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'Moby Dick' read-a-thon is virtual this weekend at New Bedford Whaling Museum

New Bedford Whaling Museum. (WJAR)
New Bedford Whaling Museum. (WJAR)
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It's an annual tradition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum: the reading of Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick."

But it's a little different this year: it's virtual because of the pandemic. Some think that challenge has added more creativity to the experience.

The book that only became revered as a classic long after Melville was long gone, has been dissected, talked about, and written about, for more than a hundred years.

"You can pick up a passage of Melville, or you can sit for the whole 25 hours," said Amanda McMullen, head of the museum. "You could drop in and you'll know what's going on. You'll be able to figure it out."

Because of the pandemic, the readings will not be performed live continuously from the first chapter to the epilogue, but virtually this year.

"Over 200 readers have submitted their passages," said McMullen. "What we're seeing on the tapes is people that are really comfortable in their home settings, so they are being a little bit more creative and theatrical," adding to the theatre-of-the-mind experience for those listening and watching. "And we are literally stitching it together for the entire reading."

In the mid 1840s, Melville checked in to the Mariner's home right across the street in downtown New Bedford from the Whaling Museum, the night before taking off on his big four year adventure on the high seas that became the inspiration for "Moby Dick."

"After that, he did create the tale of the chase for the white whale," said McMullen. "As much as it's a tale and adventure of being on the whale hunt, there are so many metaphors and symbols that Melville put in there that are still being discovered today that relate to every day existence in the human condition."

Preview events begin Friday night online for a fee with a lecture.

"If you're local, you can get delivery of our great partners the Moby Dick Brewing Company," said McMullen, ordering up fish and chips, or chowder, and beer for adults.

The free read-a-thon beings 11:30 a.m. Saturday and ends early afternoon on Sunday. Timely, reiterates McMullen.

"Think about survival at sea. We've had quite a bumpy couple of months here through the pandemic. There's absolutely the underscore of going crazy, and madness, and surviving loneliness, and isolation, desperation," said McMullen.

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