a week? What about setting a budget? Failed, failed and failed.

I wasn’t looking to change because of money. I’m lucky enough to be able to spend what I like on books (I average £50 a month). It wasn’t even really about the dwindling space, although reminders of that were becoming hard to ignore. I like reading on an ereader – I could have switched completely to digital reading. I could have hidden it from myself.

What had crept up on me as the books gathered on all available surfaces of my house was that it all seemed to be driven by some kind of anxiety. I was serving some need that was nothing to do with finding new reading material. A nervous habit. A way for the mind to jitter without meaning. I was, I worried, using book buying the way I might tap a pen or bite my nails.

Like all anxieties it had mortality at its root. Aside from the instant gratification of buying something new, what I bought had a certain intent. I was buying what I wanted to have read. I was always looking for the next thing, the next great thing that would mean everything.

You couldn’t devise a surer way of disconnecting from literature and stories. When I took a moment away from hunting for books and sat down to read, sure, the connection eventually flooded back. But I was aware of the wrench of attention it required.

It’s easy to buy the books you want to have read. It’s less easy to read them.

It turned out that this was exactly the way I needed to think about it. When I mentioned on Twitter that I really needed to stop buying books, @An1081 tweeted to say she’d considered reading a certain number of books she already owned before she’d permit herself to buy more. A good, large number, she thought. It immediately made sense to me. I think I’ll make it twenty, I said.

This is what I hadn’t appreciated before: instead of focusing on what I wouldn’t do or how I would limit myself, I should be focusing on what I would do: reading the books I have.

I opened my books cupboard. My eyes roamed past the non-fiction on the shelves to the great stacks of novels and short stories I had accumulated. I knew I wanted to stick to reading fiction for this project. I picked up a volume containing Ágota Kristóf’s three twin trilogy novels: The Notebook, The Proof and The Third Lie, which I had bought in February.

I tweeted that I had committed to a project to read 20 books I own before buying more. Adopting the usual online books acroynm of TBR for the To Be Read pile, I decided to give the project a name on Twitter: #TBR20. Others began to join in. Too Many Books, it seems, is the common plight of the bibliophile.

This week Jonathan Gibbs (@Tiny_Camels on Twitter; his excellent blog here) picked up the idea and tweeted about it. He tweeted about it on Black Friday, that strange day of bargains and riot-shopping that has only recently gripped the UK. It seemed apposite.

Borges wrote that he imagined Paradise would be a ‘kind of library’. Thanks to #TBR20 I am sitting quietly at one of the broad, well-lit tables in the reading room, rather than dashing madly about the shelves.

Join in
Join in on Twitter with the hashtag #TBR20. At the moment the participants are: me (@evastalker), @AggieHH and @JacquiWine, with a few more hoping to join when they can. I’m on book 3/20 at the moment and reckon I’ll hit 20 by April 2015.

Rules
Strength in simplicity! One rule: I will read 20 books I own before buying more. I’ve decided to include avoiding library loans since I was as guilty of loaning more books than I could read as I was of buying them. I’ve made an exception for one library book a month, though, so I can take part in my book group. I’ve also decided to focus on paper books.

Next up on the blog
In about a fortnight’s time I’ll post some thoughts on my experience of #TBR20 so far and what I’ve been reading as part of the project.

Interlude

I blogged here from May 2012 until early 2013, writing mostly about books and culture. My book reviews are here. From September 2012 to January 2013 I wrote a weekly series about reading the classic American novel Moby-Dick with the Moby-Dick Big Read project.

You can get in touch with me by email at eva.stalker (at) gmail (dot) com or on Twitter: @evastalker.

the third person

Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband. And then I go on to write, in the third person and the past tense, that clearly she always needed to have a love even if it was a complicated love.

From Story by Lydia Davis from her first collection Break It Down (1986).

The Moby-Dick Big Read: Chapter 135 and The Epilogue

The twentieth and final weekly post on reading Herman Melville’s classic American novel a chapter a day with the Moby-Dick Big Read daily podcast.

