Herman Melville

Herman Melville's 200th birthday is this Thursday, so our Review of the Week highlights his literary influence and the satisfaction that comes from reading his work.

The value of Herman Melville

Sanborn, Geoffrey. Cambridge, 2018
161p bibl index, 9781108471442 $44.99, 9781108452915 $17.99, 9781108652407 $14.00

Sanborn (Amherst College) is an accomplished Melville scholar as well as a scholar of 19th-century American literary culture in general. The 12 brief chapters in this volume cover a range of Melville’s work, but Sanborn focuses on Moby-Dick, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” “Benito Cereno,” and Billy Budd. But this is no ordinary scholarly study of Melville. Rather it is an homage to the activity of reading Melville. It is one thing to read and understand Melville, but it is another to get Melville, and Sanborn certainly gets Melville. Those who are Melville fanatics will likely remember the tumultuous joy that their first reading of Melville brought to their lives—before the ornaments of academic training. Sanborn certainly remembers, and he shares that delight, yet through a refracted prism of academic training. Sanborn recalls the love of reading Melville, nay, of the act of reading itself, that first brought lovers of Melville (and literature itself) to the profession of literary studies. Sanborn’s insights are conversational, reminding one that reading is a conversation with the dead (or if not the dead, the distant). This reader found himself conversing with Sanborn conversing with Melville about experiencing this thing called “life.” Everyone who loves literature, not to mention Melville, should read this book.

Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
Reviewer: R. T. Prus, Southeastern Oklahoma State University
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – English & American
Choice Issue: Apr 2019