Whale of a Tale | Newberry

Whale of a Tale

This is Whale Week at the Newberry. The exhibit in honor of Herman Melville opens, the Rosenberg Bookshop breaks out in whale books and accounts of early Polynesia, and a marathon reading of Moby Dick, at which you can listen to the entire novel as a platoon of volunteers steps up to the podium, will occupy our first floor for about 25 hours.

It’s all very exciting and fulfilling—the Newberry was responsible for the definitive edition of Herman Melville’s works (the Newberry-Northwestern Edition, as it is known)—but there ARE some naysayers. There are people who found it hard to read through the comic book version of Moby Dick, people whose idea of thrill rides does not include an overnight at a library in January, and one person who muttered “If they’d done an exhibit on Peter Rabbit, the marathon reading could be finished in one coffee break.”

Besides leading me to consider going back to school JUST to get my Ph.D. for a dissertation on Farmer McGregor being a literary descendant of Captain Ahab (and then there’s Alice, pursuing the Great White Rabbit through Wonderland…oh, this has possibilities) I was, naturally, struck by the idea of marathon readings of other books.

IF, for example, the Newberry did an exhibit on The DaVinci Code, not only would the marathon reading possibly be better than the movie, we could actually make it a Read-Along evening, and sell all the copies of THAT bestseller which get donated.

Since the Newberry does its very best to represent the scope of Western literature, there are certain books in the collection which are for Mature Audiences Only. It’s not so much that I’m yearning to hear these read aloud: I just want to make sure that anyone who stands up to read the naughty bits wears a hat which has been folded down at one corner, the way people have done through the years to mark the pages with Good Bits on them.

Almost any book, I suppose, could be enhanced by having certain readers step up to the podium with yellow, green, or magenta face paint, because they’re reading the passages every college student highlights.

I imagine there would be a goodly crowd dropping by to see, say, a marathon reading of every single Nancy Drew book. This would take about a week, I suppose, or we could simply start every Saturday afternoon and read until Sunday brunch, making a regular feature of it. In fact, I am going to run right out, once this blog is finished, and get a trademark registered for the phrase “Nancy Nights”. (Nancy Nights at the Newberry: it’s got a ring to it, hasn’t it?)

If something less strenuous is desired, we have any number of good, solid, thick textbooks which could be done as marathon readings. Pick the right one, and after an hour, even the people standing at the podium would be asleep. The maintenance staff could quietly dim the lights and go home, returning around sunrise the next day to wake people up and cry, “Congratulations on making it all the way through!” No one would ever admit to an eight hour nap during Sartor Resartus, say, and the world could roll along.

Anyway, our first experiment along these lines happens next week, with an acknowledged classic full of whales rising from the ocean and brooding insanity. If you time it right, you can stop off at the Bookshop for a stuffed whale or a copy of the text so you can follow along. There MAY be appropriate music (Sing the old seagoing love song with me: “Whale meat again, don’t know where, don’t know when”….) And if you think you’re going to be in trouble that way, stock up on seasickness pills before you come by. It should be an exciting voyage.

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