What initially led you to pick up the book, and what kept you hooked?
I’m reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I picked it up a few years ago and I put it away without finishing it. But the writer and poet Ocean Vuong talks about Moby Dick as one of the books he needed to write his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Revisiting Moby Dick this time, I am reading it slowly. It is a mixed reading experience. Sometimes I am drawn to the beauty of certain passages; at other times, I find it monotonous and hard to tend to unless I’m reading the prose out aloud. It is such a hybrid work and Vuong points out in his interview on Electric Lit, that Moby Dick is “memoir, auto fiction, essay, theological, biological and metaphorical inquiry, as well as a very comprehensible yet poetic manual on whaling.” Vuong admires how Melville chose not to compromise at all. What’s keeping me reading, even when I find the process to be difficult at times, is the desire to honor reading that rewards the reader, not with instant gratification, but slow, belated realizations. Reading for meaning or immediate understanding alone can be tyrannical.
“Reading for meaning or immediate understanding alone can be tyrannical.“
Were there any concepts or ideas in Moby Dick that made you reflect on your own values or beliefs?
As a writer, I would like to be as experimental and uncompromising with my craft as Melville is with Moby Dick. I want to allow my work to arrive at its own pace in the form that it chooses without being burdened with my own ideas about what I think it ought to look like.
What sort of audience would you recommend Moby Dick to?
I’m working on a novel and I’m trying to study the history of English novels while reading some of these novels chronologically to understand how the form has evolved over time and also how it remains the same. All novels exist in conversation with one another and for someone who is working on a novel, Moby Dick can be a source of understanding of all the things a novel can be and do. This is not to say that I think only writers should read Moby Dick. Not at all. A reader who wants to move away from the capitalistic consumption of novels, and is okay with the idea that reading does not have to be easy, might also appreciate engaging with this tome. There are no musts and shoulds in reading; so, if you hate Moby Dick and never want to read another page of it, that is fine too.
Kayal Vizhi is a writer and poet, currently residing in Toronto. Her poetry was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize and the Montreal Poetry Prize. ‘Salt’, an essay, was shortlisted for CBC’s Creative Nonfiction Prize in 2015. Her works have appeared in The New Quarterly, Litro Magazine, ROOM Magazine, In/Words Magazine & Press and elsewhere. Kayal is currently completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She reads for Brick.
Photo courtesy of Truong Dat via Unsplash.