“Moby-Dick” not only bests “Huck Finn,” it’s the novel that best captures our spirit — and named that coffee chain
By Christopher Buckley
“Trust me on this” is probably the worst way to begin any paternal advice — about anything, much less culture.
I came of age when the mantra was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” I will shortly turn 60, which means mathematically that I am now doubly untrustworthy.
But since you asked … why don’t we dispense with the following?
1.) The Bible (necessary to know even if you are agnostic or non-theistic).
2.) The U.S. Constitution (a grand document for which I am on-my-knees grateful, though I must admit that it has been, uh, a while since I looked into it).
3.) “The Star-Spangled Banner” (you can hum along or read the lips of the person next to you, unless you are a famous person and have been asked to sing it before the Super Bowl, in which case, better memorize the damn thing).
4.) The New York Times (which some of my more crotchety right-wing friends insist that they no longer read, but is absolutely necessary on a daily basis if you want to consider yourself well-informed about our world).
Let’s assume, then, that you already know about these — or that you at least know enough about them to feel incredibly guilty that you do not know more. Which leaves me free to say to my three children — and everyone else’s children, for that matter — that I hope, my darlings, that you will take as much pleasure from the book that has always been to me the great American novel, “Moby-Dick.”
For starters, note the hyphen. About 80 percent of people — even literate and smart ones — omit the hyphen. Score points! Even if you have not read the novel, you can now say to them, the way annoying James Joyce fanatics (is there any other kind?) harp on the fact that “Finnegans” is not possessive.
Most people, indeed smart, literate and nice ones, will tell you that “Huckleberry Finn” is the great American novel. Remain aloof! Be polite, of course, but adopt a knowing look. Smile. Tell them, “Well, [pause] if that’s your kind of thing.” Quote Abraham Lincoln, who read “Moby-Dick” but not “Huckleberry Finn” (through no fault of his own, dying as he did 19 years before it was published): “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” (He wrote that in a book review — not of “Moby-Dick.”)
Most people probably come to the book too early, either in high school or freshman college English.
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