The Secret of Lost Things

The Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. The premise sounded so promising – a coming of age story, a lost manuscript, a large used bookstore, a Melville tie-in. I love literary stories, and there is some beautiful language here, but it wasn’t enough to make it 3 stars for me. In fact, if this hadn’t been an audiobook, it might have been a DNF. The characters were outrageously quirky – not a normal person in the bunch – and had such promise, but they were not developed enough to make me care about them. The plot ultimately went nowhere, with lots of loose ends. It didn’t really work for me as a coming of age story – did the main character grow and change during the year the book takes place? Did the lost girl find herself? Nor did it work as a literary mystery. Some of the characters were creepy, but there wasn’t much in the way of suspense.

The book might work as an exploration of lostness. I’m just not sure anything was found by the end of it. Rosemary is lost and alone when she arrives in New York City. She strikes up a friendship with Lillian, an Argentinian woman whose son was “disappeared.” At the book store, she finds another friend, Pearl, a black wanna-be opera singer transexual. And then there is Walter Geist, an albino losing his eyesight, and probably his mind. A second theme explored is obsession and its consequences. That’s where Melville and the manuscript come in. Geist seems to represent both Moby Dick and Ahab, with his obsession for both the manuscript and Rosemary. Rosemary develops a crush on Oscar, a handsome but emotionally unavailable coworker who is also obsessed with finding the manuscript. Lillian, of course, is obsessed with the need to find her son, or at least find out what happened to him. Sex and sexuality might be a third theme – the naive Rosemary, the lonely and repressed Walter Geist, the asexual Oscar, and the delightful transexual Pearl, who might be my favorite character. In her own way, she comes across as the only one who isn’t lost. She’s real and honest.

This isn’t a bad debut novel. I would read a second book about Rosemary, hoping for the further development of some of the characters, and answers to some of the loose threads. Sheridan Hay definitely has potential.

Description: Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.

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Dive Deeper

Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-DickDive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick by George Cotkin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think I need to add anything to the publisher’s description (below.) This is a marvelous book. The topics are random and varied, tied loosely to each chapter of Moby-Dick, and provide insights into Melville’s world and the themes within the novel as well as its influence on music, art, film, and literature since 1851.

Description: Herman Melville’s epic tale of obsession has all the ingredients of a first rate drama–fascinating characters in solitude and society, battles between good and evil, a thrilling chase to the death–and yet its allusions, digressions, and sheer scope can prove daunting to even the most intrepid reader. George Cotkin’s Dive Deeper provides both a guide to the novel and a record of its dazzling cultural train. It supplies easy-to-follow plot points for each of the novel’s 135 sections before taking up a salient phrase, image, or idea in each for further exploration. Through these forays, Cotkin traces the astonishing reach of the novel, sighting the White Whale in mainstream and obscure subcultures alike, from impressionist painting circles to political terrorist cells. In a lively and engaging style, Dive Deeper immerses us into the depths of Melville’s influence on the literature, film, and art of our modern world. Cotkin’s playful wit and critical precision stretch from Camus to Led Zeppelin, from Emerson to Bob Dylan, and bring to life the terrors and wonders of what is arguably America’s greatest novel.

Why Read Moby-Dick?

Why Read Moby-Dick?Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slim and very readable summation of what makes Moby-Dick great. It almost makes me want to reread it again now.

Description:
Moby-Dick is perhaps the greatest of the Great American Novels, yet its length and esoteric subject matter create an aura of difficulty that too often keeps readers at bay. Fortunately, one unabashed fan wants passionately to give Melville’s masterpiece the broad contemporary audience it deserves. In his National Book Award- winning bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick captivatingly unpacked the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write Moby- Dick. Now, he sets his sights on the fiction itself, offering a cabin master’s tour of a spellbinding novel rich with adventure and history.

Philbrick skillfully navigates Melville’s world and illuminates the book’s humor and unforgettable characters-finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times. A perfect match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? gives us a renewed appreciation of both Melville and the proud seaman’s town of Nantucket that Philbrick himself calls home. Like Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, this remarkable little book will start conversations, inspire arguments, and, best of all, bring a new wave of readers to a classic tale waiting to be discovered anew.

Quotes:
“Contained in the pages of Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contributed to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country’s ever-contentious march into the future. This means that whenever a new crisis grips this country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important. It is why subsequent generations have seen Ahab as Hitler during World War II or as a profit-crazed deep-drilling oil company in 2010 or as a power-crazed Middle Eastern dictator in 2011.” – p. 6

“The novel has inspired plays, films, operas, comic books, a television miniseries, and even a pop-up book. Those who have never read a word of it know the story of Ahab and the White Whale.” – p. 8

Moby-Dick

Moby-DickMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Long, rambling, and something of a sea monster of a book. Called by one early critic “a chowder of a book,” I would have to agree. At times it is brilliant, laugh out loud funny, thought-provoking, philosophical, and I can certainly appreciate all the historical detail. It’s just not a subject I have any great interest in, or affinity for. Is it the greatest American novel ever written? It is certainly iconic, and I am glad that I have made the effort to finish the whole thing.

Book Description: The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale—Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Opening lines: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”