Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let's Read: Pierre arrangements

So there's some folks wanna read Herman Melville's Pierre with me. Cool.

So how are we gonna do this?

First: the book. There's an online version here if you're into that sorta thing, but for our purposes the standard version published under Penguin or in the Library of America collection will do quite well. The slimmed-down "kraken" version mentioned in the previous post is of limited availability and prohibitively expensive, and its editorial "restoration" is explained thusly:

This Kraken Edition of Pierre, or the Ambiguities is a reconstruction of the text that Melville delivered to Harper & Brothers early in January 1852, just as some of the most devastating reviews of Moby-Dick were appearing. The Harper brothers apparently decided that Pierre was even more outrageous than Moby-Dick and tried to avoid publishing it by offering Melville less than half the royalties they paid for his previous books. Accepting the humiliating contract, Melville took a self-destructive revenge. After Book XVI, he interpolated a new section on "Young America in Literature," in which he arbitrarily announced that his hero, Pierre, had been a juvenile author. Melville proceeded to add an intrusive "Pierre as author" subplot, disparaging American literary life and the world of publishing, which he left unassimilated into the book he had first completed.

I don't know about you, but in this case I'd prefer to read the version that the author "ruined" out of spite. (Loosely pertinent: I suddenly recall being struck by Miro's burnt canvases. Although, really, the two separate acts by the two separate artists are hardly parallel: one "ruins" through addition, the other augments through destruction, etc. etc. We're careening, though.)

Anyway. Let's see here. Pierre has twenty-six "books" amounting to about (in my version) 400 pages. The first question becomes: how many pages are we willing to read in a week? Related: how many weeks are we willing to keep reading and checking in? Would it be better to do 100 pages a week and finish in one month, or to read 50 a week and finish in two? I haven't decided! Weigh in!

In any event, we'll divide the book up into blocks of chapters assigned to consecutive weeks. Every Sunday I'll start things off with a post that will (hopefully!) generate some discussion, and then we can take it to the comments page from there. I don't want this to feel like a forced Blackboard discussion: you can say as little or as much as you want. (I'd prefer you say something, though -- even "it's good!" or "it sucks!" will suffice. You're not being graded or judged.)

Would Sunday, August 12 be a good time to begin reading? (This would make August 19 the day we first start typing at each other about it.) Too close? Too far off? Let me know, dammit!

Mr. Vuela noticed the last post and writes:

Fantastic! You probably don't remember, but I think it was you that suggested I read it about two years ago from this point (gosh how time flies). Well, I did eventually pick it up, and after three months of slugging through the thing, I can definitely say it's worth a read. I will say that for better or for worse, depending on how you look at it, the whole thing feels a bit exaggerated and drastic, and while it may have been satirizing the extravagance of other novels of that time period (or maybe even paying homage to classic tragedies), today it just comes across as Melville writing gorgeous, flowing and wandering prose. If you do happen to read it in book club style format, I'd definitely be up for giving it a second run, although I don't think I'd really be able to add anything significant to any discussions.

But, yeah. I really liked it and I know you'll get a good kick out of it too.

You stoked? I'm stoked.

Three months? Hmm. What would that be -- thirty-three pages a week?


  1. I'm fine with 100 a week, but I'm also fine taking it slow if that's what others would prefer. I'm just excited to read some Melville, really. Looking forward to it!

  2. Would prefer 50. Just assuming the content of the text is thick (?), then 100 a week entails these sweeping discussions that might glaze over the details. A hundred's totally doable; but with one point of discussion? Depends on how interested everyone is too, I guess. Could trial run it, gauge the comfort? Don't know. All theoretical in my head.

    Conversely 33 seems like a crawl.

    Will be ordering the book tomorrow. Monday rolls around and we'll see how fast it ships.

  3. I would personally prefer reading 100 pages a week, but discussing every 50 pages twice a week. This might be too much for some people, so just 100 pages, or even 50 is alright with me.

  4. The only copy I could procure is the Library of America edition, packaged with a few other letters and stories, which is fine by me because I love those editions. 100 pages a week is fine by me, but 50 is also alright if others would rather do it that way.

  5. A hundred pages per weeks seems to me to be a little too fast for good discussion. Thirty-three pages per week is a bit slow for reading normally, but would probably be a good pace for good discussion. Plus, it gives us time for re-reading bits as we go along, should we want to.

    Never read any Melville before. Picked up Moby-Dick once and really liked it, but didn't have enough time for something big and dense like that. I keep meaning to come back to it, though.