The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 14

... pissed on out of hand ... (14th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

I was anticipating the June 7 release of this new edition of Moby-Dick since I got wind of it several months ago. Thanks to Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature, there's no need to wait for it to arrive in my bookstore or library—it can be assessed, and disqualified, virtually!

This is the Harper Perennial Classics paperback edition; scarlet cover with white lettering and white whale in profile (ISBN 0062085646). Let's "Look Inside!"

A quick glance at the copyright page. No mention of Northwestern-Newberry. No mention of acid-free paper. Antennae twitching.

On to Contents. No Etymology, no Extracts! At least Chapter 25 is there as is "Postscript," but what's the deal with Chapter 40? Each character's bit in the "stage play" is listed, with page number.

We can use "Search Inside This Book" to scout out telltale passages that were corrected in the Northwestern-Newberry text. Enter "one hundred pounds of clay" and hit Return. One result. Amazon wants you to log in to view search results, but if you hover over the greyed-out text, the passage will pop up:  
One hundred pounds of clay reward for Pip ...
Sorry, Harpers, that ain't N-N. Let's check another one. Search for "his partner"—the second result is also an error that was fixed by N-N:
"Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, his partner ... 
Again, I have to ask: are the licensing fees on the Northwestern-Newberry text so onerous that publishers would rather proffer a flawed product? Get thee behind me, Harpers.

By the way, a quick search on the 2007 Random House UK "Vintage Classics" edition shows a similar failing. This Amazon tool really is useful (for deciding what not to buy).

At this point, you may be thinking, "Crikey, Gans! Will you never be satisfied?" Well, hang in there dear readers (both of you), I believe the object of this quest is on the horizon...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Melville's Travel Desk auctioned

Recently noted at The Moby-Dick Collection: the auction and sale of Melville's travel desk.  Follow the links to the original post to see the details on this object.  The stuff that dreams are made on.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Today in History

From The New York Times, on this day in 1854:
... United States consul at the Sandwich Islands ... confirms the report of [whaling brig Inga] having been cut off at Pleasant Island, by the natives, in the Fall of 1852; ... all the crew on board were murdered or drowned, except one white man, J. T. Blair, and two natives from Byron's Island ...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bookseller's Blog

For a peek into the life of an antiquarian bookseller, check out Bookman's Log. It is a blog by the author, and owner of Ten Pound Island Book Co., Gregory Gibson.

Gibson is based in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His focus is on "old, rare and out of print books, manuscripts and charts pertaining to the sea." Lots of interesting stuff here about the finding of valuable old books, the inner workings of the bookseller business, the place of books in contemporary culture, and the lovely/odd/informative/fascinating objects themselves (with photos!).

His post from March about whaling logs might be of interest to the Marathoner.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan...
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
Those words are as evocative to fans of James Joyce's Ulysses as "Call me Ishmael" is to us Marathoners. This day, June 16, is celebrated the world over as "Bloomsday," commemorating the Dublin day described in in Ulysses.

I can find no reference to Joyce having read Moby-Dick, or any Melville. Neither is mentioned in Richard Ellmann's definitive biography of Joyce. But that doesn't prohibit some disjointed blather...

It's no secret that most folks regard both Moby-Dick and Ulysses as over-praised, over-long, incomprehensible, boring, obsolete, and irrelevant. (I forgot "phallocentric.") (Years ago, when I mentioned to my boss that I was in a Ulysses study group, he, unbelieving, asked, "Why?") Public admission of reading either book marks you as someone who doesn't own a jumbo, flat-screen TV; maybe someone who doesn't have a TV, period!

We're told that Ishmael began his journey "some years ago—never mind how long precisely..."  reaching New Bedford "on a Saturday night in December," but Joyce is specific. Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and company roam their city on Thursday, June 16, 1904, between 8:00 AM and sometime after 2:00 AM the following morning.

While Moby-Dick inundates the reader with details of whaling and whales, Ulysses does a similar thing with details of Dublin and its inhabitants. (This kind of "aggression against the reader" can be seen as the modern author's intentional destruction of the novel as a literary form; death by over-feeding. That's a post for another time.)

It's odd that Moby-Dick has an established marathon reading in a city through which its author-to-be simply passed on his way to somewhere else, while Ulysses rarely receives a public cover-to-cover reading in the city it describes in loving detail.

