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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

Honoring ‘Moby-Dick’ and the art of letter writing

J. Michael Lennon (third from left) and Donna Pedro Lennon (far left) donated a rare issue of Harper’s Magazine from 1851 with an excerpt of “Moby-Dick” to the Provincetown Public Library.

By Nina MacLaughlin Globe Correspondent 

Special edition

“ ‘Sir sailor, but do whales have christenings? Whom call you Moby Dick?’ ‘A very white, and famous, and most deadly immortal monster . . . but that would be too long a story.’ ”

So run some lines from Chapter 54 of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.’’ The chapter, titled “The Town-Ho’s Story,” first appeared in the October 1851 issue of Harper’s when the magazine was just a year old. A month later, the whole novel would be published here to widespread critical scorn and weak sales. A total failure in its day, “Moby-Dick’’ is, of course, now a celebrated masterwork of American literature.

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Two Westport residents with long ties to Provincetown, J. Michael Lennon and Donna Pedro Lennon, recently donated a rare copy of that Harper’s issue to the Provincetown Public Library to mark the town’s establishment of an annual public reading of “Moby-Dick.’’ Lennon, author of the acclaimed biography “Norman Mailer: A Double Life, received the volume as a birthday gift from his brother about 30 years ago.

“The Harper’s volume deserves a home in one of the great whaling ports,” Lennon said.

Provincetown, which just completed its second event, joins New York, Mystic, Conn., and New Bedford, all of which hold similar tributes to Melville’s masterpiece.

For Lennon, the gift brings the whole thing full circle. “I imagine that there were subscribers to Harper’s in Provincetown back in 1851 who read ‘The Town-Ho’s Story’ shortly before the novel was published.”

Women of Letters salon

The Boston Book Festival is hosting a Women of Letters literary salon. An idea that first took root in Australia and has spread to New York, the event gathers women writers, artists, and musicians in celebrating the lost art of letter writing. The tantalizing theme for this first-time Boston installment is “A Letter to My Secret,” and the evening’s guests will share letters they’ve written about this idea. Readers for the sold-out May 9 event include novelist Claire Messud, WGBH’s Under the Radar host Callie Crosley, memoirist Marianne Leone, mystery writer Hank Phillippi Ryan, human rights activist and poet Rose Styron, and author Abeer Hoque.

Bookbuilders anniversary

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The Bookbuilders of Boston was founded in 1937 to pull together New Englanders engaged with publishing and manufacturing books. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the nonprofit’s New England Book Show, an annual juried event to be held May 9 at Symphony Hall. The competition honors exceptional book design by regional publishers in print and digital formats. Nominated publishers include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The MIT Press, Boston Athenaeum and Yale University Press, in genres ranging from illustrated children’s books to nonfiction prose. The ceremony starts at 5:30 pm at Symphony Hall, and tickets are $50, which includes dinner and entertainment.

Pick of the week

Betsy Covert at Toadstool Books in Keene, N.H., recommends “The Wild Robot’’ (Little, Brown) by Peter Brown: “Both thought-provoking and funny, this heartfelt middle-grade debut by author/illustrator Peter Brown tells the story of Roz, the unusual robot inhabitant of a remote ocean island. Programmed to communicate and learn Roz must adapt to her wild surroundings in order to survive. At first, the animals of the island think of her as a monster, but over time they form a community. Though Brown doesn’t shy away from the cruelty of nature (or man) the prose is gentle and ultimately uplifting.’’

Coming out

“Since We Fell” by Dennis Lehane (Ecco)

“The Others’’ by Matthew Rohrer (Wave)

“Hostage’’ by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

An earlier version of this story cited some incorrect nominees for awards at this year’s New England Book Show.


Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.