Melville Fanatics Create City's First 'Moby Dick' Reading Marathon

By Meredith Hoffman on October 16, 2012 8:47am | Updated on October 16, 2012 9:17am

GREENPOINT — Long before she read "Moby Dick" as a child, Polly Bresnick always wondered about her father's reading marathons in the coastal New York town Sag Harbor.

"I thought it was kind of weird he would be out all day on a Saturday reading a book about a whale with a group of people," Bresnick, 27, recalled of the homages to the epic Herman Melville novel.

"I remember him coming home with some kind of dynamic spirit, though," she added. "He'd talk about how he got to read 'The Symphony' chapter. And he'd start crying just talking about it."

So Bresnick — whose father would thunder out "Crack my heart! Stave my brain!" and other quotes around the house — soon developed her own Melville obsession, and even staged her own meagerly attended "Moby Dick" marathon while studying at Bard College.

"We did it through the night and there was only one other person who stayed up with me," she admitted, but soldiered on, inspired by the novel's protagonist, Ahab. "Ahab is characterized by his monomaniacal drive to get this whale. He's unshakeable."

Now, Bresnick's own determined journey has finally hit its mark — with New York City's first ever "Moby Dick" marathon spanning Brooklyn and Manhattan next month. WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint, Housing Works in SoHO and Molasses Books in Bushwick are hosting prominent writers and actors to read the novel from start to finish.

"This is literally my dream come true, to have 100 people come together to read this book," said Bresnick, a writer who will be reading at the kick-off night at WORD along with her dad, Paul.

Paul Bresnick is a literary agent and the editor of Sena Jeter Naslund's novel "Ahab's Wife," based on "Moby Dick."

"My father's reading the chapter 'Doubloon,' one of our favorites," said Polly Bresnick, who also gave her dad a rubbing of Melville's grave for a past birthday present. "We have plans to get matching doubloon tattoos."

The Bresnicks will be joined by actors Paul Dano, from "Little Miss Sunshine," and Michael Kostroff, from "The Wire." Writers Jonathan Ames, creator of HBO series "Bored to Death," Sarah Vowell and Mark Kurlansky will be there, too.

And to Amanda Bullock, also a Melville-fanatic who organized the weekend with Bresnick, an aural reading is the only way to understand the novel's dynamic language.

"You need to be able to hear it out loud," Bullock, director of public programming at Housing Works, said.

"It has a great rhythm to it and there a lot of great whale words," she added, offering "pudding-headed whale" as an example.

Bullock also emphasized that although "Moby Dick" has scenes in Sag Harbor, which has an annual marathon reading, and on a ship, where another marathon reading is held in Mystic, Conn., the novel begins in New York City — as did Melville's life.

"Melville has a really strong relationship with New York City," said Bullock, who was enchanted by the book when she first read it four years ago. 

"It's an adventure story. This is a great snapshot of a particular time in history," she said of the 1830's. "But you can map it onto so many things happening now."

Bullock's fondness for the author has even led her and her boyfriend Justin Taylor (also reading in the marathon) to dress up as characters Moby Dick and Ahab for the past two Halloweens.

"We made harpoons he would throw at me," she said of the holiday role play. "It was entertaining."

Not only is this year's event — on the 161st anniversary of the novel's publication — the first known "Moby Dick" marathon in New York City, it is also distinct for bookstores unaccustomed to reading marathons in multiple locations.

"We've had them here at the store," said WORD's manager Emily Pullen of reading marathons. "But this is the first with a journey as a part of it."

The reading marathon kicks off at WORD Bookstore on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. The schedule can be found on the group's website. 

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