Letters From Leton: Call Me Ishmael

As the COVID-19 situation drags on, staying positive and keeping perspective on things becomes challenging. So I decided to shake things up a bit by getting back into reading books.

I decided that I wanted a book to continue learning more about my culture and history (got one by Ron Rash – Appalachian Author – thanks for the recommendation, Charlie), a book about something I am interested in learning more about (1820s Rockies and Mountain Men – book by James Douglas) and a classic book – Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Now, my assumption was (and remains) that the hardest book to read would be Moby Dick. So I chose to read it first, and last weekend’s rainy weather allowed me to plow through the 600 pages or so, finishing Sunday evening.

Getting my mind around the language and pace took a while, but after a period, I was transplanted mentally to the oceans of the 1850s. I would see terms and references that interested me and Google them, thus making the story more alive for me. (1800’s book, 2000’s technology.)

For those who have read the book or are familiar with it, you know that the first line in the book (and one of the most famous lines of any book) is “Call Me Ishmael” – the narrator and (spoiler alert) the sole survivor of the journey of the Pequod. He and crewmates faced life and death and countless tribulations.

While now considered an American Classic, Moby Dick was not that well received during Melville’s lifetime. In fact, it sold poorly and was a commercial failure

It was only in 1919, the centennial of the author’s birth (he died in 1891) that it became famous. William Faulkner said he wished he had written the book. D.H. Lawrence called it one of the “strangest and most wonderful books in the world.”

So why all of this time on a book I was supposed to have read in the 10th grade (but instead spent too much time thinking about girls in my English class)?

Because I am choosing to do something positive with my time. Something creative and different for me. Something I have thought about for many years – reading American Classic Books!

For you, why not consider doing something you thought you didn’t have time to do? Perhaps it is learning to quilt like your grandmother? Maybe it’s taking that long put off hike to Bear Rock (Wise County) or the Sand Cave (Lee County)? Maybe picking up that old guitar or fiddle?

COVID-19 may be trying to beat us physically – with that threat we must remain cautious. But when it comes to our mind, it cannot defeat us if we fight back with the strongest harpoons known to man – our genius and creativity!

On the Pequod, months would go by before another ship would be crossed in the ocean. Mates on the journey had to be self-sufficient to survive the storms, the sharks, and the diseases of their time.

Melville passed thinking he was a failure as an author, not knowing that his works resonated through time.

Every generation will have their challenges. This is ours. 

We will win this battle by finding peace with ourselves and knowing that time is our friend, not our enemy against COVID-19.

Stay Safe.

– Leton

“Letters From Leton” is a blog series comprised of the weekly updates that Leton Harding – President, Chairman, and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank, shares with the Bank’s team members. These newsletters are full of uplifting anecdotes and intriguing insights that are applicable beyond the Bank, so we want to share them with you.