Last year, The Rosenbach Library and Museum hosted a test or “beta” version of an ambitious new Big Read in the mold of the library’s world-famous Bloomsday readings from James Joyce’s Ulysses, long an important Philadelphia tradition. On that “damp, drizzly November” evening, I found myself in a room ringing with sea-shanties, where the rum poured generously and the commanding spirit of one of America’s great novels came to life. For fifteen minutes, I stood possessed before those gathered in the room, gripped by the soul of Captain Ahab as I declaimed from the “Quarter-Deck” chapter of Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick.
This year, the library’s Manager of Public Programs, Ed Pettit, unveils his mad masterwork, a marathon reading of the entirety of Melville’s epic novel at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing. The famous first lines, “Call me Ishmael,” will sound at 7:30PM on the evening of Friday, October 19th. Sometime in the evening of the following day we will hear the final lines of the epilogue, “It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.” In between we’ll have whale hunts and philosophical musings, rumors of mutiny and tales of madness aboard the Pequod as Captain Ahab presses his crew around the “watery part of the world” in a desperate search for the mythical white whale. It is an event worthy of Captain Ahab himself, who shouts “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”
The celebration will begin two hours earlier on the fantail of the cruiser USS Olympia with The Harpoon Saloon, the library’s fundraiser, which will feature drinks, seafood, and sea shanties. If you would like to join us on the deck to help support the library, you can find more information here. I will be there along with my son Ian, who has often pointed longingly at the great white warship from afar. Mingle with the delightful Kelsey Scouten Bates, Associate Director and Director of Development, and the ever-valiant Derick Dreher, John C. Haas Director, as well as many other glamorous bibliophiles on the library’s staff. From 11:30AM until 2:30PM on Saturday local restaurants will host Queequeg’s Chowder Tasting in the museum. I believe that Ed Pettit continues his hunt for more readers, so if you’d like to join us on the quarterdeck for a passage or two, you may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you can join us! I’ll be there both nights, though, unlike Ed, I hope to return home to my slumbers at some point . . .
All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.