In Dublin, Bloomsday is celebrated with walking tours, re-enactments, concerts, and a mass "Irish breakfast," but is publicly read only in parts. Perhaps, as Lemuel suggests, it is the culturally ingrained "Calvinist mind-habits" of New England that make the MDM possible.

If the Pequod is the Moby-Dick equivalent of Ulysses's Dublin, the ideal MDM would be the annual read-through aboard the retired whaleship Charles Morgan.  Not that I'm arguing for fleeing New Bedford—an old whaleship lacks the space and comfort of the Whaling Museum, not to mention New Bedford's Bethel and the warm-hearted museum volunteers.

He rests. He has travelled.
Sinbad the Sailer and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and ...

...when Leviathan is the text - 13

...perfection is not of this world... (13th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Ok, it's high time we go right to the source of the generally accepted text of our beloved book—the Northwestern University Press, which, in collaboration with the Newberry Library of Chicago, published "...the definitive critical edition of Herman Melville’s writings." (If you think one M-D is as good as another, read this post. Many editions out there contain errors and omissions that render passages unintelligible.)

This is the 2001 "150th Anniversary Edition," with a Foreword by Hershel Parker himself. (It was the research of Mr. Parker, together with Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle, that produced the corrected text in 1988.) Parker's Foreword is reproduced on his blog. He calls this edition "sleek," and it is that. The only adjunct is his four-page contribution. It is not common in bookstores or libraries, but can be had from Amazon for about $15.

This edition fits nicely in the hand. It is the same width and height as the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition previously examined, but 1/2" thinner, and 0.3 ounces heavier at 25.1 oz. It has 100 fewer pages than the Penguin. So we can infer that the paper stock is heavier (the plastic-laminated cover might be a bit heavier). The paper is light cream-colored; smooth, a bit stiff, with slight show-through. There's no colophon, but a note on the copyright page indicates acid-free stock: "The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials." The glued binding seems unlikely to crack. (Paperback bindings certainly have improved in recent decades.)
Gutters and side margins are adequate; top and bottom margins are roomy. Each chapter begins on a new page. Chapter-title headings are on recto pages, chapter-number headings on verso pages.

It's evident where the 100 pages were saved when you examine the type. It's on the small side. (See a sample in Typeface Tally.) Still, a keen-eyed youth might have no problem reading it for the Marathon's twenty-five hours.

So, you say, if the text is "perfect" (...beyond all other doubt than that which clings to the labors of men...), where is this imperfection to which you allude? Alas, it is in the printing itself. Flipping through this edition for a final scan, some words seemed to be set in bold type. I didn't remember Melville indulging in typographic variation beyond the rare word in italics (and "devices" like the memorial tablets in The Chapel).

Closer examination showed the cause was poor printing! The density of the ink on the page varied from light (to the point of broken "o"s, and "e"s that look like "c"s) to heavy, appearing bold. An example is shown below, from Chapter 74, page 331. The letterforms of "ear of" are broken, while "organ" is eerily over-inked.
This is not the only instance of uneven printing in this edition, though it is one of the more extreme. The quality of the printing fluctuates throughout. (FYI: The copyright page states, "Printed in the United States of America.")

Could this poor printing be isolated to a limited number of copies, or even to the single copy at hand? That's a question for someone with actual experience in mass publishing.  All I can say is caveat emptor. Even if I were able to read this edition's small type, I'd want a refund.

Better edition (editions?) ahead...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries...

From MDM15 at 10:56 PM, Chapter LIII, The Gam, read in Japanese by Ayako Rooney:

Friday, June 10, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 12

Pretty good, not bad, I can't complain... (12th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Here's a decent edition that's easily found from online booksellers for ten or twelve bucks—the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with a Foreword by National Book Award winner, Nathaniel Philbrick.

[Spoiler: If I didn't have something better waiting to be reviewed, I might end my search here.]

It's fairly stripped for marathoning, with the Northwestern-Newberry text, the aforementioned eight-page Foreword, and eight pages of maps and instructive diagrams; 673 pages in total. Fans of cartoonist, and native New Englander, Tony Millionaire will recognize his hand in the front and back cover illustrations.

