When I hear someone tout Moby Dick as the “Great American Novel,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is more interested in parading literary acumen and identifying with book culture than in evaluating literature or good writing. I mean, we’re talking about a book that has about 15,000 words of story sandwiched between multiple chapters on the technical aspects of whaling, with one chapter that is the 19th century equivalent of a musical theater number thrown in for good measure. The soupçon of plot in Melville’s novel could have produced a momentous short story, but fails spectacularly as a novel. As it stands, it’s an exercise in overwriting and, what’s more egregious, a waste of the reader’s time.
And before you trot out that line about the differences in readership attention between Melville’s time and our own, I’ll draw your attention to Melville’s contemporary (and friend, for that matter) Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose work is tightly-plotted and well-edited, as good writing should be.
So please, spare me your specious accolades for a book you only pretend to like because your schoolmarm told you it was good literature. Try reading it again, but this time, open your eyes and evaluate it for what it is. In other words, think for yourself—just a little bit.
So, the winter break is coming to an end, and I’ve been meaning to post to my blog since New Year’s Day, when I was still in Paris. If I had a New Year’s resolution, it would be to update this blog with more regularity, so that is ironic, I guess. But rather than spending the 11 days since my return enjoying free time, my body decided it would be a better idea to catch a cold, so that has put a damper on things. Truth be told, at least this cold had the decency to wait for my return. Traveling while sick is dreadful.
But enough on that.
I spent both Christmas and New Year’s in France. That was both delightful and exhausting. The sights and experiences were exciting, but there were long lines and cold temperatures to deal with.
I’ll enumerate some of the highlights from that trip:
We spent the first day on a four-hour bus tour to Mont Saint Michel, which is in Normandy. This was the easiest part of the trip, and it gave us a chance to see some of the rural French countryside.
Apparently the monastery is a favorite sightseeing location for Japanese tourists, and the bus on which we traveled was owned by and operated for Japanese.
The next day, we went to the Paris Catacombs, which was one of two primary destinations on my itinerary. This was also the beginning of waiting in long lines in the cold, however. We waited 4 hours in nigh freezing weather to get in.
I can’t say it wasn’t worth it though, and I would have been sorely disappointed if we hadn’t stayed.
The catacombs were everything I imagined.
The length of the passages into which tourists are led comprise a fraction of the tunnels. It’s illegal to trespass into most of it. I read that homeless people have set up communities in some of the abandoned areas, nevertheless. I thought this was great material for fiction, and it reminded me of something from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
The Palais Garnier (Paris National Opera) was an unexpected highlight of the trip. We’d planned to visit it, but we almost skipped it due to a press for time between the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Louvre. It would have been a great oversight, however. It was some of the most impressive architecture.
The florid ornamentation on every part of this building has to be seen to be believed. It’s like something you would imagine that only exists in the world of CGI—only without the CGI.
Unfortunately, there was no sign of Erik, for the Gaston Leroux fans.
And of course, I couldn’t call myself a writer and not pay a visit to the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise cemetery, on the eastern border of Paris. Père Lachaise was itself a highlight—easily the most gothic cemetery I have visited, complete with dead, wintry trees and crows flittering about. Moreover, Oscar Wilde is not the only famous person buried there. Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas and others call the burial ground home.
We visited Notre Dame on one of the final days of the trip. It was so cold they’d closed the towers, so that was a bit of a let down. Nevertheless, the architecture of the church was magnificent. The very definition of a gothic cathedral.
Anyway, getting back home was a bit of an episode. There were horrible quandaries at both airports. In France, they told us the flight was overbooked, even though we’d reserved our seats in advance. They put us on standby, and we had to run to catch our flight, without the seats we’d reserved no less. This inconvenience was mirrored back in the States by a national computer outage in the customs department that resulted in a 3-hour wait to get back into our own country.
We’d scheduled the trip back in September, so I can’t take any credit for it, but in light of the events back home at the end of 2016, it struck me as fortuitously apropos to welcome the new year in Paris.
What better location to usher in 2017 than at the place where corrupt oligarchs were brought to justice just over two centuries ago after a successful revolution?
So in keeping with that sentiment, here are two pictures of the Place de Grève:
Oh, and of course—here’s the obligatory picture of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre: