Monday, July 8, 2024

Week #28 – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

Week #28 –  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

First published: October 18,1851

Here's what the story is about: Moby-Dick, or The Whale, is the narrative of sailor Ishmael, who tells the story of the maniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for vengeance against Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg on the ship's previous voyage. It was a commercial failure in its time, but gained a reputation as the Great American Novel in the 20th century. Its opening sentence, "Call me Ishmael", is among world literature's most famous.

First line/paragraph:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

The story starts with the main character telling readers to “call me Ishmael”, which is one of the most famous first lines in all of literature. We are not sure if that's his real name or just what he wants us to call him. He speaks to the reader in first person POV and introduces himself with a rather eloquent statement that, several years ago, he had no money and no interests except the sea. I am a bit intrigued by his voice and would give him at least a few more paragraphs to see if the story would engage me.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!

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