Most of the people I have talked to about the book agree with my mother.
So I put it down, thinking that I would pick it up again when my mother wasn’t around to comment.
In college I dated (and later married) an English major who gobbled up the works of Melville, Hawthorn and Blake. I got to type the papers he wrote on them. The papers were fascinating, laying bare the bones of the dry works of long dead authors. My second attempt at reading Moby Dick was a failure, even with his help. It is a long dense book filled with 19th century wordiness.
I am not sure how far I got on any of my attempts to finish it but I am not there yet. I know the story from movies, literary discussions, and reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, in which Verne takes issue with the mass slaughter of whales portrayed in Moby Dick.
I can't say my present attempt with be any more successful than the previous ones. I am on page 85 of a 452 page book.
This is what I have learned so far, probably the same things I learned before and forgot:
It is, indeed, a very funny book. Ishmael is glib, and comes at everything from an odd angle. When offered "fish or clam" for dinner he forgot they were sent to that particular inn for the excellent chowder, and wonder how they can make a meal out of a single clam. Queequig becomes Quohog in the ships record book. OK, not hilarious, but I have been laughing out loud.
Ishmael is not the everyman of his time. Remember the book was written in the early 1850s, when half the country owns slaves. It takes him one night to become best buds with someone utterly different from himself. He believes in religious diversity and racial equality. How many everymen go whaling just for the fun of it?
The book is a wonderful picture of a by-gone age, with men (sorry, I have encountered only one woman so far, and I think she will be the only one) living at the edges of the safe world.
The most astonishing thing I discovered about the book, and I know I didn't think of this on the last go round, is that the chapter length rivals James Patterson. One chapter is three paragraphs long. Most are two pages. I thought the very short chapter was a modern invention to keep the reader, with a short attention span from too much Sesame street and texting, turning pages.
My last conclusion, which should perhaps be my first, is that everyone should read Moby Dick. Notice, I don't say you have to finish it.