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We’re taking to sea! It’s going to be great!

I’ve had an idea for months now, having to do with a link that I’ve clicked many times simply to take a peek at where it led. I wondered if I would ever actually go for it and do what that link was offering.

Well, this is the week that prompted me to listen.

The link is to Moby-Dick Big Read.

Yeah, it’s the whole novel, Herman Melville’s 1851 masterpiece, read aloud by 135 readers (from Benedict Cumberbatch to unknowns). It is a project by Plymouth University, and the scale and ambition of this labor of love is pretty magnificent.

I am in such a mood to let this story wash over me.

I know, I know—you’re saying, “Crazy, Ann! Never!”

But take a look at this bit from the very first paragraph of Moby-Dick, where Ishmael is laying out his plans to take to the sea, and tell me that it doesn’t sound like a good idea:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

Here is Tilda Swinton, reading Chapter 1, “Loomings.”

It takes 14 minutes, 12 seconds to begin this epic, most American journey—the tale of a delusional, power-mad sea captain. It’s about so many themes that are on the table these days: our relationship to nature, the human spirit, the abuse of power. Also whales.

Listening to Tilda Swinton read Chapter 1 immediately sent me off to find a print version to read along with her audio. (For one thing, I had to find out what “hypos” are.) Here’s the Google Books version that I’m using. I just set up a place over in The Lounge, “Group Reads,” in case anybody wants to discuss mythmaking, harpoon skills, 19th-century tattoos. Also whales.

The chapters tend to be 10 to 20 minutes long. I’m not worrying about finishing; I’m just thrilled to have begun. I crave an adventure so much right now—please come along with me for this. It’s high time to get to sea as soon as we can. Winter’s coming, and we’ve got a lot of knitting to do. Let’s get out of here.



  • Thank you for writing this! I started it yesterday & am enjoying it immensely.

  • One of my faves. I may just have to take the plunge. 😉

  • I’m actually reading this in my American Renaissance graduate seminar right now! Even though my field is 19th Century American literature, I have to admit this isn’t one of my favorites. It is, however, a classic that every American should read. How fun!

  • Ann! I can’t believe the coincidence. Just before I saw this, I ran into my old professor of American literature, Andrew Delbanco, and that led me to this absolutely deathless Stephen Colbert link, in which (apropos of the opening of the movie In the Heart of the Sea), Stephen makes Andy teach him Moby Dick while riding the world’s third highest roller coaster. No read-along would be complete without this! Please, if you like it, feel free to post it in the Lounge.

  • I read Moby Dick. We tackled it in my book club, and I was one of the only ones who did not give up. Though, full disclosure, I did some serious skimming through the section that was just about whaling details. (At least, I think that’s what that section was …)

    A nice follow-up to Moby Dick, is Ahab’s Wife. Not a challenging read like MD, but a lovely one.

  • I listened to this when it was originally released!

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