It’s a challenge fit for Captain Ahab himself: 30 hours reading some 135 chapters of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale,” as the 1851 novel was officially titled.
It’s also become an annual Venice beach tradition, one that began 19 years ago and resumes this Saturday.
A steamy Jackie Collins beach read this is not, but event founder Tim Rudnick, director of the Venice Oceanarium, still finds the story just as enthralling as he did nearly two decades ago.
“It reads better live. It lends itself to oratory. The grandiose nature of the prose is fascinating with the ocean in the background,” Rudnick says.
Each participant signs up to read a chapter aloud. There is a microphone and director’s chair, surrounded by whaling boats.
“We sort of make a whaling scene,” Rudnick said.
On Saturday, readers sail through part one of the novel, which includes Melville’s philosophical underpinnings about the existence of God. On Sunday, it’s down to the nitty-gritty as Ahab reaches the Pacific and pursues the titular whale.
Traditionally, only a handful of people actually show up for this reading. Then again, Melville’s opus was not initially a best-seller: only 3,200 copies sold during the author’s lifetime.
So it is truly worthy of the “Great American Novel” status some ascribe to it?
“It’s a great ocean novel, that’s for sure. It’s my favorite book,” Rudnick said. “I feel for Ahab, I feel for his attempt to capture the whale, his spirit of life.”
The reading begins 8 a.m. on Saturday and resumes on Sunday. Follow Windward Avenue to the Venice breakwater to find the group. Visit veniceoceanarium.org.
— Michael Aushenker