“Call me Ishmael.’’
Nate Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea — a nonfiction book (and movie starring Chris Hemsworth) about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820 that inspired the novel Moby-Dick — will speak those words out loud on Saturday. When he does, he will kick off a 25-hour Moby-Dick-reading marathon.
Philbrick will stand on stage at the New Bedford Whaling Museum to read, in clear site of a replica of the Lagoda whaling ship—the largest ship model in the world. About 150 more people will stand in that same spot over the weekend to read from Herman Melville’s classic whaling epic.
This is the 20th annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Every year, hundreds of local residents and far-away visitors sign up to read or listen to the novel, set in New Bedford.
Museum president James Russell said that all the reading spots were filled within an hour of sign-ups opening in November, and there are 180 people on a reading waitlist.
“We’re creating a cultural quilt of readers, from young to old, seasoned readers next to novices,’’ Russell said. “It’s like a right of passage.’’
Russell also said that, because of its setting in New Bedford, the reading marathon is a truly immersive experience.
“There’s no need for a backdrop when we read because you simply look out the windows at the cobblestone streets, and it feels like the 19th century,’’ Russell said. “You’re transported back in time to the very sidewalks Melville walked on.’’
The marathon has expanded over the years to include sidebar events like sessions with Melville scholars, exhibitions on whaler’s maps, and small supplementary readings in multiple languages. Because of the strong Portuguese community in New Bedford, there will be a four-hour parallel reading of Moby-Dick in Portuguese, read from an abridged version of the novel made by a Portuguese playwright.
If you can’t make it out to New Bedford, the museum does provide a live stream online of the reading, which will take place from noon on Saturday to about 1 p.m. Sunday. Russell said that the museum can track people as far away as New Zealand tuning in. Already this year, scholars from across the country have arrived in the fishing town.
“Without a question, it’s the best event we do of the year,’’ Russell said. “Everybody is united by a common piece of literature. It shows the enduring power of the arts.’’