Alum creates interactive phone book for bibliophiles everywhere

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Media: Courtesy of Stephanie Kent

Alum Stephanie Kent ‘10 and her husband Logan Smalley wrote the novel ‘The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book,’ an interactive guide to book recommendations and local book stores across the U.S.

By Shawna Konieczny, Staff Writer

Stephanie Kent ‘10 and her husband, Logan Smalley, share a deep love for books. This mutual interest is what sparked the idea for their newly published interactive novel, The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book.

“[Smalley and I] were out at a bar in the West Village in New York,” Kent said in an interview over Zoom. “We were there having a beer and we were talking about the first sentences of books that we really loved. And of course, we came to the most famous first sentence of a novel, which is ‘Call me Ishmael’ from Moby Dick.”

Call Me Ishmael is modeled after a phonebook—complete with listicles and advertisements. Published Oct. 13 by Simon & Schuster, it contains a record of sorted books that random people talked about when they called the project’s phone number and left a voicemail. 

The number, 774-325-0503, became available six years ago, inviting anyone to leave a voicemail about their favorite book. Now the voicemails have finally been organized in a book, divided into three sections based on title, author, and genre, like an encyclopedia. Callers can also dial extensions to hear other calls that were submitted. 

“We both just really like to make things and so we had this idea from there to set up a phone number for Ishmael that people could call and talk about books that they loved,” Kent said. “So about 24 hours later, we had prototyped this thing and sent it to a couple of our close friends who are great readers. Then other people started calling Ishmael, people that we didn’t know.”

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Kent graduated from Emerson with a writing, literature, and publishing degree, but entered a career with a wider focus, she said. When Kent first began college, she intended to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in literature. That changed as Kent experimented with the variety of different classes Emerson offers, including photography, journalism, and French. 

“When I was at Emerson, I really liked to try a bunch of different things,” Kent said. “I think that my career has been like that. A little bit audio, a little bit writing, a little bit video, a little bit journalism. And looking back, it’s funny to see that that’s what my study was like too.”

Kent said she modeled the book after a phone book, complete with listicles and advertisements. (Media: Courtesy of Stephanie Kent)

Before the book was published, the website, callmeishmael.com, acted as the sole source for the collections of anonymous voicemails. Kent and Smalley only turned the website into a book when they were approached by a literary agent from The Friedrich Agency three years ago.

“Once we had collected thousands and thousands of voicemails, [we thought] ‘What could a cool implementation of a Call Me Ishmael book be?’” said Smalley. “It wasn’t too many brainstorms away where we came up with the idea that we should try and revive the phone book.”

Within Call Me Ishmael, there is a section that categorizes books by which state they are based in.

“On each state page, there’s an interview with the independent bookstore owner, a list of independent bookstores, literary tourism in the area,” Smalley said. “So for example, the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, the Salem Athenaeum in Salem, and Louisa May Alcott’s orchard house in Concord.”

The pages for Massachusetts include stores such as the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge and Wicked Good Books in Salem. People can also listen to an interview with the owner of Trident Booksellers and Cafe located on Newbury Street by using the extension 3769. The rest of the 200 page book looks much like a traditional phonebook, listing the books alphabetically by title and then again by author. 

Since the website is still active, the couple said that they still get calls to the Ishmael number to this day. 

“If anyone wants to call in and leave an anonymous message about a book that they love, mentioning Emerson will definitely get you some extra credit points from us,” Kent said.