Moby Dick

The only agent I follow on Twitter is Steve Laube. Not because I want to publish Christian literature but because he tweets all sorts of useful links. On Friday there was ‘Two questions I ask every writer’ by Francess Caballo, an author and social medial strategist. The two  questions are:

  • would you tell me about your book?
  • who are your readers?

Now, to me the first question is badly phrased as it invites a yes/no response. But it is the second question I am interested in today for two reasons.

First, I am never quite sure who my intended readers are.

Second, I started reading Moby Dick last night, and I am convinced that if any author needed to consider who his readers might be, it was Herman Melville. I am two chapters in and wondering why I should go on (apart from novel research). I am finding it so difficult on so many levels I actually spent quite a lot of time Googling around the novel this morning, including the Biblical character Ishmael, as my husband said the opening line should have given me a clue as to the nature of the book and its allusions.

I am no expert on the Bible as I left the Baptists when I was about thirteen. But it turns out that my husband, who has read it from cover to cover, some of it in Hebrew, remembered it wrong. Suffice to say this – Moby Dick – is the book which made me download the free dictionary onto my iPad so that I can understand what the hell Melville is alluding to.

Two chapters in and not even a sniff of a boat let alone a whale. I can see why his publisher rejected it with reference to the ‘vision impairing length’.

With a whole first chapter on the philosophy of man’s inherent attraction to water, the ‘baroque’ writing style (had to look that up, too) the biblical and classical references, I have to ask myself who exactly Melville was writing for. It certainly was not the likes of me. Given that he only sold a little over 3000 copies in his lifetime, it probably wasn’t most of his contemporary English speakers either.


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