The inventive minds behind the Call Me Ishmael Phone Book, Stephanie Kent and Logan Smalley, started their Call Me Ishmael Project as a bibliophilic debate. The two literature lovers were discussing the best opening lines from classic books before coming to a consensus on the iconic opener from Herman Melville’s MOBY-DICK. And, they thought, how cool would it be if readers could actually call Ishmael and leave a voicemail about the impact a book had on them? That was back in 2014. Now, in 2020, thousands of the messages from the project can be found in phone book form!
The CALL ME ISHMAEL PHONE BOOK is not only an interactive, user-friendly directory for the voicemails that its authors collected and cataloged over the years, but it’s also a guide to indie bookstores and other bookish destinations. Readers can check off the bookstores and libraries they’ve visited across the U.S.A. and map out all the places that are still on their book-world bucket lists.
Stephanie and Logan begin the book with an introduction and instructions on how to discover the literary surprises woven throughout their beautiful creation. The book is then organized into three sections: “Calls by Subject,” “Calls by Book Title,” and “Calls by Author,” so there are several ways to explore the books and America’s literary places. There are also lovely illustrations and symbols throughout this wonderfully quirky, nostalgic book, which is like nothing I’ve come across before.
During the pandemic, I have found great comfort flipping through the phone book’s yellow pages and listening to people’s connections to books that I have also loved or still have yet to discover. Hearing people’s voices and stories (yes, you read that right) also makes this lonely time feel a little less lonely! Readers can hear any of the messages included in the book by dialing 774-325-0503 and entering the corresponding four-digit extension from the pages of the book.
One caller reveals a difficult time in her life for which Sylvia Plath’s THE BELL JAR resonated with her. Plath’s description of feeling like “a horse losing its pace,” rang true. THE BELL JAR helped the caller feel less alone and to discover her passion for psychiatry.
Another caller, named Ellie, expresses the joy she found in reading THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros. She described how she could relate to the protagonist’s experiences growing up in a Latinx household, and how she felt the beauty in seeing herself represented in a story.
An additional caller, a parent of a toddler, reveals the ubiquity of Sandra Boynton’s board book PAJAMA TIME! in his family’s life. Through reading the book and singing the accompanying song, it was pajama time all the time until even the caller’s young daughter had had enough and demanded they take a break.
The Call Me Ishmael project is a love letter to literature and the ways in which it can change our lives and loves. The resulting phone book makes the perfect gift for avid readers and is also a fun, interactive way to introduce kids to the world of books! The CALL ME ISHMAEL PHONE BOOK is a touching reminder of the stories and experiences that connect us and make us human.
Check out a few of our favorite messages: