Illustration: Bryan Mayes

Moby-Dick Marathon NYC: Where to go before and after

Participants in the weekend-long celebration of Herman Melville’s classic share their fave spots near the event’s ports of call.


If you’ve been meaning to tackle Herman Melville’s massive 1851 novel, Moby-Dick—which tells the story of Captain Ahab and his all-consuming obsession with a great white whale—then consider the Moby-Dick Marathon NYC (Nov 16–18; the perfect opportunity to dive in. More than a hundred lit lovers will read sections of the epic tome at WORD (126 Franklin St at Milton St, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Nov 16 5pm–midnight), Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (126 Crosby St between E Houston and Prince Sts; Nov 17 10am–3pm, Nov 18 10am–4pm) and Molasses Books (770 Hart St between Knickerbocker and Wilson Aves, Bushwick, Brooklyn; Nov 17 4pm–midnight). Actor Paul Dano will get the nautical party started on Friday with the book’s iconic first line, “Call me Ishmael.” If you’re wondering where to go pre- and postmarathon, let participants guide you to some of their favorite spots near the event’s locations.

Amanda Bullock Marathon cofounder and director of public programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Where to go: “I love a good dive bar, and Botanica (47 E Houston St between Mott and Mulberry Sts, 212-343-7251) is one of the best. They have a dangerous happy hour until 8pm every day; treat yourself to a dark and stormy, it fits the sea theme! Two Boots (74 Bleecker St between Broadway and Crosby St; 212-777-1033, is a go-to lunch spot. Perfect place to grab a slice on your way from Housing Works to Molasses on Saturday afternoon; I usually get a Grandma Bess and/or a Tony Clifton.”
Why she loves Moby-Dick: “You can read it in so many ways: there’s the pure adventure/madman story, there’s a buddy-comedy aspect between Queequeg and Ishmael, it’s a fascinating portrait of that period in history, there’s the lit-crit kind of symbolism and all that, etc. The book is so funny, and so huge yet so real, and it’s an American epic through and through, and it’s a portrait of this antiquated industry but of a type of man who appears in all times and places.… It’s everything. Very rarely is one book everything; many books are perfectly one thing, but very rarely is one book everything like this one is. Plus, it has funny words like pudding-headed whale and boatswain.”

Sarah Vowell Author (Unfamiliar Fishes, The Wordy Shipmates)
Where to go: “The most contemplative spot in Soho—and probably the cheapest, considering it’s free—is The New York Earth Room (141 Wooster St between Prince and W Houston Sts,, Walter De Maria’s installation. What it is: a big quiet loft full of dirt. It has this stark sense of calm—unless you have a real-estate license and can’t deal with zillion-dollar lofts bogarted by artsy nonprofits for 35 years. For those not sickened by yarns of whale butchery, the Queequeg-iest brunch spot near Housing Works might be Freemans (Freeman Alley off Rivington St between Bowery and Chrystie St; 212-420-0012, Its ye olde vibe and antlered walls have a kind of cute New England bloodlust. 
Why she loves Moby-Dick: “What a book! Whenever I’m writing and I get stuck, which is to say all the time, I crack it open at random and read a paragraph or two out loud. Its lingo is so musical, so weird and biblical and slinky, it never fails to rekindle my ardor for words and wording. Plus, the 14-year-old boy in me thrills at both the high seas adventure and all the disgusting descriptions of blubber processing.”

Fiona Maazel Author (Last Last Chance, and the forthcoming Woke Up Lonely, spring 2013)
Where to go: “If you’re headed to Molasses Books, you gotta go to Mama Joy’s first (1084 Flushing Ave at Porter Ave, Bushwick, Brooklyn; 347-295-2227, for all-day brunch. Shrimp and grits, fried chicken, or, you know, just go there for the biscuit and duck gravy. So. Friggin’. Good.”
Why she loves Moby-Dick:Moby-Dick is the perfect book for a marathon reading, because you can open it to any page, like I did just now, and land on a sentence like: ‘For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.’ In sum: This novel indicts us on every page; hard to go wrong with that.”

Jason Diamond Deputy editor of Flavorpill and founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn
Where to go:
“I’m a big fan of the Diamond (43 Franklin St between Calyer and Quay Sts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-5030,, not only because I share a name with it, but also because it has one of the best beer selections in Brooklyn. I’m also in love with the Black Rabbit (91 Greenpoint Ave between Franklin St and Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-349-1595,, and I’m hoping it will be chilly enough for them to have the fireplace on. I’ve noticed that after bigger events at WORD, the crowd tends to move to either of those two places. I’ll also be taking the East River Ferry there. Is there any other way for one to get themselves to a Moby-Dick marathon than by water?”
Why he loves Moby-Dick:Moby-Dick is one of those novels that grows with you long after you’ve read it. It’s such a big book, but you get so much out of the entire thing. There aren’t many books where you can walk away thinking, I just read an amazing and somewhat crazy book about America’s pre–Civil War growing pains, a person’s obsession, friendship, loneliness, lots of information about whales and a bunch more.”

Ophira Eisenberg Host of NPR’s Ask Me Another
Where to go: “I’m reading at Housing works so beforehand I highly recommend popping in for a macaron and coffee at Dominique Ansel (189 Spring St between Sullivan and Thompson Sts; 212-219-2773, Not only are you dealing with the former pastry chef at Daniel, but they do something to their coffee that makes it taste like the freshest pot you’ve ever had—and one cup gives you the effects of drinking an entire pot. There is a glass ceiling and greenhouse-like seating in the back area that is the perfect place to enjoy a little enclosed sunshine, or better yet, a rain storm.”
Why she loves Moby-Dick: “What excites me about reading this is because the act of reading Moby-Dick is often talked about as a noble chore. Heck, Nathaniel Philbrick wrote an entire book explaining why we should read Moby-Dick, claiming that it’s ‘our American Bible.’ Mitt Romney might not agree with that, but I do.”

Polly Bresnick Writer, teacher and Marathon cofounder
Where to go: “Milk & Roses (1110 Manhattan Ave between Clay and Dupont Sts, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-389-0160) has book-lined walls, huge glasses of delicious wine, cured meats and Italian cheeses. Go there if you need a break from the Marathon, but still want to feel bookish. The Pencil Factory (142 Franklin St at Greenpoint Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-609-5858) is a block north of WORD; we’ll probably be after-partying there. Tandem Bar (236 Troutman St between Knickerbocker and Wilson Aves, Bushwick, Brooklyn; 718-386-2369) is right around the corner from Molasses. They play weird, awesome music there. If I don’t collapse with exhaustion, I will probably stumble towards Tandem for the after-party on Saturday.”
Why she loves Moby-Dick:Moby-Dick is my favorite book of all time. It gets gorgeous, it gets gross, it’s funny, it’s brave, it’s companionable, and it has this really family-of-humans spirit threaded through it. On more than one occasion in this book, Melville puts his finger on the pulse of the interconnected webbing of all humans (and creatures). Reading Moby-Dick, especially aloud with a group of fellow enthusiasts, makes me feel thrilled to be alive! Seriously. I know it sounds dorky, but it’s true. It’s kind of the closest thing I have to religion or worship.”

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