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At Canio's, Two Tales of Perseverance

Thu, 09/02/2021 - 07:57
Canio's Books in Sag Harbor is pulling out all the stops for this year's Moby-Dick Marathon.
Durell Godfrey

This year's Moby-Dick Marathon at Canio's Books is shaping up to be a whale of a celebration, with new programming additions to go with the longtime tradition of a community coming together to take turns publicly reading from all 135 chapters plus epilogue of "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville.

Importantly, said Kathryn Szoka and Maryann Calendrille, who own the shop and run a nonprofit organization, Canio's Cultural Cafe, that helps sustain their programs, this year's marathon will also be a fund-raiser to offset the upcoming cost of a rent increase.

"The real estate frenzy has reached our doorstep," Ms. Szoka said this week. "We are actively looking at ways to allow us to be able to step up to that challenge."

Ms. Calendrille added, "Instead of a fancy cocktail party, we do a three-day reading of 'Moby-Dick.' We figured that was more in keeping with what we're interested in promoting and participating in. . . . There's a lot this year that makes it a challenge and makes it a really important event for us."

The readings will take place in segments across multiple Sag Harbor venues, including the bookshop, the Eastville Community Historical Society, the John Jermain Memorial Library, the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, the Old Whalers Church, and the "other" Church, the new institution on Madison Street that some are calling the "art church" these days.

"We so look forward to sharing this magnificent book with everyone," particularly in light of the region's struggles with Covid-19, Ms. Szoka and Ms. Calendrille wrote on their website. "No other work speaks so eloquently of themes we continue to wrestle with: social and economic injustice, moral turpitude, religious hypocrisy, environmental conservation, and more."

Covid-19 precautions will be in place throughout the readings, which stretch from Friday, Sept. 10, through Sunday, Sept. 12. The marathon will kick off at Canio's at noon that Friday, followed by a session at 2:30 at the Old Whalers Church, where Harris Yulin will read the role of Father Mapple and the Choral Society of the Hamptons will accompany him. At 6, the readings shift to The Church on Madison Street, where the noted artist Laurie Anderson will offer an abstract take on the famous "Quarter-Deck" chapter. It will be followed by a staged reading of "The Sailor's Play," directed by Kate Mueth.

On Sept. 11, more than 12 hours of readings will take place at the bookshop, the library, and the whaling museum. The party continues on Sept. 12 at Eastville before concluding at Canio's at approximately 5 p.m. There will be an outdoor after-party offering, among other things, rope-tying demonstrations, sea shanties, and a silent auction.

Participants will read in different languages, including Turkish, German, Italian, and Spanish, and chapter sponsorships are available. An art exhibition is ongoing at the bookshop, featuring the work of Christopher Volpe, who ties climate change to Melville's writing in monotype prints and oil-and-tar paintings. Bob Wilson, an artist and former newspaper art director, collaborated with Ms. Szoka to design this year's official marathon T-shirt. And the library has made available Mark Blumberg's documentary "The Act of Reading," which explores "Moby-Dick" through the lens of high school students reading the book.

Dozens of readers have signed up to take part, and there's still space for more. Sign-up information is online at

And for the readers themselves, Ms. Calendrille has some advice to share. "We can't predict where in the book a person will read, but the point is to just enjoy it," she said. "You need to relax and experience it. Going slowly is helpful to grasp the phrasing because some of the sentences are really long and you can really get lost in there. Slow down and have fun."

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