Mar 112014

Moby_DickVery few things irritate me as much as when some pretentious dickbag denigrates someone for reading what they consider to be low-class works, and tells them they should go read Moby Dick instead. First off all, congrats on just driving away another person from reading. You are making the problem worse.

But secondly, why are you grabbing for Moby Dick? It’s not that great a book, by today’s standards. I’ve heard large portions of it are about the workings and operation of whaling vessels, and long treatises about the whaling industry. As if it forgot it was a novel and tried being a textbook for a while. Moby Dick has become the standard cudgel, and anytime someone references it as a great book I immediately suspect that either A. They’ve never read it, or B. They’ve read so little fiction that they have no idea what makes a book good. They’ve simply accepted the received wisdom that Moby Dick is TEH AWESOMES which everyone must be beaten with until their eyes bleed.

I’m sure it was amazing for its time. But that’s the thing about progress – things keep getting better.  I don’t think that’s a fault of our predecessors. It’s not fair to compare modern TV/movies/novels to their counterparts from 40+ years ago. Citizen Kane was groundbreaking, but when put next to the best examples of modern cinema of the same genre, it doesn’t hold up. We (humans) keep learning more about what makes things better and become more skilled in applying the things we learn. It’s no more fair than belittling Newton for not discovering relativity. It takes a long time to grow a body of knowledge, and the current writers/directors/etc wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have the shoulders of those who came before them to stand on. They should be acknowledged for the work they’ve done to get us where we are. But they aren’t amazing by modern standards.

I feel that’s part of the reason why genre fic keeps growing, and literary fiction is stagnating. They’ve stopped reaching for new improvements, and have turned inward to navel-gazing and ancestor-worship.

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