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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 1

[revised 3/19/11]

O tell me where is fancy bread,
At Rourke's the baker's it is said.
- Ulysses

Our departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services released new, "science-based" Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which counsel, among other things, a maximum of two(!) adult beverages per day. You gotta have a goal in life, so I'm making an effort to conform. This discipline, however, leaves me with hours of sober idleness during which I contemplate the upcoming MDM (less than 11 months away).

Sober contemplation + "The Moby-Dick Collection" has bred, in heart and head, a fancy for the ideal edition to use at the MDM. Here we go...

What are the qualities of the ideal MDM tome? We want an edition that's like the axe of the journeyman guitarist or the backpack of the veteran hiker - it doesn't hinder you, it lets you do what you came to do without fuss or flash. Here's my starter list:

  1. Complete - Etymology, Extracts and Melville's footnotes must appear.
    The text must be from the "Northwestern-Newberry Edition." [added 3/19/11]
  2. Limited superfluities - a bit of nice artwork might be welcome, but nix the appendices and essays; this thing is going to sit in your lap for 25 hours.
  3. Easy on the eyes - pleasant font of a generous size, airy margins, good ink/paper contrast.
  4. Sturdy, supple stock - for ease of page handling and reading (no distracting "show-through").
  5. Hard-cover with sewn binding - so it will lie flat.
  6. Not particularly valuable - this is a working tome; if it falls on its corners while I nod off, no tears need be shed.

A visit to eBay turned up a good number of the "hard bound" titles shown in "The Moby Dick Collection," and then some. Many under $20. But how well do they match the other criteria? Here the excellent Minuteman Library Network, a federation of 43 suburban libraries, comes to my aid. I can search the combined catalog and request any book be delivered to my local. Between those 43 and the grand Boston Public Library, I should be able to examine any candidate edition (and report my findings here) before ordering it online.

I start with an appraisal of the stock on hand. My first love, the Penguin English Library paperback, will always be on my shelf, but it has no place at an MDM. Its yellowing pages are falling out; it's hard to hold, and hard to read.

My companion for MDM15 was a Library of America edition (about $25 new on Amazon). This is a definite step in the right direction - built to last, with sturdy sewn binding; supple, acid-free paper (on the thin side [note the show-through in the photo], but it "meets the requirements for permanence of the American National Standards Institute"); acceptable margins; well-printed in "10 point Linotron Galliard" (though my old eyes could do with slightly larger type and looser tracking letter-spacing).

The twenty-nine pages of "Chronology" and "Notes" aren't excessive. No, the deal-breaker with this one is its inclusion of Redburn and White-Jacket. Those two astonishing tales o' the sea add 770 pages to Moby-Dick's 638. No wonder my wrists got tired -- this volume weighs nearly two pounds (31.7 oz. on the digital scale at my Post Office). It's a desk-reader, not streamlined for the long haul that is the Marathon.

To be continued...


  1. "my old eyes could do with slightly larger type and looser tracking"

    I think you mean "kerning." Or is "tracking" some of that newfangled desktop publishing lingo?

    Anyway, I look forward to your findings....

  2. Industry veterans, such as Lemuel, might know "tracking" as "letter-spacing." It is applied to a group of letters. "Kerning" refers to the spacing between a given pair of letters. Mother Wikipedia explains it all for you -

  3. Yeah, letter-spacing, that's the ticket!