Thornton had some advice for the people who groan when they think about reading Moby-Dick or groan at their memories of it.
"It's actually a series of books within a book," she said. "People shouldn't read it in one sitting, or in one day. It's an allegory, but it's also an adventure story. A lot of people don't realize that it's based on a true incident."
Carol Burns, director of communications at the Albany Academy, said the symposium is something that Caroline Mason, the head of school who will be retiring next year, had long wanted to do. Deirdre Henderson, who had two sons graduate from the academy, put the program together, and academy librarian Virginia Dorwaldt listened to Moby-Dick on tape to break out the segments that volunteers would read.
"Melville is an iconic figure," Burns said. "He went to the academy. It will be interesting to hear people put their different emotions into it."
Burns said the University at Albany's involvement helped draw Kennedy.
"Andy Rooney likes to do what he can to support the school," Burns said.
Columbia University's Andrew Delbanco, director of American studies and Julian Clarence Levi professor in the humanities, will be the keynote speaker.
Friday and Saturday's panel discussions include Thornton's, and also discussions about race, sexuality, religion and Melville as a counterculture figure.
There is also an art exhibit at the academy; a dance performance by Collective Momentum; and an archival exhibit at the academy.
There will also be a trolley tour of Melville's Albany, and a self-guided driving or walking tour.
The Albany Institute of History and Art on Washington Avenue in Albany has an exhibit by Frank Stella, inspired by Moby-Dick. Thirteen proof prints from Stella's 266 works called "The Waves" will be at the institute through the end of the year.
Thornton is confident that everyone high school age or older will enjoy the symposium " and the reading of Moby-Dick.
"Melville's home-grown, and he's one of America's treasures," Thornton said.
The reading of Moby-Dick begins at noon on Friday, Nov. 17 at the Albany Academy's Gilbert M. Tucker library.
For information about "Why Melville Matters Now," visit the Web site, www.whymelvillemattersnow.org.""