Magazine May 18, 2020, Issue

The Rare Virtue of Interior Spaciousness

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

I finally decided to read Moby-Dick.

My wife, a far more patient and cultured soul than I, was listening to an audiobook of the famous novel when I overheard the protagonist Ishmael going on and on about commonly used 19th-century oils — olive oil, Macassar oil, bear’s oil, sperm oil, what have you. Now, I care about oils, really, not at all, and yet this esoteric lecture kept inexplicably popping up in my thoughts for days.

Soon I found myself digging through the piles of nonfiction books I’d amassed around the house. I couldn’t remember when I had purchased Moby-Dick or why

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