Our mother was a great believer in having parties–small parties with family and a few friends maybe–but parties nonetheless. When we were little, there were usually favors. I tried to continue this tradition with my own family. It encourages celebrating the little things as well as the big things in life and helps everyone keep a positive outlook.
So when Herman Melville’s 200 birthday was coming up, it just seemed liked a great excuse to have a party. We gave everyone plenty of notice to start reading Moby-Dick (or, okay, something shorter) and we started planning.
We didn’t let a cancer diagnosis stop us. Daughters #1 and 2 took the reins, and by the time last weekend rolled around they had things well in hand. When DN arrived on Friday we were cooking with gas. Everything fell into place, although the caterers were late, but DN dealt with that, and when guests starting arriving, the Typee Punch was ready to go…
We toasted the great Melville and then ate dinner.
We gathered again to listen to the great Gary play hornpipes on his mandolin…
And then almost everybody read their own Melville selection, which represented a variety from Billy Budd and Bartleby to The Confidence Man and, of course, Moby-Dick. No one had chosen the same thing to read. DN read from a Melville essay about Hawthorne which included the often quoted “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation” in context which I loved.
I think everyone had fun and I was flattered that my friends had humored me in my whimsy. And a few people went outside their comfort zones and read some Melville!
Huzzah. It takes very little, to have a lot of fun.
So keep reading…and keep celebrating!
And there were favors!
Nobody had more class than Melville. To do what he did in Moby-Dick, to tell a story and to risk putting so much material into it. If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full. It’s more full than War and Peace or Brothers Karamasov. It has Saint Elmo’s fire, and great whales, and grand arguments between heroes, and secret passions. It risks wandering far, far out into the globe. Melville took on the whole world, saw it all in a vision, and risked everything in prose that sings. You have a sense from the very beginning that Melville had a vision in his mind of what this book was going to look like, and he trusted himself to follow through all the way. (–Ken Kesey, interviewed in “Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction No. 136” by Robert Faggen in The Paris Review No. 130 (Spring 1994)