It measures 5.5" x 8.375" x 1.75", and weighs 24.8 ounces. The cover is soft card stock (which, on the copy I borrowed, was in pretty sad shape after 18 months in the public library). The binding is glued, but seems flexible enough not to crack. The paper is light cream-colored; smooth, thick-ish, and flexible, with a cotton-like feel and very little show-through.  The pages are "trimmed," that is, not cut to have a clean outside edge. (See the bottom photo here.) Trimmed pages give the volume a sort of ridged outside edge. This has the annoying effect of making the book impossible to flip through smoothly.

There is no colophon or mention of acid-free paper. A note on the copyright page says simply, "Set in Janson." The type is slightly condensed with short-ish ascenders and descenders. The trimmed pages, paper stock, and type gave me a whiff of Grandfather's 50s-vintage budget edition. (See a sample in the Typeface Tally.)

Margins and gutters are acceptable. Chapters begin on a new page. There are chapter-title headings on the recto pages and chaper-number headings on the verso pages.

You can't go far wrong with this one, but for me, a reader who likes to riffle through a tome to search out a favorite passage, the trimmed edges are a deal-breaker.

Especially since I know what's coming...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Making America Corporate

Making America Corporate is the catchy title of a book by Olivier Zunz (a prof. of history at U.Va.) that examines the transformation of the American workplace during the half-century between 1870 and 1920.  The book itself -- fairly dry and academic -- is not something I would recommend that most people rush out to buy.  But the changes it traces have probably had a greater impact on our everyday lives than the more exciting topics of better-known historiographers.

Today, most adults in the West are employees: they support themselves and their families by working for somebody else (usually a business entity).  But back before America was "made corporate," being an employee was not much of a life.  Mature American men typically worked for themselves, in most cases on farms.  Working for someone else was what you did as a young man, before you had gained the cash and skills to strike out on your own.  A man who spent his whole life as someone else's employee was seen as a bit of a failure, a nobody.  The office clerks in "Bartleby, the Scrivener" give an idea of the type.  The only significant exceptions were upper-level civil servants and men in managerial positions with the country's few large-scale industries (mainly railroads).

The lives of 19th-century employees in the United States did not get much attention from novelists, especially in the first three quarters of the century.  Moby-Dick is therefore unusual, if not unique, in this regard.  It depicts in authoritative detail the life and work of one type of employee of the 1850s, the whaling man.  This may partly account for Moby-Dick's extraordinary resonance with modern readers -- Melville's flamboyant and sympathetic rendering of the life of the industrial employee speaks to core concerns of the typical adult today.

Whalemen were as much industrial workers as they were sailors.  Whale ships were among the first factory ships in history.  Rather than merely catching whales and towing them into port for processing, the whalers caught them, butchered them, and rendered them into the final product, oil.  Hence the unseamanlike appearance of whalers, as noted by Richard Henry Dana.  They were mobile, floating industrial plants.

Melville shows us the laborer's life from two main viewpoints: that of the inexperienced hand at the bottom of the pecking order (Ishmael) and that of the senior employee with very valuable skills (Queequeg).  We see their search for work, their job interviews and job offers, and virtually everything their jobs entailed.  All we do not get to see is their payday and discharge, since the voyage was cut short.  Or, in a sense, their payday comes when Moby Dick kills the boss and wrecks the factory, and all except Ishmael are discharged permanently. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Many Books in One

According to Robert Finch in the introduction to The Norton Book of Nature Writing, "no less a nature writer than Annie Dillard has called [Moby-Dick] 'the best book ever written about nature.'"  It may seem odd at first to view a book about killing whales as nature writing, but in view of "Cetology," "The Grand Armada," etc., Dillard's claim makes sense.

Indeed, Moby-Dick can be considered "the best book ever written" about a lot of things.  Depending on which chapters you turn to, it's:

- A ripping sea story.

- A psychological drama.

- A philosophical novel.

- A meditation on religion.

- A book about ships and the days of sail.

- An in-depth study of an industry.

- An exploration of the life of the working man.

- A travelogue.

There are probably others I'm forgetting.

During the marathon, I sometimes amuse myself by wondering which aspect of Moby-Dick attracts the people around me.  There are the aging environmentalists and the emo youths; the culture vultures, subclass bohemian, and the culture vulture, subclass bourgeois.   There are haunted souls draped in black, doughy book nuts in sweatpants and untucked shirts, and autodidact laborers whose New England accents you could cut with a knife.  And maybe even a Marxist academic faux-laborer in a blue workshirt and steel-toed boots.  Nevertheless, we all get along and take pleasure in the mix.