Well, that was fast (-ish). On Saturday, 10 days into the new year, I finished Melville’s “Billy Budd and Other Stories” — having already read everything but “Billy Budd” at the tail end of 2008.
That meant I read “Billy Budd’s” 100 pages in 10 days. That’s far from an amazing feat, although it was slightly faster than expected. (Melville’s archaic stylings and long, winding sentences require concentration.)
I liked “Billy Budd,” which probably goes without saying: It’s a straightforward story of law and justice, with allegorical overtones that include a hanging that seems an awful lot like the Crucifixion. Wikipedia has a good entry on the story.
As for the other six stories in this Penguin edition, they range from amazing (“Bartleby”) to tedious (“The Encantadas”). The second sketch in “Encantadas,” however, reminded me of “Moby-Dick”‘s lyricism, as Melville describes the aged Galapagos tortoises:
“These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold. They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world…
“As, lantern in hand, I scraped among the moss and beheld the ancient scars of bruises received in many a sullen fall among the marly mountains of the isle — scars strangely widened, swollen, half obliterate, and yet distorted like those sometimes found in the bark of very hoary trees, I seemed an antiquary of a geologist, studying the bird-tracks and ciphers upon the exhumed slates trod by incredible creatures whose very ghosts are now defunct.”
This sketch may be my favorite part of the book. As exasperated as some portions of this book made me, I’m glad I read the whole thing.