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‘Gatsby,’ ‘Macbeth’ and the great white whale

We recently asked readers to tell us about works of fiction that changed their lives. Here’s a submission from a Concord reader with something nice to say about “Moby-Dick.”

As I sit in front of a screen writing this, it occurs to me that removing fiction reading from school reduces the chances of having a truly literate society. We need those stories and those master storytellers.

When I was a child I remember being turned on to libraries by my teachers and my parents. All those books! For free! While walking the aisles, surrounded by books, I would make a soft blowing sound with my mouth. I called this sound “the wind of ages,” which I imagined emanating from the books with all their stories and decades-old knowledge.

During my high school days, I remember being exposed to various works of fiction I wouldn’t have sought out on my own: Moby-Dick, The Red Badge of Courage, Macbeth, 1984, All Quiet on the Western Front, Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea and The Great Gatsby.

These were challenging books, different from the science fiction and fantasy that I preferred to read. How many high schoolers would willingly read Shakespeare or wade through Moby-Dick if it wasn’t assigned to them?

Yet these books gave generations of Americans a common literary grounding, not to mention a number of life lessons that one can gain from reading great novels. They expanded your mind, and built up one’s reading muscles. Personally, I felt my mind stretched by the different perspectives these novels offered, and I felt better prepared to tackle any book after reading some of the classics.

Hundreds of books later, I returned to Moby-Dick last year, more than 40 years after my first encounter with the great white whale. I appreciated the writing even more this time. (Although I still skipped over some of the educational chapters on whaling; fiction is more engrossing than nonfiction.) I’ll leave you with the first line of Melville’s 1851 classic, which I bet will resonate – as good fiction does – with anyone who ever read the book.

“Call me Ishmael.”



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