The Schmooze

Now You Can Call Ishmael, To Talk About Books

“Call me Ishmael,” declares one of the most famous opening sentences in Western literature.

But what if the narrator of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” was actually asking you to call him?

That was the whimsical thought Logan Smalley offered in a spirited bar conversation about notable first sentences. He jotted the notion down on a bar napkin.

Now, Smalley’s turned that notion into Call Me Ishmael, an innovative voicemail project that aims to spread the love of books by getting callers to share their most meaningful reading experiences.

“It’s about telling stories and discovering great books,” Smalley told the Forward. “Books define us, but we also define the books we read.”

In the month since Call Me Ishmael has launched, callers — who remain anonymous — have left messages about a far-flung range of books, from “Of Human Bondage” to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A significant number of messages have covered Jewish-themed books.

The daughter of a Holocaust survivor called to share her father’s reaction to “Maus” — and her own awe at learning he knew Vladek Spiegelman, the author’s father. A woman rang up to confess how she wept after reading the World War II novel “The Book Thief” — on a treadmill at the gym. “Even when I look like a complete fool in public, I’m still completely transported by a book,” she said.

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Now You Can Call Ishmael, To Talk About Books

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