Has anyone else been taking part in the Moby Dick Big Read?
I have, and I’ve been enjoying it. The idea is to listen to a chapter a day of Herman Melville’s whaling epic Moby Dick, using the free audio files provided at this website. They’ve been posting up a new chapter every day since September last year, each one read by a different person. Some readers are local volunteers; others are famous, like Stephen Fry, David Cameron and Will Self. There’s also a visual element: each chapter has a piece of artwork attached to it, like the one pictured here (from chapter 117). The final chapter will be posted at the end of the month.
It’s not too late to join in. All of the chapters posted so far are still available online to listen to or download. The way I’ve been doing it is to download a few chapters at a time, transfer them to my iPod and listen in bed at night. There’s no requirement to listen during the event itself, so you could always download the files and store them away to listen to later in the year when you have more time (you will need a LOT of time).
To be honest, this is a book I would probably never have tackled otherwise. It’s a bizarre, sprawling tale, with the plot often made subservient to long diversions and pedantic detailing of every single aspect of the ship’s crew and equipment. There are whole chapters in which the story is abandoned altogether and the book morphs into a science text-book, with analysis of the different types of whales, the shapes of their heads, etc. There’s a long section on depictions of whales in paintings and books. Just when you think you’ve survived Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales, you get hit by Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes. Then, when you think Melville can’t possibly find any more extraneous details to throw at you, he comes up with Chapter 57 – Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.
And yet I’m enjoying it. There’s something about the story that fascinates me, and something about the digressions and tangents that works. In the early chapters I started getting frustrated, but now I’ve given myself up to it and am letting the great tide of words carry me along in whichever direction it wants. To my surprise, themes and ideas are starting to emerge out of the chaos.
I think the audio format is ideal. I listen late at night, and fall asleep either sooner or later depending on the level of pedantry in which Melville is indulging at the time. The variety of different voices also makes it more interesting, although one small complaint is that once you’ve downloaded the files, there’s no way of knowing who’s reading – it might have been good to add that at the beginning of each chapter, or put it in the file name.
In any case, I’d be curious to know if any of you have come across this site before, and are listening as well? If so, what are you making of it? If not, do you think you’ll join in?
As I head into the final stretch, I’d like to thank those at Plymouth University and Peninsula Arts who went to such effort to put this wonderful, creative, free project out into the world.