Another busman’s holiday this time up the Massachusetts coast to attend the 20th annual Moby-Dick marathon reading at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Melville aficionados came from near and far (Fairhaven, MA and California respectively), and read in languages ranging from English to Dutch, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish. Some 6000 listened via podcast from all points around the globe including Australia and the Arctic! Nathanial Philbrick, whose In the Heart of the Sea, is now playing in theaters, was the kick-off reader who got to utter the famous opening line, “Call me Ishmael.” A mini-marathon was held for children reading a much abbreviated version in one hour. The full-blown reading lasted 25 hours or so with intrepid readers sleeping overnight in the museum. A new Herman Melville room was dedicated, and a 4-hour reading in Portuguese was such a success, it will likely be repeated in years to come.
At the pre-reading Friday night dinner and presentation, we met a father and son, age 16, from nearby Huntington. It was the son’s second experience at the New Bedford marathon. His proud father beamed with love and pride as the young man read clearly and forcefully later that weekend on Sunday morning. We met the great, great grandson of Melville, who with his two nephews also took their turns at the reader’s podium. Author Philip Hoare whose book The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea, is a best-seller at Canio’s, infused his reading with dramatic flair that brought the story to life. Mr. Hoare mentioned another Moby marathon reading in April in Provincetown. Sounds like good reason for another road-trip!
For the famous sermon scene, some 300 audience members scurried over to the Seaman’s Bethel across the street from the museum where a real-life pastor gave an inspired rendition of that Jonah story. The entire assembly joined in signing the hymn accompanied on organ and with help from the local church’s choir.
Kathryn was reader #5 on the list of 180 stand-by readers. Reading slots as well as seats at the opening and close of the event, are, in the words of organizers, “competitive.” At a pre-marathon event with members of The Herman Melville Society, an august group of literary scholars from various universities, Maryann was awarded a button reading, “I Stumped the Scholars” for her question: “How does Melville’s Moby-Dick speak to 21st century woman readers?”
If you’d like to offer your own response, we’d love to hear from you.