I have always been a “bookworm.” As a shy child, reading was my refuge. In Grade 1 I read more books than anyone else in my class. My reward was having the opportunity to read aloud to the principal. My love of books was so strong that it outweighed my normally crippling anxiety and I remember proudly reading to the kindly Principal Chalmers.
Reading for me has always been my favourite form of play. Sure, I built forts, and rode my bike like my friends, but nothing could engage me like diving into a book. According to play researcher Stuart Brown, there are several universal principles of play1 : it is seemingly without purpose, voluntary in nature, inherently attractive, suspends time, diminishes consciousness of self, inspires improvisation, and instills a desire to continue the activity. Reading for me was the purest form of play.
It makes sense, therefore, that reading would form part of my 50 Feats selections. While I enjoy all genres, I missed out on some of the “classic” books. This gap led me to Feat #4 – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I decided to combine reading with walking and so downloaded the Moby Dick audio file to my phone and began my journey.
Perhaps I should have taken a better look at the length of the recording before beginning my feat. Melville, it turns out, is a very (very) descriptive writer. His tale of a white whale ran just short of 26 hours of audio covering 135 chapters (and an epilogue). Initially, I was intrigued by the relationship between the narrator, Ishmeal, and the “tattooed cannibal,” Queequag. I enjoyed the clever wordplay as he described the development of their unlikely friendship (“Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby.”).
Unfortunately, Melville’s detailed descriptions were not limited to the interchange between characters. There were chapters devoted to identifying various types of whales, every nook and cranny of a whaling vessel, and, yes, more descriptions of whales. Much as I tried to stay in the moment, I confess to sometimes getting lost in my thoughts rather than focusing on the audio.
Overall, Moby Dick was not what my mother might have referred to as “my cup of tea.” Yet, I was able to take away a few positives from the experience:
- From the book: I discovered that “scuttlebutt” is the barrel on a ship that holds fresh water for the day. As the sailors passed buckets to fill the scuttlebutt, they gossiped back and forth with each other.
- From the method: I learned that I enjoyed listening to audiobooks. While, like e-books, audiobooks will never completely replace my love of turning the pages of a good, solid novel, I found a new way to enjoy “reading.”
- From the experience: I walked for almost 26 hours as a result of combining the audio book with my daily walks and increased my stamina in preparation for my next feat of walking around the Isle of Wight.
Would I consider this a successful feat? While I doubt that Herman Melville will be my next poolside read, I enjoyed the process as a whole; reading is never a waste for me. And, in the event that sometime in your future a life depends upon being able to articulate the difference between a sperm whale and a right whale, I am so your leviathan savant.
Next up: a walking touring around the Isle of Wight.
1 Brown, S. L. (2008, May). Play is more than just fun [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital