Volunteers gear up for a whale of a reading
"Moby-Dick" fans from around the world have celebrated their own demanding 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 on Jan. 9-10. The event included a few new twists to mark the anniversary.
What started with just "a couple of die-hards and some grog," according to museum president and CEO James Russell, has grown into a much larger event. It concludes in a cover-to-cover, 25-hour reading of the book aloud by about 150 volunteers. Hundreds attend the live event and 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: the literary experience, the physical works of art, the theatrical performance, 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 award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick. He kicked things off by reading what has been called the most famous opening line in literature, "Call me Ishmael."
Portions 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.
New for this year was a four-hour reading of a Portuguese adaptation of "Moby-Dick." Also new was a two-hour children's version read by kids ages 8 to 12.
Philbrick wrote "In the Heart of the Sea." It won the National Book Award for nonfiction and 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" as 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 aficionados manage to stay awake for the entire reading, Russell said.
"It's an immersive experience," he said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are some people “forced” to read "Moby Dick"?
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