Call Me Ishmael | Ten of the best

Words: Chelsea Haith
Images: Sourced

Men in the slump of middle-age, teenagers bullied at school, women fighting against literary snobbery, writers drowning in self-doubt, scientists like Joe Hanson and noted bibliophiles like Maria Popova, everyone who has read a life-changing book is sharing their stories on Call Me Ishmael. Reading is no longer a lonely pursuit. 

Call Me Ishmael was born in a pub in West Village, New York and until it was conceived of, no one really knew how much they needed it. Now, the voicemail service has received hundreds of calls from bibliophiles proving the adage, ‘You are what you read’.

1. One man shared his uncertainty about what to do with his life. He explained how a children’s book What to do with an idea written by Kobu Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom has helped him to acknowledge the worth of his ideas and to develop them.


2. A brave and interesting offering, one caller defied the snobbery that bibliophiles are occasionally, and not entirely inaccurately accused of, and spoke about how she genuinely enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey. She supported it, not as a faux-BDSM mummy-porn novel, but as a book that has challenged readers to own up to their reading habits. As she says in her message, “Books are for our own pleasure so why do we have to hide what brings us pleasure?”

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3.  One of the most popular posts is from a man who recounts how J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye changed how he saw books and gave him a passion for reading. His story is symbolic of the effect that the books have on the readers that share their stories. The caller recalls that he was given the book by a teacher in his first year of high school and told to make a short film out of it. “The whole time I was reading it I felt like a had this new way of seeing a book.”


4.  Another story details how a girl used Guts by Chuck Palahniuk to make sure that the boy she was dating was compatible with her. She read the book aloud to him sitting on the book store floor, and that he went along with it, enjoying it with her, every disgusting moment of it. She adds that though she didn’t know it at the time the boy turned out to be love of her life.


5.  The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger gave one man a way to deal with his grief after the death of a friend whom he had unrequited feelings for. He recounts how the novel gave him a way to travel in his life through the correspondence he and the woman he loved had exchanged before she passed away and to remember her that way.


6.  A student recounts how W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge made him reconsider what he wanted out of life as he started his tertiary education, eschewing materialism for a more self-aware and internal peace.


7.  One caller, born five months before the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that separate by definition is not equal, who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and grew up as a young white man in the American South, was made aware at a very young age that racial segregation is illogical and inhumane thanks to Dr Seuss’ The Sneetches.


8.  A high school student shared her experience of bullying and explained that Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is special to her because details the consequences of sustained verbal bullying on a the teenage psyche.


9.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer inspired one caller because she says it “was written off as a cautionary tale about a young man who didn’t really understand how he was supposed to behave. But I think he understood more than a lot of other people do.”


10.  The final book on this list the inspiration for Call Me Ishmael’s name: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The caller shares her experiences of anxiety and how the novel helps her through her crippling depression because she identifies so much with the narrator, Ishmael. She learns that it’s okay not to know what’s going to happen next.


Started by Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent, the success of the voice-mail service has surprised the founders. “It was a pleasant surprise to see how many readers would participate by adding their story to the library, but the range of calls has been overwhelming. I love that the project is a place for bibliophiles who want to gush over their love for John Green, explain why they read poetry out loud to trees, and everything in between,” Kent said.

“Books made me curious and imaginative as a young reader and more thoughtful and inquisitive as a full-grown bibliophile,” she added, expressing the wealth and worth in reading.

Click here to hear and read more calls made to Ishmael.

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