From noon July 31 through noon August 1, the Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum in Mystic, CT, held its 32nd annual Moby-Dick reading marathon. Visitors were invited aboard the ninteenth-century whaleship (and now teaching vessel) Charles W. Morgan and read Herman Melville's (1819-1891) nautical adventure.
The nonstop reading of all 133 chapters commemorated Melville's 198th birthday. Originally published in 1851, Moby-Dick sank commercially during the author's lifetime and went out of print in 1891. The book was revived in the twentieth century as an example of "The Great American Novel," helped in no small part by writers like William Faulkner, who wished he had written it, and Hemingway who said he was still trying to "beat" Melville at the writing game.
Nearly forty participants read from their own copy of Moby-Dick, ranging from dog-eared, yellowed paperbacks to fancy commemorative hardcovers. The honor of reading the opening lines of "Call me Ishmael" went to an actor portraying Melville, who recited chapter one from memory. Chelmsford, Massachusetts, resident Nikki Richardson read read chapter two, The Carpet Bag, "one of the shortest chapters," she said. Many readers came and went during the 24-hour reading, while sixteen reserved lodgings below deck in the Morgan's forecastle.
Readers came to remember Melville, to enjoy time on the water, and to honor family. "I read because literature was part of my double major," explained Richardson. "Also, I am the daughter of a submariner who installed a love of the ocean and its tales in his children. I particularly love whaling stories and this is one of the greatest, incorporating fictionalized details of the story of the whale that rammed and sank the Essex."
Some readers had participated in marathon reading sessions at other New England ports like New Bedford and on Nantucket. "It's an addictive experience to be among people with a singular love for literature," said Richardson. "People come back again and again."
Participants received a commemorative bookmark handset and printed on a nineteenth-century press located at Mystic.
Images (top): Herman Melville (Public domain); (middle) Nikki Richardson reading chapter 2 of Moby Dick. Credit: Elissa Bass.