Erin McHugh, transplanted New Bedford native, author, veteran Moby-Dick Marathoner, will be trying something new at this year’s event – her nook e-book reader. Her most recent book is the The Little Road Trip Handbook. This year she will be reading at approximately 5:20 on Saturday the 9th of January.
Call me upstart.
When I show up every year to read in the annual Moby-Dick Marathon, I’m listed as a “Melville Aficionado,” for lack of anything more concrete, I guess. Not that I mind: it’s a classy moniker. Full disclosure? I’m a transplanted New Bedford-er, living in Manhattan (Melville’s adopted home), also a writer (often as dispirited as himself), bouncing back and forth as often as I can to my home in South Dartmouth. Even as a kid I was a frequent visitor to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, back in the 1950s when it was little more than a local rainy-day stop, and not a spectacular, world-class educational destination. I have made the four-hundred mile journey each year for the honor of having ten minutes to read from America’s greatest novel. This Saturday I’ll be wearing my scrimshaw whistle and my watchman’s cap, as usual, but I won’t be perusing my 22 different editions in my Moby-Dick collection beforehand, making the tortured decision of which one will get the nod to accompany me to the podium.
This year I’m going electronic. Call me nook.
For those of you who have missed the numerous Holiday Must-Have Lists, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the ads and the publishing industry scuttlebutt, the e-reader – a device that downloads books electronically – has got a hot new contender in the category, and its name is nook. The remainder of my above full disclosure is that I work part-time as a Barnes & Noble bookseller – or, for the last couple of months, primarily, a nookseller. And I am a true believer.
I’ve spent more than three decades around the publishing industry. I’ve authored nearly twenty volumes myself. One way or another, I’ve spent my life making books. I thought that I would be the last holdout, e-readerwise. But I’m tired of lugging three tomes on the bus to New Bedford. I don’t want to carry a bigger backpack on the subway. I can’t afford to check in an extra bag at the airport. So I gave nook a try. And I love it.
Of course, not everyone is onboard. Scores of people have said to me, with much disdain, “Not me. I love my books.” Listen, everybody in a bookstore loves their books. The customers, the booksellers, and — I’m sure not just in my store — also the security guards and the maintenance crew. Moby-Dick is free to download on nook. So are Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and hundreds of thousands of other books in the public domain. Does it mean that I won’t cuddle up in front of a fire or hop into bed with a hardcover book? Of course not. A book is a book is a book, no matter how you hold it.
You’ll ask: “What Would Melville Do?” Are you kidding? Herman Melville, one of the greatest writers in our nation’s history, died a clerk, underappreciated, underread, underpaid. Any author will tell you that money is nice (and the majority of us don’t make a lot), but knowing that someone, somewhere, right now is out there reading your book? Oh, now that’s the stuff dreams are made of. I think Melville would approve of any “delivery system” that puts a book in a reader’s hands. Imagine if he could have enjoyed, in his lifetime, the place Moby-Dick has earned in America’s literary firmament. It’s all about availability. It’s nook, it’s Random House’s gorgeous Rockwell Kent edition, it’s my original $0.95 Collier edition (Skidmore, junior year), it’s Sterling Publishing’s beautiful pop-up version, it’s every permutation of the white whale out there. Melville would say, I’m sure, “As long as it’s read.”
Every time someone walks into Dartmouth’s wonderful Baker Books or up to the nook counter at my Barnes & Noble on 86th Street, or any other store in between, and buys a book instead of a video game, we win. Melville wins.
So, I realize I may be blackballed in the chowder line at the Whaling Museum on Saturday because I’m going rogue. But the truth is, the very best way to enjoy and breathe in Moby-Dick – and all its verbal nooks and crannies – is to hear it read aloud, where it takes on a whole new vivid, lovely, rich life of its own. And at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon, it comes complete with a real, live Ishmael, the tolling of the ship’s bell, the johnnycakes, the creaky organ in the Seaman’s Bethel, and all the wonderful surprises that the Museum adds every year.
So, I’m setting aside my beautiful Moby-Dick collection this year, and reading from my nook – and you’ll still be listening to Herman Melville. Call me what you want. But I’m just a “Melville Aficionado.”