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Storyboard sketch by Stephen Grimes, the Art Director for John Huston’s 1956 film adaptation of Moby-Dick.

Yesterday, the Moby-Dick Big Read uploaded the final chapter of the book. This morning we were given the Epilogue, and all of a sudden we had finished reading Melville’s wonderful, perplexing, thrilling, and beautiful book.

The Big Read has been a fantastic success, clocking up over a million downloads so far and receiving media coverage across the globe.  Since news of the project caught my imagination back in September 2012, I have been posting weekly about my experience of reading the novel with the Big Read’s recordings.

Over the past five months my posts have grown into something like a personal travelogue of my adventure through my first reading of Moby-Dick. I was also pleased that it turned out to be a handy guide for other Big Read listeners, especially those who were curious to know more about the identity of each reader.

I wrote my posts in the ready, untidy spirit of a keen reader encountering the book for the first time, determined not to worry too much about how I might come across, or what mistakes I might make.  I wrote in the hope that this approach would at least chime with the irreverent, democratic nature of Melville’s book and the Big Read itself. It has been a wonderful experience.

The Readings

Note: Spoilers! If you have not yet read the ending of Moby-Dick, be aware that I discuss parts of it below.

Chapter 135: The Chase – Third Day, Read by James Naughtie. Artist: Stephen Grimes

BBC broadcaster Naughtie lends his Scottish accent to the final chapter of the book. The reading clocks in at nearly 33 minutes. What a remarkable piece of writing.

As with my posts about the first two days of the three-day chase that closes the novel, I don’t want to spend too much time analysing everything that went on here, because my own experience this time round wasn’t like that. I was aware on a basic level that there were a lot of statements and actions that tied into the key themes of the novel, and in awe of Melville’s mastery of action and suspense in this final stretch, such that even though he effectively set out the fate of the Pequod’s crew long ago in Chapter 41 (quoted below), I was still swept along by the narrative, still urging the men to deflect Ahab from his purpose.

Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals—morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge.

I was also waiting to see what would happen with Fedallah, and how his strange prophecy would come true (that after death he would appear before Ahab again before the captain could die). I had thought to myself ‘oh, so we’ll see him dead at one point’ but boy, did we see him dead!

The moment when the Pequod sinks and the sea-bird is dragged down with it was almost hallucinogenic. It has burnt itself into my imagination like some key iconography I had known and forgotten, rather than a scene I have just read for the first time. Incredible.

Chapter 130: The Epilogue, Read by Mary Oliver. Artist: Gary Hill

The recordings began with Tilda Swinton asserting Call me Ishmael and end with another woman’s voice, this time esteemed American poet Mary Oliver, delivering us our narrator’s final segment. It is a short piece, not a page long. We learn where Ishmael has been in the scenes he has just narrated at such a distance, and how he was the lone survivor of the Pequod. The final line seemed beautifully judged, resonating with the great isolation of the men aboard the ship throughout the book, and of American individualism, and the solitary soul that each of us has. I won’t quote it here – to read it again, click here.

I’d urge you to check out the artist contribution to this chapter, a video titled Isolation Tank by Gary Hill. It is superb, perhaps especially good when you have the ending of the book in mind. Once you have watched it, learn more about it here (I recommend you watch it before you read about it).

The Epilogue is headed with the following quote which did not appear in the recording:

‘And I only am escaped alone to tell thee’ – Job

Job is referenced throughout the novel (including in the excerpt from Chapter 41 I quoted above) and is clearly a key text for Moby-Dick. I haven’t fully explored this yet, but what it did speak to for me is the curious (and much-discussed) nature of ‘Ishmael’ as a narrator. The narration of Moby-Dick is rather odd and slippery. Often the entity that told us Call me Ishmael seems to see things ‘Ishmael’ could not have seen and know things he could not have known.

