Back on the shelf: Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street

Herman Melville

“I prefer not to,” he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

I came across a blog post that mentioned this novella by Melville and was intrigued for two reasons. One, the main character embodies a counter-cultural attitude (to a fault) wherein he simply says “I would prefer not to” when asked to do something he doesn’t want to do. My second reason for reading this tome came from being a fan of the Bone graphic novel series, in which the title character – himself a fan of Moby Dick (a novel I didn’t much care for) – befriends a baby monster and names it Bartleby. The story progresses slowly and deliberately, taking the reader through various moral quandaries experienced by the storyteller, a mid-19th century Wall Street lawyer who employs the odd Bartleby as a scrivener (a copyist). As the lawyer wrestles with Bartleby, his quirky staff who are perturbed by their new colleague, and his own conscience, we’re challenged to decide how we would respond if placed in his shoes. While somewhat dark, the haunting and memorable story can be read in a couple hours and is well worth it.

See what else is on my bookshelf…

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