The books we read aren’t the only stories we carry with us. That is, the experience of reading breaks itself down into components. There’s the story within the pages, the story of our individual lives that brought us to it, and the wholly personal story that evolves from the encounter with the book itself. Our lives converge with the lives we encounter as we read, and the experience that results becomes a story all its own.
People say that print is dying, that the written word can never survive in the digital age. This may be partly true, but not entirely. The shifts in the publishing and book world are certainly not indicative of any diminishing importance of physical books and the experiences we have with them—for those experiences are very much alive.
Enter Call Me Ishmael, a new endeavor created for the purpose of upholding those life-changing experiences books offered and have to offer. The project is centered around another one of those things that today’s world thinks is on the outs: a good old-fashioned phone call. Dial (774) 325-0503, and leave an anonymous voicemail describing a book close to your heart. Talk about the story it told you, the story you took from it, and how it might have changed your heart.
Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent, the founders of Call Me Ishmael, stumbled upon the idea for the project while chatting in a New York City bar about their favorite opening lines of literature. When “Call me Ishmael,” the iconic opener of Moby-Dick, was mentioned, they wondered, what if you actually could call Ishmael? What if beloved stories and characters could have audible, real-life resonance? And so the project was born.
Call Me Ishmael has seen substantial success since its beginnings in just 2014. The website compiles audios and transcriptions of those messages, and visitors to the site can access over a thousand of the stories. Recordings have been played more than a million times, and more than 2,000 unique messages have been sent. (Of course, some of the messages have been prank calls, but the founders have the sense of humor to enjoy those, too—they compiled a set of the best prank calls for April Fool’s Day last year.)
What’s more, Smalley and Kent opened a Kickstarter campaign this past November to raise money to produce a physical, rotary-style Call Me Ishmael telephone. With a vintage, old school appeal, the phone will be designed with a small placard with numbers corresponding to various books and their personal messages. An app that manages the phone will also allow users to record and upload their own messages about books of their own choosing. It’s anticipated to be popular for libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops; think of the strangely deep connection that can be made, not only with a book but also with another human being and his own story. The campaign met its $10,000 fundraising goal in two days, and currently boasts more than $23,000 in funds to get production going.
The Call Me Ishmael endeavor is intended to tap into why people really love books: it doesn’t only offer book reviews, but instead tells the stories that books carry outside of the words on their pages. Whether for your next recommendation, a tug at your heartstrings, or just the experience of a meaningful connection in an increasingly broken world, Call Me Ishmael is just a phone call away.