Moby Dick by Herman Melville
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By Herman Melville
Yes, yes, it's very long. But not that long. And besides, Moby Dick is a blast to read: funny (both ha-ha and strange), adventurous, profound, absurd, bordering one moment on Shakespearean tragedy, the next on musical theater—and along the way, tossing off more than a few of those metafictional head-fakes we so admire in novels nowadays. It's a got a few rough edges—Moby Dick has always impressed me as not so much written as chopped from the Great Tree of Narrative with a rusty axe—but you don't know what a novel can be until you've read this thing. I've opened it at random and sampled the prose countless times just to remind myself that the crazier the idea for a story, the more wholehearted you have to be about writing it. When you've seen the last of the Pequod, I recommend following up with Andrew Delbanco's wonderful biography, Melville: His World and Work, to get a sense of how this impossible book came to be.

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