If you’ve read my post on the series of books I read to try to understand my study-allergic teenager, you’ll know that I really care about school and my kid really does not.
School is important not only for the content (basic math, chemistry, biology, physics, literature, grammar, foreign languages, sports) but also for the skills it requires young people to learn: communicating in writing, explaining your reasoning step by step, memorizing information, analyzing and synthesizing, problem-solving, planning, organizing, reflecting.
Even if he goes on to study music, and forgets everything he knows about particle theory or Shakespeare, I want him to learn how to learn.
And that’s where Cal Newport comes in. When I first saw his book at our school library, I groaned inwardly, “Great. More advice to stress out our already high-achieving prep schoolers.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Call me Ishmael. One of the most famous first sentences in English-language literature. And yet, while most people know that Moby Dick is the name of a white whale and that he was pursued by one-legged Captain Ahab, how many have the courage to sit down with all 641 small-font pages and follow the ship Pequod round the globe?
I confess I didn’t. I needed the help of William Hootkins’ incredible audio recording (Naxos, 2005) to get me through it. It’s close to 25 hours long and it feels like I spent two or three months slowly listening to the dense prose, dipping into the Penguin Drop Caps edition when I had to return the audiobook to the library and wait for it to be available again.
I don’t think this book could be published today. We don’t have time for long sentences or exhaustive treatments of a subject. We deal in slogans and sound bytes. Who sits by the fire with family and reads aloud from a book when there are lifetimes of YouTube videos to watch?
So why does Moby Dick endure?
In order to slow down my frenetic book-eating, I'm writing reviews of the books I read to better digest them. Bon appétit!