August 2, 2014
THE WRITER’S ROLLER COASTER. I have just experienced the writer’s roller coaster: the elation while editing a novel, the “let down” after finishing the editing and wondering if it will be well received, the glorious “upswing” attending a new project.
New project? Not quite. I picked up one of my as-yet-incomplete but well-started novels set down a while ago. I surprised myself with how good I thought the opening was. I asked myself, is “The Dinner Party” that I just finished editing this good? I’d better edit it once again.
Being in this optimistic state of mind, I looked for a novel of high standard to read alongside another editing of DP. It would inspire my writing standard. Without a second thought, I returned after many years to one of my favorite novels: “Moby Dick.” In college the abridged version was assigned, naturally, because there would not be time in one semester to read all of it. Falling so in love with the book, I proceeded to glut on everything Melville and that included his sad and deviant later life. I promised myself that if ever I visited Nantucket, I would buy the unabridged version of “Moby-Dick.” That day had come in the summer of 1976.
So after many years, having taken the unabridged version off my bookshelf, I am finally ready to undertake it. Now, on these beautiful summer mornings in my beautiful garden with a cup of coffee at my side, I first prop a brown velvet pillow on my lap, then the book so fat and unwieldy that I fear it will break apart before I finish. It will take me a year to read, and I promise myself to move slowly through it. The language is everything.
Note: Sailors had great lapses of free time in the great whaling days. If they weren’t scrimshandering objects out of whalebone, they were reading. Melville was a colossal reader. An astounding reader of the first quality.
Nathaniel Hawthorne befriended Melville and said that “Moby-Dick” was a work of genius. But the public turned its back on it. The novel was written in 1851. It was only in the early 1900s that “Moby-Dick” gained attention and acclaim. The novel is not only a great American classic, but is also heralded as one of greatest novels in the English language. It was rediscovered 123 years later.
After writing “Moby-Dick,” Melville rode the roller coaster only in a downhill direction. Twenty years later, near the end of his ride, he rallied to write “Billy Budd.”
So this is the Writing Life.