Interestingly, in the Biblical story of Job, four different messengers say the line at the top of the Epilogue. They each say it to Job, who is being tormented by illness and misfortune as a test from God. That number agrees with the four broad categories of point of view in Moby-Dick: first person where we are certain it is Ishmael, a more distant first person that seems to be Ishmael, third person, and the chapters written as though they were a play. What’s also interesting is, as Prof. Patell points out, if Ishmael is the messenger, we must ask ourselves: who is Job?

The Delbanco introduction in my copy of the book also describes how Ishmael starts off as a rather fixed character, full of opinions and views borrowed from others, until the experience of loving Queequeg broadens his mind and seems to dissipate him into the world, such that as the figure of Ahab assumes primacy towards the end of the novel Ishmael is barely there. The Epilogue brings him back in full, first-person voice –  and it is set in italics in a good print version, which sets it visually apart from all other parargraphs of prose in the book. My impression of this is that it seems to set apart a new Ishmael, united as one mind again but as a markedly different person than he was in the Loomings of Chapter 1.

The Voice Of Doom (a.k.a. Peter Donaldson, the lovely man who introduces each chapter of the Big Read)

It occurred to me that I hadn’t yet written about a key voice we have been hearing all through the Big Read: Peter Donaldson, that pleasant voice you hear intoning Moby-Dick or The Whale, by Herman Melville plus the chapter number and title at the beginning of each recording.

When I Googled him, I found out that he is a retired Chief Announcer of the BBC. The ‘Voice of Doom’ bit comes from the fact that in the 1970s the UK Government decided to record a message that would play over the radio in the event of nuclear war. They chose Donaldson to make the recording. When the press found out, he was dubbed the ‘Voice of Doom’. Rather fitting for a novel as dark as Moby-Dick, don’t you think?

The BBC has made an excellent little short segment about some of the people behind voice announcements, which you can see on YouTube. This is where I found out about Peter Donaldson. Zeb Soanes, who read Chapter 101 of the Big Read, is also featured. And you get to hear a wee bit of that nuclear war announcement (known as the Four Minute Warning).

The First Pursuit: On Reading Moby-Dick

I have a personal to-do list connected to the novel now that I have finished reading it for the first time. I want to see films of it, the John Huston one to begin with. I’d like to read a graphic novel version. I want this Melville Mug. I want to read Bartleby, the Scrivener. I want to go whalewatching. I’d love to visit Nantucket. I want this t-shirt. And I want to read Melville’s masterpiece again and to experience it at my own reading pace. And then I want to read it again and again, picking out different parts each time, deepening my reading of it.

For me, my first experience of Moby-Dick was: bones and sharks, fatal flaws and tragedy, breathtaking images and beautiful prose, roaring dialogue. A haunting awareness of the unknowable. And, of course, it was the White Whale, all other whales, philosophy and fate, elusive narrators and handsome cannibals. It was also technology, the whaling industry, its prows and lines, a fascinating novel of the workplace. This last, despite the fact I often failed as a reader to fully submit to what Melville is thought to be doing with Ahab, casting the working American man as tragic hero. Often, I was too bewitched by Melville’s acute eye for human nature, and rather oddly found myself using another, more contemporary American outlook – modern psychology and therapy – to describe the Pequod’s captain (he’s a narcissist! his crew are enablers!).

I do have some appreciation of where the novel stands in American culture, from reading about and absorbing the novel over so many months and having read, as soon as I finished the Epilogue today, the excellent Andrew Delbanco introduction in my UK Penguin edition of the book. I also loved an essay by Greil Marcus that I found online (especially what he says about Ishmael meeting Ahab for the first time).

Like any great book, Moby-Dick opens up its time and culture when you study. Melville was deeply engaged in writing about his America in the book, a land still thrilled by the possibilities of new identities and riven by industrialisation and racial tension. I’m also aware that events in the book were partly inspired by the real-life sinking of a whale ship called the Essex, which I would like to learn more about. A great book often opens up other literature, too. Investigating the intertexts for Melville’s great work soon leads you to Shakespeare and the Bible, a healthy smattering of classic myth and no doubt many other sources I have not yet detected.

