The elusive white whale within your grasp

No blubber, just lean prose: readers dig into Melville, at the 2012 MDMNYC.   Photo by Justin Taylor

No blubber, just lean prose: readers dig into Melville, at the 2012 MDMNYC. Photo by Justin Taylor

BY TRAV S.D. ( |  Few works of fiction inspire so broad a range of extreme reactions as that Greatest of American Novels, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick, Or, The Whale.”

To some, it is the finest work of literature this nation ever produced, a pioneering modernist masterpiece that encompasses everything from metaphysics to how to strip and boil whale blubber. To others, it is a glorified doorstop, the bane of their high school English experience, a long-winded 700-page Leviathan best experienced by way of Cliff Notes.

A publishing disaster when first released in 1851, the book would not begin to be widely embraced until nearly a century later. Along the way there have been some notable screen adaptations, such as the silent classic “The Sea Beast” with John Barrymore (1926), John Huston’s “Moby Dick” (1956) with Gregory Peck, and a TV movie version starring Patrick Stewart (1998). Barrymore, Peck and Stewart all played the part of the revenge-crazed Captain Ahab, of course. And Orson Welles created a well-known play inspired by the book entitled “Moby Dick — Rehearsed” in 1955.

Today, the book is beloved by millions. Perhaps there is no greater indication of the health of the modern Melville/Moby cult than the existence of Moby-Dick Marathon NYC (MDMNYC).

This three-day event is timed around the anniversary of the book’s original U.S. publication date (Nov. 14, 1851) and will feature 160 people reading the entirety of Melville’s masterwork in relay fashion at three separate NYC locations: Ace Hotel New York, the South Street Seaport Museum, and Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. This is the second go-round for this biennial event; the first one took place in 2012.

MDMNYC is the brainchild of Amanda Bullock, Director of Public Programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, who had attended the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s “Moby Dick” Marathon in 2011 and recognized that New York (where Melville lived and where some of the book takes place) would also be a natural place for such a marathon. “We are also lucky,” says Bullock, “that so many amazing writers, editors and literary citizens live in New York City and are interested in reading the book.”

The 160 people who read in the Moby-Dick Marathon are a cross-section of many different kinds of literary and creative individuals, including poets, fiction writers, journalists, critics, actors, artists and illustrators, comedians, and musicians. The event is staffed completely with volunteers and free to the public. For the hearty souls who manage to stay for the entirety of the marathon, there will be prizes. Believe it or not, according to Bullock, four people managed to stick it out for the whole of the event in 2012.

To learn more about Moby-Dick Marathon NYC so that you too can set out on the Pequod in search of the elusive white whale, log on to Twitter: @MobyDickNYC

Free and open to the public

Fri., Nov. 14, 6–11 p.m.
at Ace Hotel New York
(20 W. 29th St., btw. Fifth Ave. & Broadway)

Sat., Nov. 15, 10 a.m.–11 p.m.
in the Melville Gallery at the South Street Seaport Museum
(213 Water St., btw. Fulton & Beekman Sts.)

Sun., Nov. 16, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
(126 Crosby St., btw. Houston & Prince Sts.)

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