Monday, January 19, 2009

See Also:

{Photos by rocketlass.}

From A Whaler's Dictionary (2008), by Dan Beachy-Quick
A book is a depth that presents itself as a surface. A first page sits upon the future. A last page sits beneath its own history, a text that is a depth above it. The present tense of the open page is a surface floating between opposing depths--anticipation and memory.
Though I am not generally one for making resolutions--my life tending to continue more or less the same, unresolved but pleasant, from year to year--at the request of Scott Esposito, editor of the Quarterly Conversation, I recently assembled a small list of reading resolutions for 2009. Given that my reading is generally governed only by a butterfly haphazardness, I enjoyed setting out some possibilities, directions I might head on those rare afternoons when, between books, my shelves stymie me. You can find my resolutions here.

Now we find ourselves three weeks into the year . . . and the resolutions remain just notions, thus far defeated by the new reading ideas that seem to pop up every day. Like picking up Ross Macdonald's The Barbarous Coast (1956) at St. Mark's to read on the subway while I was in New York last week, which led to my picking up his The Way Some People Die (1952) at the Mysterious Bookshop to read on the plane on the way home. Father confessor Lew Archer, rueful and weary, seems the right companion for these wan winter afternoons, and I can already tell that these won't be the last Macdonalds I read this year.

And then there's Dan Beachy-Quick's extraordinary A Whaler's Dictionary, which, Beachy-Quick assures the reader in the Introduction (and user's guide),
does not finish Ishmael's failed cetological endeavor--it simply repeats the failure in a different guise.
Spied at St. Mark's when I bought the Macdonald, bought on a return trip made specially for that purpose, it almost fits one of my resolutions: Beachy-Quick is by trade a poet, and I have resolved to read more poetry this year. But A Whaler's Dictionary is not poetry but cracked reference, a meditation both on that old favorite Moby-Dick and on books and obsessions in general--which seems appropriate since on some days Moby-Dick in its capacious madness seems like it might just contain all books and obsessions itself (and what it doesn't contain surely "Bartleby the Scrivener" does). And I can already tell from brief acquaintance that this book is going to force me to re-read Moby-Dick itself . . .

In other words, despite my resolutions, my reading thus far continues as it always has, one book suggesting another suggesting another, a chain unimaginable until its links are formed, but unforgettable thereafter. Now that I think about it, if one is likely to fail to follow through on one's resolutions, A Whaler's Dictionary just might be the perfect book with which to do so, for at the end of each of its alphabetical entries lie cross-references, arresting in themselves, as this one from the entry I quoted to open this post, "Reading (Water)," attests:
See also
Thus the web begins to be woven, and soon another year will have passed, defined by books as yet unglimpsed. Resolutions or no, it's a good life.


  1. If you do re-read Moby Dick, you might also pick up Paul Metcalf's "Genoa" to have beside it.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, ctorre. I've just ordered a copy from Powell's; if what I've just learned about it online is accurate, it seems a worthy companion to a re-read of Moby-Dick.

  3. Bravo to Rocketlass! I'm relieved that she made it back alive from her Antarctic expeditions.