But I must also remember to sometimes set aside study, theory, and the countless other ways in which time can be spent thinking about Moby-Dick, in favour of sailing through the great territories of its heart by reading it. I agree with Delbanco:

For anyone who has experienced Moby-Dick, it is a privilege to introduce it to another reader – but a privilege that is abused if extended much beyond the invitation. As Melville says of the sperm whale’s brow, ‘I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can’.

Visit mobydickbigread.com to listen to the readings. Warm thanks to Angela Cockayne, Philip Hoare, the readers, the artists, and the entire Big Read team. Congratulations to all listeners who made it this far and thank you to those who took the time to comment here on my blog. It means a lot.

If you have enjoyed the recordings as much as I have, please consider making a donation to the project’s chosen charity, Whale & Dolphin Conservation.

The Moby-Dick Big Read: Chapters 128 to 134

The nineteenth of my weekly posts on reading Herman Melville’s classic American novel a chapter a day with the Moby-Dick Big Read daily podcast.

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Here we are in the final full week of the Moby-Dick Big Read! Tomorrow the last chapter, Chapter 135, will be uploaded. Then, on Tuesday, 29th January 2013, a reading of the Epilogue will complete the project.

This week’s readings have brought us to the penultimate day of the three-day chase of the White Whale, two long chapters of action, rage, terror in Melville’s vivid prose. We’ve also been up close to the emotions of the men on board, from the grief of Pip and despair of Starbuck to further insight into the violent throb of Ahab’s obsession.

My favourite image this week is the above photograph 80deg north by Alex Hartley which accompanied Chapter 131. I love its intimate glimpse into the off-kilter world of being at sea.

The Story This Week

The Pequod meets the tragedy-stricken ship the Rachel (128). Later, we see more of the relationship between Ahab and Pip (129). The captain surveys his ship, inscrutable under the brow of his hat, until a sea-bird swoops and flies off with it (130). The Pequod then meets another beleagured ship: this time, the Delight, who has had a terrible encounter with the White Whale (131). Peaceful weather leads Ahab into a lament about his life (132). At long last, the crew of the Pequod give chase to Moby Dick (133 & 134).

The Readings

Chapter 128: The Pequod Meets the Rachel, Read by Alice Herrick. Artist: Gavin Turk

English artist Alice Herrick, who also contributed art for Chapter 104, reads this chapter where the Pequod meets Nantucket ship the Rachel. The Rachel has recently lost men in a whale hunt, including the captain’s son. The captain, whom Ahab knows, beseeches him to join the search for the missing crew. Ahab refuses.

Like its Biblical namesake, the Rachel has lost its children. The last line of this chapter (‘She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not’) closely follows a line in the King James version about the Biblical woman Rachel in Matthew 2:18.

Chapter 129: The Cabin, Read by Rev. Nick McKinnel. Artist: Darren Lago

Read by Plymouth church rector and Anglican Bishop of Crediton, this chapter is a sad account of Ahab and Pip. The first line describes a a moving moment when Ahab walks off and the little boy ‘catches him by the hand to follow’. But Ahab asks the boy to stay safely below deck as the hunt of Moby Dick draws near. The short chapter closes with a somehow creepy image of the sea seeming to crowd into Pip alone in the dark cabin.

Perhaps Ahab really does have the boy’s safety in mind, but mostly he appears to be carefully tending to the flame of his obsession. He tells the boy:

The hour is coming when Ahab would not scare thee from him, yet would not have thee by him. There is that in thee, poor lad, which I feel too curing to my malady.

Over at patell.org, Prof. Patell draws out the way Melville has modelled Ahab and Pip on King Lear and his fool in Shakespeare.

