Most of us—if we were lucky—were read to as children, by parents or grandparents sitting at our bedsides, lulling us into a slumber with tales of heroism or fantasy or, at the least, talking animals.
Most of us—if we were lucky—were read to as children, by parents or grandparents sitting at our bedsides, lulling us into a slumber with tales of heroism or fantasy or, at the least, talking animals. As adults, we aren’t often offered the indulgent opportunity to listen to literature. Our lives are so fast-paced, many don’t even take or have the time to read, much less slow down and be read to. Audio books lack the atmosphere of a real person’s voice, and most people utilize them while multitasking—driving or treading on the elliptical. It’s rare that we give ourselves the chance to slow down and take it all in.
This Friday, that window of opportunity will open when Powell’s Books and the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) host Take to the Ship: Portland’s first marathon reading of Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick.” This year marks the 160th anniversary of the novel’s release in 1851. A total of 135 readers from the literary community have volunteered to participate, each reading a chapter from the novel over the course of 24 hours. The first five hours are open to the public and will take place in Powell’s reading room. The rest of the event will then relocate to a yet-to-be-announced location open to members of the IPRC. The reading will be recorded in its entirety and eventually be available for sale to raise funds for the IPRC.
The “Moby Dick” marathon reading is new to Portland but part of a well-established tradition. In 1982, the Seaport Museum in New York hosted perhaps the first documented reading of the novel. Local actors read to fans and enthusiasts over the course of six Sunday afternoons at the museum, which sits just a few blocks from Melville’s birthplace.
More notably, Massachusetts’ New Bedford Whaling Museum has been hosting a marathon reading of the novel for 15 years, in celebration of Melville’s 1841 departure from the city on the whaling ship Acushnet. The event is an annual weekend-long affair, including dinner, public lectures, art exhibits and interactive encounters with the Melville Society—a scholarly organization dedicated to the celebrated author.
The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut will be hosting a reading of the novel this summer to celebrate Melville’s birthday. Their reading will take place aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world.
Marathon readings of “Moby Dick” have become somewhat of a literary institution, perhaps second only to marathon readings of Homer’s “Odyssey,” which occur regularly around the globe.
While the recurring readings on the east coast have clear geographical ties to Melville’s life and work, the Portland reading speaks more to our city’s rich and dynamic literary and arts community. Along with the upcoming reading, the IPRC is hosting a “Moby Dick”-inspired art show in its gallery, featuring a slew of local artists who have contributed works influenced by the famous whale.
The history of the novel also ties in to the IPRC’s dedication to their cause. Organizer Amy Harwood brings up an important point: “When Moby Dick was first published, it was a flop. Without small press publishing, this great work ahead of its time may never have made to our laps.”
While the museum readings focus primarily on tributes to whaling and Melville, the Portland reading takes it to the next level by truly celebrating the novel’s importance to the literary community.
This reading is a unique opportunity to experience the novel in a new way, or perhaps experience it for the first time. The event promises to commemorate a celebrated author, a classic American novel, a vibrant literary community and the underappreciated experience of winding down to the sound of someone reading aloud from a great book. ?