Also at LitHub is a lengthy collection of different books that have been hailed as the great American novel (it’s Moby-Dick) and why they have been called such (it’s still Moby-Dick).
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.