Chapter 130: The Hat, Read by Diana Speed. Artist: Graham Day

BBC radio announcer Diana Speed lends her professional voice to this account of Ahab and his hat. The mood on board the Pequod takes a very solemn turn in this chapter: ‘all humor, forced or natural, vanished’. Ahab watches his crew unstintingly now, inscrutable beneath the brow of his hat. There is also a change in Fedallah, who has an ‘added, gliding strangeness’ and, for all he seems to influence and guide Ahab, the power balance is made clear in this chapter: ‘Ahab seemed an independent lord; the Parsee but his slave… For be this Parsee what he may, all rib and keel was solid Ahab.’

Ahab takes it upon himself to keep watch, impatient to see the White Whale. He instructs Starbuck to hold his safety rope, which seems a curious choice given the horrible tension between the two men. Looks like Ahab sees clearly that he will get his way aboard this ship.

Ishmael takes a moment, sounding more like Ishmael of old, to step in and tell us about the use of ropes to secure sailors in their perch. Basically, the rope securing the sailor has to be especially watched ‘Because in such wilderness of running rigging, whose various different relations aloft cannot always be infallibly discerned by what is seen of them at the deck’. A treacherous situation known to anyone who has ventured into the tangle of cables at the back of their telly and managed to unplug the wrong thing.

When Ahab is ‘perched aloft’ he is attacked by a bird that wants his hat. It succeeds in plucking it from his head and flying off with it, leading to one of my favourite images in the book:

Ahab’s hat was never restored; the wild hawk flew on and on with it; far in advance of the prow: and at last disappeared; while from the point of that disappearance, a minute black spot was dimly discerned, falling from that vast height into the sea.

Ishmael details the symbolic significance of this, referring to an incident in Roman history where a man became king after an eagle stole then replaced his hat. No such luck for Ahab.

Chapter 131: The Pequod Meets the Delight, Read by Daniel Allen. Artist: Alex Hartley

I can’t track down this reader – as always, get in touch if you can help out!

The Pequod meets the Delight, a Nantucket ship that has recently hunted the White Whale and was nearly destroyed by it. For me, the skeletal imagery used about its splintered boats like the ‘half-unhinged, and bleaching skeleton of a horse’ has echoes of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner again (a more explicit reference has already been made to this in Chapter 52: The Albatross).

While still in the gam with the Pequod, the Delight begins disposing of the bodies of its men killed by Moby Dick by throwing them overboard. Ahab suddenly sees that his own ship will be polluted by this action and urges the Pequod to sail on. However, ‘some of the flying bubbles might have sprinkled her hull with their ghostly baptism’.

Chapter 132: The Symphony, Read by Cerys Matthews. Artist: Martin Thomas

Welsh singer/songwriter Cerys Matthews, of Catatonia fame, gives a heartfelt, moving reading of this remarkable chapter where Ahab is nearly overwhelmed by his existence and his past.

A spell of good weather sends him into bleak contemplation. I loved the imagery here, of Ahab against the clear blue sky and the idea only man can become old, compared to the ‘immortal infancy’ of the world. Ahab weeps, and Starbuck goes to him. He tells the first mate he is weary and desolate, and ‘intolerably old’. He thinks of his wife and son at home. Starbuck is deeply moved: perhaps Ahab has a ‘noble soul’ after all! Once more, he urges the captain to turn back. But the glimmer of hope is dashed. Ahab closes up and will speak only now of fate, and how he must hunt the whale. Starbuck is ‘blanched to a corpse’s hue with despair’.

Although the twisted and broken captain is sad, this whole sequence exacerbated my own lack of sympathy for the Pequod’s captain. All of the moments in the novel where he shows compassion or feeling, as here, only makes his narcissistic, relentlessly damaging behaviour more grotesque.

He seems all ego, brittle and propped up on this demented quest that he has given himself. It is especially telling that, thinking back over the privation of 40 years at sea, he exclaims: ‘for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep!’

Except: the war is in his mind. Although his job is a difficult one (and often profound, if we listen to Ishmael) framing it as war, – that theatre of grand epic and noble heroes – says more about Ahab than his profession. He seems caught in an ego trap, a ‘throwing good money after bad’ situation. It seems that if Ahab were to abandon his quest now, his ego could not sustain it. Perhaps because then, he’d only be a sad, old captain who should have returned home long ago.

