For many, fall is the perfect time to snuggle up with a weighty literary classic, but Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick may not be the most popular choice. The imposing novel is notorious for its lengthy digressions, wide-ranging allusions, and, for some, unappealing subject matter. But a new project called the Moby-Dick Big Read is delivering Melville’s American epic in a new way: one chapter each day read aloud by people from various walks of life—including some you have probably heard of—and made available, for free, on the Internet.
Author Philip Hoare—who has written his own whale book—and artist Angela Cockayne launched the project back in September, with the first chapter, and its famous first words, “Call me Ishmael,” lovingly delivered by actress Tilda Swinton. We asked Hoare if we could have a listen to a few upcoming chapters, and he agreed to provide previews to share with Brow Beat readers. He also sent along some of the art commissioned for the project. (The work of Alison Turnbull can be seen above, and that of Boyd Webb is on the left.)
Among the upcoming readers, our personal favorite may be John Waters. The director of Hairspray and Pecker fittingly reads Melville’s meditation on the whale’s penis, “The Cassock,” with a jaunty, Baltimorean bounce.
“Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this post-mortemizing of the whale,” Waters begins, “pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers.”
Skipping back a few chapters, we also enjoyed a reading by the new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, who tackles the yellow scum-fields of chapter 58, “The Brit.”
Another we loved was the display of vocal gravitas by natural history filmmaker David Attenborough, who appropriately reads Melville’s startling prediction of the decline of the whale population in chapter 105: “Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish—Will He Perish?”
You can follow the project daily at its website. Brow Beat would like to thank Philip Hoare and Angela Cockayne, curators of the project, and Peninsula Arts at Plymouth University in the U.K., which is hosting it, for providing these snippets. Happy listening.