09 July 2011

Bone, revisited, or why I need to read Moby Dick

I realise it's only been a few days since I talked about Jeff Smith's Bone, but it's something I've thought about with unusual frequency in recent weeks. Partly this has been because I've been considering what comics it's be worth introducing to my housemate or other potential comics readers, having already decided that The Tale of One Bad Rat would be perfect for that; partly it's that I gave a friend the first two volumes of Bone just after Christmas in what may have been a futile attempt at cheering her up; and partly because I keep thinking it's about time I read Moby Dick.

Sometimes it bothers me that I have too many books, and I often wonder whether I'm better off reading the books I've yet to read, or rereading ones I know I'd get more from now than I once did.  Take The Lord of the Rings, for instance. I've read it twice, once as a child and once as a teenager, and I've no doubt that if I read it now it'd be a different book to the one I remember. I'd not read any epic poetry back then, for instance, I'd never read a line of the Icelandic sagas and Beowulf, and I knew next to nothing of Tolkien's life or the events and books that formed him. I certainly had no idea of how one could make a credible case for The Lord of the Rings being one of the sacramental pinnacles of the twentieth-century Catholic imagination. So I want to read it again. I've changed, and I think it'll have changed too, to being a deeper, darker, richer book than the one I read so long ago.

Unfortunately, I keep wondering whether my reading time might better be spent on other books, sitting unread and awaiting my attention, most especially Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, and Moby Dick. I've had them sitting on shelves for far too long -- the latter in a lovely Everyman edition -- all neglected as I fear their enormity, the commitment to reading that each one will take, and the fact that they're too big to be lugged about in pockets.

Moby Dick in particular has drawn me for a long time, though, certainly since I first read Bone, with Fone Bone boring everyone unconscious whenever he read from it. It's Jeff Smith's favourite book, so he at any rate, clearly doesn't find it that dull. A huge fan of its structure, it's pretty obvious that he shares Fone Bone's opinion of it, rather than that of his cousin Smiley...

... or, for that matter, the stupid, stupid Rat Creatures, who Smiley attempts to ward off by subjecting them to Melville's words...

To be fair to Herman Melville, though, it may well be that the problem may not lie in his words but in Fone's reading voice. Certainly, that's what most haunts the Rat Creatures when they groggily wake from their nautical nightmare.

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