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Published May 19 2013

F-M libraries, museum encourage community to read ‘Moby-Dick’

FARGO – Talk about a whale of a book.

Starting this month, the Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead public libraries and Plains Art Museum kicked off the “Three Communities, Two Books, One Art Exhibit” project, which includes an array of activities centered around Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”

First published in 1851 and considered to be one of the great American novels, “Moby-Dick” is the story of Captain Ahab, who seeks revenge on the white whale that took his leg.

For the next few months, the Fargo-Moorhead community is encouraged to read “Moby-Dick,” as well as the 1999 novel “Ahab’s Wife,” by Sena Jeter Naslund, leading up to the debut of “Toward the Setting Sun,” an art exhibition at the Plains Art Museum by Fargo native T.L. Solien.

Colleen Sheehy, director of the Plains Art Museum, says the genesis of the entire “3-2-1 Project” came from Solien’s exhibit, which museum staff had been trying to organize for several years.

Solien’s art draws on themes from “Moby-Dick” and “Ahab’s Wife,” and Sheehy says organizing the exhibit also offered a good opportunity to involve both novels.

“It’s kind of unusual for a visual artist, that they would have these literary cornerstones,” she says. “And so one of the things we wanted to do was acquaint people with those literary classics.”

But as anyone who has ever read “Moby-Dick” knows, the novel – which Sheehy calls “a real central literary classic of American literature” – isn’t easy.

Great American novel

Melisa Duncan, community relations specialist with the Fargo Public Library, admits that in choosing “Moby-Dick,” organizers have picked a large, difficult book (nearly 500 pages of flowery writing) many people haven’t read, and many people will want to stay away from.

“No one is going to say, ‘It’s easy. It’s a superfast read,’ ” Duncan says. “It certainly is beyond that.”

But at the same time, she says, people will easily recognize and identify with the themes and characters of such an influential book.

“If you take out the flowery language of someone who’s writing it in the early 1800s and you put in the perspective of the mad person who’s insane, or the obsession part of it, or the monsters – those are things that are pretty universal,” Duncan says.

Along those lines, organizers have scheduled a series of free “Moby-Dick” book discussions starting on Thursday and happening every month through August.

Each discussion focuses on a different theme of the book, including the quest, pop culture and more. Duncan hopes all of the discussions will help people better understand and appreciate the book.

“There’s more to (‘Moby-Dick’), and I hope that people take that from it. It doesn’t always have to be about the quick read,” she says.

Organizers say people will be able to attend and participate in the first discussion even if they’ve barely started the book.

Megan Krueger, director of the Moorhead Public Library, will lead the June discussion, which focuses on pop culture. She also says participants will be able to join regardless of how much they’ve read.

“It’s a book that most people haven’t read, but its references are everywhere,” she says. “People have seen it everywhere.”

Unsure what to expect

Duncan, Krueger and Sheehy admit that they aren’t sure how the community will embrace the “3-2-1 Project,” or how many people will get involved and read “Moby-Dick.”

Between all three area libraries, 200 copies of “Moby-Dick” are available to check out, but beyond that it’s up to participants to come up with their own copy.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” Duncan says. “But I’m hopeful that people will use the opportunity to explore the themes in the book.”

Duncan is also optimistic the “3-2-1 Project” will get a demographic involved that wouldn’t normally be a part of similar book clubs – men.

“Sometimes I think that book discussions and book clubs are geared towards women,” she says. “This is an adventure story, it’s a quest story – there’s a lot of violence in it.”

Krueger, who hasn’t read “Moby-Dick” herself, plans on getting through it this summer, though she says she’s not exactly looking forward to tackling the large book.

But, she adds, that’s the appeal of the community-wide project.

“I have mixed feelings, but I think that’s the fun of this whole thing,” she says. “Let’s all get through this together, and try to understand this book that is so famous. It will be exciting to be able to say that you’ve done it.”

If you go

What: The first of several discussions on “Moby-Dick”: The Quest, led by Derek Jorgenson, North Dakota State University department of communication basic course director

When: 7-8 p.m. Thursday

Where: West Fargo Public Library, 109 3rd St. E.

Info: The discussion is free and open to the public. Call (701) 433-5460 for more information.

Additional events

There’s a lot of “Moby-Dick”-related events going on between now and October, all of which can be found online at www.321fm.org. Here are just a few:

• June 13: History of Tatu Design with Anita Burbeck from Golden Needle Tattoo at the West Fargo Public Library

• June 20: “Moby-Dick” discussion on pop culture at the Moorhead Public Library

• July 25: “Moby-Dick” discussion on obsession at the Fargo Public Library

• Aug. 22: “Moby-Dick” discussion on monsters at the Plains Art Museum

• Sept. 21: Opening reception of T.L. Solien’s “Toward the Setting Sun” art exhibition at the Plains Art Museum

• Sept. 22: 10-hour marathon “Moby-Dick” read at the Plains Art Museum

• Oct. 10: Discussion on “Ahab’s Wife” at the Plains Art Museum

• Oct. 17: Public reading of “Ahab’s Wife” by author Sena Jeter Naslund at North Dakota State University’s Barry Hall

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535