Call Me Ishmael. Or Call Me Easy.

I was browsing through Paste Magazine, one of my favorite websites, when I happened across this article about a website named “Call Me Ishmael.” I couldn’t get the Ishmael website to work, but the idea behind it is intriguing. There is a telephone number that you can call and leave a voice mail about a book that particularly affected you, and how and why it did so. The person running the website transcribes at least one message per week and posts it to the website. That is the idea, anyway. Again, I couldn’t access the website; hopefully that is simply due to increased traffic due to the Paste article. I love the concept, however. It’s kind of a “Post Secret” or “Whisper” on a somewhat smaller scale for readers.

Everyone had great fun a couple of weeks ago discussing Kindle Unlimited, and while we aren’t done with that yet I thought maybe we’d dial things down a notch as we head into summer’s warmest month and present our own, modest, one-day-only version of Call Me Ismael without resorting to voice mail, since a lot of people don’t use it any more, anyway. What book(s) changed your life? How? And why?

I have two: LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL by Thomas Wolfe and ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac. I read LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL and was immediately swept up into the magic of words. I decided moments after reading the first chapter that I wanted to spend my life writing, in one form or another, and to a greater or lesser degree I have done that. ON THE ROAD gave me wanderlust. There are few things better in God’s world than getting into an automobile and driving for several hundred miles at a stretch to a destination that you love or have you yet to love. In what I fear is the initial manifestation of the onset of dementia, I have recently been haunted with the thought of jumping on board a Spyder RT (yes, the irony is not lost on me) and tooling down to New Orleans, then across I-10 to Houston and beyond. So far I have talked myself out of it. So far. If I succumb, please blame Kerouac and my lifelong friend William D. Plant III, the gent who shoved both books into my hand and who also happens to be one of this and last century’s best unpublished authors.

Enough about me and what I may or may not do and why.  To yank things back on track: what book changed your life? How? And why?

19 thoughts on “Call Me Ishmael. Or Call Me Easy.

  1. There have been many influential books in my life, but I’d point to Edmund Morris’ biographical trilogy on the life of Theodore Roosevelt. If you want to read about a truly great man and be inspired, start with “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and work your way up. You won’t believe that such a man actually existed, and not that long ago. We could sure use him today.

    • David, thank you. I didn’t know about this trilogy prior to your mentioning it. It’s odd…one of my favorite Classics Illustrated comic books was a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. I read it until it fell apart. For some reason I’ve never doubled back to a more scholarly work. Maybe now I will.

    • Thanks, David for the book rec. This is just the type of book I’d love to read before next semester starts. Looks like it’s gotten rock solid reviews on Amazon. I just downloaded my copy and am looking forward to it. Thanks!

  2. Like David, lots of books changed my life. In the eighth grade, there were two. Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel started my avid reading of science fiction. Leon Uris’s Armageddon swept me up to the point where I was reading during any five-minute lull in the action-packed day of an eighth grader.

  3. That was my first Heinlein book, Lance. I went from there to Starship Troopers and read everything he wrote before and since. He was indeed the Dean of space-age fiction, as the covers of his paperbacks heralded. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Richard Brautigan’s _A Confederate General From Big Sur_ caught my writer-lust when I was in middle school, giving me a way of looking at things that continues through my day-to-day, as well as writing, to this day.
    A close second is Ray Bradbury’s _The Illustrated Man_ for the way he saw things and tied stories together.

    • Trout Fishing in America blew me away in high school. It taught me that an imagination can just explode. The Illustrated Man was major for me in junior high.

  5. The first “grown up” novel I recall reading was Tarzan of the Apes. I remember the feeling of not wanting to put the book down, of wanting to skip things like TV and baseball to keep reading. And thinking to myself, “Hm, that’s interesting, this book makes me want to keep reading it. How does it do that?”

  6. I miss Brautigan, G. He was very far ahead of his time in terms of marketing his work. During my San Francisco residence, I got on a cable car and it seemed as if every young woman on there had a copy of a Brautigan book. And Bradbury…even people who don’t read or like science fiction have read Bradbury. I still get chills reading “The Veldt,” a half century or so down the road. Thanks!

  7. Jim, I was introduced to the Tarzan franchise by the Johnny Weissmuller movies, and was delighted to discover not only the book, but also an entire series, as well as all of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other series, stand-alone works, etc. I was at a period in my life where I was reading to the virtual exclusion of everything else and love those books to this day. My wife is about halfway through the Tarzan series right now. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Geez, tough question. I had to think about it for a while and realized mine go deep into childhood. I had a peripatetic one-step-ahead-of-the-landlord childhood and my myriad elementary schools are one big blur. But I vividly remember fourth grade and Mrs. Taylor who every Friday, took a half hour to read to us from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I was blind with enchantment. Those books made me feel grounded in that make-believe family.

    Also, there is a great children’s book “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes. It’s about a little girl who has only one dress and gets teased in school but ends up drawing a hundred dresses and making friends who love her artwork. Years ago, I went on Alibris and bought a copy.

    Still waiting for that one adult book that changes my life. Which is not a bad place to be, I think.

  9. For me, PJ, I was fortunate enough to have Sister Theresa Mary presiding over my fifth grade class. She loved mystery short stories, and would read Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and some of Dorothy Sayers’ shorter works. I lived for those hours.

    That book “The Hundred Dresses” sound like something I should get my granddaughter. And I will. Thanks the tip.

    Somehow, I don’t think you’ll need an adult book that changes your life. I wouldn’t be surprised if one (or more) of yours has changed someone else’s, however.

    • Joe, the Estes book is a classic. It won the Newbery award, I believe. And it’s still in print (since 1944!). I just checked…there is even a Kindle edition to which I say, “argh!” because the illustrations are beautiful.

  10. REBECCA, by Daphne du Maurier. The title and story made such an impression on me that I named one of my daughters after it. Only belatedly did it occur to me that I’d named her after the least sympathetic character in the story, lol.

  11. As a young kid, we were dirt poor. Somebody gave us an incomplete set of children’s classics. Those books were: Peterkin Papers, Pinochio, Wizard of Oz, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

    I read them until the bindings wore thin. I can say that much of what I have written has been influenced by the humor of the Peterkin Papers or the graphic violence of Grimm. WOZ and Pinochio gave the wonder of storytelling.

    As a young adult, it was The Grapes of Wrath. It triggered my love of American history and formed the basis of my political sensibilities that continues today.

    • Terri, I feel the same way about THE MOON IS DOWN by Steinbeck. We were assigned “Flight” to read for English 102 and I started looking into Steinbeck’s lesser-appreciated works, if you will, and found that one. I still read it every year or two.

  12. Joe–
    You will end up doing what you’re going to do, and way-back-when Kerouac certainly contributed to my own wanderlust. But you might consider keeping in mind the wider meaning of another Thomas Wolfe title: You Can’t Go Home Again.

  13. On the one hand, Barry, Dion DiMucci once said in reference to Thomas Wolfe (and the Bronx), “Can’t go home again?! Hah! Try to leave!” On the other…there have been a number of times where I’ve been rattling down the road and looked in the rear view mirror to watch bridges I traversed over the previous hundred miles or so going up in flames. So you never know.

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