I wish Starbuck would act against the captain, but his passivity seems as fated as Ahab’s deadly monomania.

On a lighter note, I don’t understand what’s happening with Ahab’s hat. Specifically: he has one again, despite losing it to an angry sea-hawk in Chapter 130. I guess he came prepared with more than one hat, but that makes the fact he lost one a bit less dramatic, don’t you think?

Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day, Read by Kerry Shale. Artist: John Chilver

A consumate reading from Kerry Shale, who lends his professional talents as an actor and voice artist to the thrilling first day of the hunt. These are three chapters I have been most tempted to rush through in one sitting, at my own reading pace. However, they are, of course, also the three most suited to the once-a-day schedule, each being set on one of three consecutive days!

There is so much in this chapter: frenetic action, meaningful interactions between the men, remarkable imagery and description, aphoristic wisdom. However, I want to keep my thoughts on it brief today, since this is an account of my own first reading, and my first reading of this chapter was very much focused on the sheer thrill and suspense of the hunt.

It is Ahab who spies the whale. The doubloon, which he nailed to the mast (Chapter 36) for a reward to the man who first spotted his nemesis, is now Ahab’s own. The ship gives chase. Soon the captain is engaged in close battle with Moby Dick, who tears one of their boats in two with his jaws before powering away from them. The chapter ends with the men keeping watch for his spout and biding their time till the next morning. Ahab promises gold once again to the man who next raises Moby-Dick.

The descriptions of the white whale here, especially when it curls up out of the water from below Ahab’s boat like a nightmare, are breathtaking.

There is a footnote in this chapter that isn’t in the recording. It comes after ‘vindictively tossing their shivered spray still higher into the air’ and you can read it here (scroll to the bottom for the text starting ‘Note: This motion…’).

Chapter 134: The Chase – Second Day, Read by Roger Allam. Artist: Sean Landers

Another excellent professional reading, this time by English actor Roger Allam doing a superb American accent. I recognise him as Peter Mannion MP from UK comedy The Thick Of It, but he has had a long and successful career on stage too. The art that accompanies this reading is Around The World Alone (The Gloucesterman) by Sean Landers, which was used in a lot of the promotional material for the project.

Another thrilling day of the three-day hunt of Moby-Dick. Again, they battle the whale and Ahab is injured – his false leg is shattered. Starbuck, whom Ishmael notes ‘thus far had been the foremost to assist him’ helps steady his captain. Ahab makes an angry comment about having such a ‘craven mate’ … but claims to have been referring to his body in relation to his spirit.

After the whale has escaped again and the men have recovered from the chaos (‘the wild simultaneousness of a thousand concreted perils’), the men see that Fedallah is missing. He cannot be found. Ahab is distressed, but carries on. He also reminds Starbuck that he will not be deflected from his fate, and says the ugliest thing about himself:

Ye see an old man cut down to the stump; leaning on a shivered lance; propped up on a lonely foot. ‘Tis Ahab—his body’s part; but Ahab’s soul’s a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs.

Ugh. An image more suited to an 80s body horror movie than Ahab’s supposedly noble quest. The chapter ends with dusk falling and Ahab keeping watch for the morning. Ominously, he recalls that the Parsee prophesied he’d be seen again before Ahab could die. The captain is baffled by this and vows to get to the bottom of the strange, conflicting information.

There’s an extra sentence in my paper copy of the book compared to this recording. In my edition, when Ahab is back on board after the encounter with Moby-Dick, after he says ‘… I account no living bone of mind one jot more than me, than this dead one that’s lost’ he says this:

Nor white whale, nor man, nor fiend, can so much as graze old Ahab in his own proper and inaccessible being.

Visit mobydickbigread.com to listen to the readings. On Tuesday 29th January 2013 I will post about my experience of listening to the final two readings. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The project organisers ask that any donations for the Big Read go to the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society. Visit the WDC  webpage here.

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