The likeness of a whale adorns a door at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)
Volunteers gear up for a whale of a reading
January 13, 2016
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"Moby-Dick" fans from around the world have celebrated their own tough quest. It was a marathon reading of Herman Melville's classic.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts held its 20th annual nonstop reading of the seminal man vs. whale novel. The event was Jan. 9-10. It included a few new twists to mark the anniversary.
It started with just "a couple of die-hards and some grog," according to museum president and CEO James Russell. But it has now grown into a much larger event. It ends in a cover-to-cover reading of the book. The reading takes 25-hours. It was read aloud by about 150 volunteers. Hundreds attend the live event. Thousands more watch a live stream.
The event has become so popular that this year's reading spots were snapped up within an hour.
"This is my favorite museum event of the year," Russell said. "It touches on so many dimensions." He cited the literary experience and the physical works of art. He also noted the theatrical performance and the workshops and focus groups.
The readers were young and old. They included Melville scholars and Melville descendants. They come from across the country and overseas. This year's celebrity reader was Nathaniel Philbrick. He is an award-winning author. He kicked things off by reading what has been called the most famous opening line in literature. That line is, "Call me Ishmael."
Parts of the book were read in foreign languages. Those included Spanish, French and Dutch.
The reading moves through different galleries of the museum. At one point, it even sails up the cobblestone street to the Seamen's Bethel. It is called the Whaleman's Chapel in the novel.
There were two new things for this year's reading. One of those was a four-hour reading of a Portuguese adaptation of "Moby-Dick." There was also a two-hour children's version. It was read by kids ages 8 to 12.
Philbrick wrote "In the Heart of the Sea." It won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book was made into a movie of the same name. He called it an honor to get things started.
"It's written with such force and complexity and beautiful language," he said.
Philbrick confesses he didn't read "Moby-Dick" until he was "forced to." At the time, he was a senior in high school. This was even though his father was a university English professor who specialized in American maritime literature. Now, he estimates he's read the book a dozen times.
"Ishmael was the best friend I had not met. And I was completely harpooned," he said. "It's become like my personal bible."
Every year about 25 to 30 Melville fans manage to stay awake for the entire reading, Russell said.
"It's an immersive experience," he said.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are some people “forced” to read "Moby Dick"?
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