The Graveyard Shift -- from about 10:00 on Saturday night until about 8:00 Sunday morning -- forms the heart of the New Bedford Moby-Dick marathon. Reading straight through the night makes the marathon a marathon. If instead we were to read, say, for only eight hours, three days in a row, knocking off at 5:00 pm each day to have dinner and wash up and sleep, it would be hard to claim that we're participating in any kind of marathon. We'd have abandoned the idea of reading Moby-Dick in one sitting, taking it all in in one Big Gulp.
Moby-Dick being what it is, a 600-ish page novel, it cannot be read in one sitting without including the wee hours of the morning. The fact that the New Beford Moby-Dick marathon is held in early January, when the nights are especially long and cheerless, only strengthens its right to hold itself out (should its organizers so choose) as the marathon of marathons.
I enjoy the Graveyard Shift more than any other part of the marathon. The beginning and end of the marathon are the crowd-pleasers. That's when the most novelistic and most accessible parts of the book are read. Ishmael meets Queequeg; Orson Welles (oops, I mean Father Mapple) gives his sermon in the Seamen's Bethel; Ishmael and Queequeg join the Pequod's crew; we meet Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, Tashtego, and Daggoo; "Death to Moby Dick!" ... Then jump ahead 400 pages, we chase Moby Dick around the Pacific, "Ahab beckons" (well, maybe not), Finis. No shortage of readers and listeners for those parts of the book.
The Graveyard Shift attracts the die-hards. This is when we reach the chapters that casual readers are inclined to skip: "Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales" (Ch. LV); "The Great Heidelburgh Tun" (Ch. LXXVII); "Jonah Historically Regarded" (Ch. LXXXIII); "A Bower in the Arsacides" (Ch. CII). But those who stay up for the Graveyard Shift are treated to the rarefied pleasures of haute école expository Melville.
It is also at this time that every individual's contribution is most strongly felt. Those participating and following along can be taken in with one glance -- perhaps a dozen in all. Even if you don't speak to them, they become your comrades in a way that cannot happen when it's light outside and a crowd is on hand. The comedy of it, too, becomes most apparent. Sitting up at 3:00 am listening to people take turns reading Moby-Dick out loud -- how is this not ridiculous?
Perhaps most enjoyable of all is seeing the winter sky, visible through the large windows behind and above the readers, ever so slowly change from black to navy blue to purple as dawn approaches, and those who have been paying attention can again bask in the feeling of being stuffed with hours of Melville at his Melvilliest, top-heavy "as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head" (Ch. CX, "Queequeg in His Coffin").