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Benedict Cumberbatch among celebs to read ‘Moby-Dick’

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch is among the celebrities to read for the “Moby-Dick” audio book. John Phillips/Invision/AP/File 2015

The New Bedford Whaling Museum was clearly onto something 20 years ago when it started the “Moby-Dick Marathon,” an annual event that celebrates Herman Melville’s epic novel by inviting a few hundred people to read passages out loud. Typically, the 135 chapters (plus epilogue) take about 25 hours to read. “Moby-Dick” is a big deal in New Bedford because part of the book, narrated by a sailor who wants to be called Ishmael, is set in the historic whaling city. But it’s a big deal elsewhere, too. Similar readings have sprung up in Mystic Seaport (Conn.) and Manhattan, and now an audio book has been developed with a slew of celebrity readers. Called “Moby-Dick Big Read,” the online version of Melville’s magnificent book was created by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare, who was one of the “Moby-Dick” readers in New Bedford in January. The audio book, available on iTunes and streamed on SoundCloud, features the likes of actor/comedian Stephen Fry, Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, actress Fiona Shaw, novelist Will Self, actor Benedict Cumberbatch (inset), playwright Tony Kushner, filmmaker John Waters , actor Simon Callow, Sir David Attenborough, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver. The folks at the museum know all about the audio book and they approve. “We love the ‘Big Read, ” said Michael Lapides, director of digital initiatives at the museum. “It’s sort of the antithesis of what we do here because theirs is celebrity-based and we’re open to the public, but it’s still great. The more the merrier.”

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Names can be reached at names@globe.com. Follow Mark Shanahan on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.