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Herman Melville, great American reader

The Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library are launching a month-long celebration ofMoby Dick, a way to encourage readers "to discover or rediscover the great literary masterpiece,Moby Dick, through the lens of the modern and equally mythical Southern California state of mind." Over 8o events city-wide, whale watching, a twitter contest and more (details at whateverhappenedtomobydick.org). We asked novelist, critic, essayist, and editor William Giraldi for this piece on Melville, reading, and writing to help kick it off.

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IN THE GENERAL RARE BOOKS COLLECTION at Princeton University Library sits a stunning two-volume edition of John Milton that once belonged to Herman Melville. Melville's tremendous debt to Milton — and to Homer, Virgil, the Bible, and Shakespeare — might be evident to anyone who has wrestled with the moral and intellectual complexity that lends Moby Dick its immortal heft, but to see Melville's marginalia in his 1836 Poetical Works of John Milton is to understand just how intimately the author of the great American novel engaged with the author of the greatest poem in English. Checkmarks, underscores, annotations, and Xs reveal the passages in Paradise Lost and other poems that would have such a determining effect on Melville's own work.

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