September 19, 2012
Moby-Dick Big Read audio project
by Nick Davies
The Moby-Dick Big Read project, aimed at getting more people to read Herman Melville’s classic novel, launched earlier this week. The project is the brainchild of author Philip Hoare and artist Angela Cockayne, who had previously curated a whale symposium in 2011 at Plymouth University in England, inviting artists, writers, musicians, scientists, and academics to respond to the subject matter of the whale. On the Big Read website, they explain that “Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel,” since it is so “sprawling” and “deliriously digressive.”
In order to remedy that, Hoare and Cockayne have taken to the internet and enlisted lots of big names to record Moby-Dick as a free audio feed. Starting this Sunday, September 16, they’re making a new chapter available for download every day; Hoare told the New York Times that all but two of the 135 chapters have been recorded, including the last one, because “there’s a possibility it might be a really big name.”
In addition to the mystery person Hoare hints at, there are plenty of other celebrities who have read chapters of the novel for the project. The first chapter is read by Tilda Swinton, and John Waters and Stephen Fry make appearances as well. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron has recorded one, though Hoare explains to the Times’ John Williams that it took some searching to find one that wouldn’t suggest a coded political message until they decided on Chapter 30, “The Pipe;” though Hoare worries, “Even that—they may say he’s condoning smoking.” Not all the readers are well-known, though, as organizers endeavored to keep the project democratic, including fishermen, a vicar, and the youngest contributor: a twelve-year-old boy who reads some dialogue in a chapter narrated by his teacher.
With one chapter popping up online every day for 135 days, it will take until January for the full book to be available. Each chapter is accompanied by a work from a contemporary artist, about 40% of which were created specifically for the Big Read. You can find the audio directly on the Moby-Dick Big Read website, as well as on Sound Cloud and as a podcast on iTunes.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.