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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 10

Here's one for Bill Pettit's collection—a very pleasant surprise... (10th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

...another Northwestern-Newberry compliant M-D hardcover from a source that this publishing dilettante did not expect. Bibliomaniacs note: it is out of print.

This is a really lovely edition from Barnes & Noble, copyright 1994. (Do not confuse this with the "Barnes & Noble Classics" paperback, which is currently available, but is not the N-N text. There is also a later B&N hardcover, with an introduction by Carl F. Hovde, which I haven't examined. [5/18/11 addendum: I just got my hands on the B&N edition with the Carl F. Hovde intro, in paperback, copyright 2003. It is not the N-N text. I assume that the hardcover and "Nook" versions, also with the Hovde intro, are similarly deficient.]) This is the "Limited Edition," with Preface by Mark Helprin, ISBN 1566196191. By its cover ye shall know it—red spine, linen-covered boards, black-and-white illustration of ship-and-flukes glued to the front. The Barnes & Noble site currently has a used copy in "good" condition for $10; Amazon has three at $10, and one at $375(!).

This baby has it all, and then some. There is the Northwestern-Newberry text, with table of contents, Etymology, Extracts, and Melville's footnotes and inscription to Hawthorne. Around this is wrapped a Preface, two Appendices, the poem At Melville's Tomb by Hart Crane, and a second table of contents to keep track of it all; an additional 88 pages. There are also twelve full-page color plates by Mark Summers, whose work you may recognize from the author portraits on Barnes & Noble shopping bags and T-shirts. The whole package is about 680 pages. It is ample.

It measures 6.5" x 9.5" x 2" and weighs in at 47.6 ounces—just under three pounds (a full pound heavier than my Library of America 3-pack; more on that below). It has thick, stiff boards, and a solid sewn binding. The colophon states that it is printed on acid-free paper with a "laid texture," and set in 13-point Centaur, 15.5 point leaded.

This edition is a pleasure to read. The cream-colored paper feels like cloth, with minimal show-through. (The "laid texture" is a visual distraction at times.)  Margins and gutters are just acceptable, and there are chapter-title headings on the recto pages. The type size is "comfy," and the long ascenders and descenders of the typeface, together with the plush leading, give the pages a "well ventilated" feel. (See the Typeface Tally post.) NB: The Appendices are set in type that's ten to fifteen percent smaller.

So, to the "but."  All this is great, but you can't escape physics.  Large-ish type and leading means more page surface for our given text. Distributing this page surface over standard-size pages yields many pages. If those pages are nice and thick, you have one heavy tome. This is the heaviest of any edition reviewed to date; twice the weight of the Everyman's Library edition!

This would make a great "home reader," for those times you are "seated before your evening fire with a pilsner, and not a harpoon, by your side." For the marathon's long-haul, I have my eye on something sleeker.


  1. That is a beauty!... I am going to hunt that one down... Today I was at a library, scanning the stacks and stumbled upon a 1930 Random House Rockwell Kent in Russian printed in the USSR....