Phoning Home: Essays

Phoning Home: Essays

by Jacob M. Appel


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Phoning Home is a collection of entertaining and thought-provoking essays featuring the author's quirky family, his Jewish heritage, and his New York City upbringing. Jacob M. Appel's recollections and insights, informed and filtered by his advanced degrees in medicine, law, and ethics, not only inspire nostalgic feelings but also offer insight into contemporary medical and ethical issues.

At times sardonic and at others self-deprecating, Appel lays bare the most private aspects of his emotional life. "We'd just visited my grandaunt in Miami Beach, the last time we would ever see her. I had my two travel companions, Fat and Thin, securely buckled into the backseat of my mother's foul-tempered Dodge Dart," writes Appel of his family vacation with his two favorite rubber cat toys. Shortly thereafter Fat and Thin were lost forever—beginning, when Appel was just six years old, what he calls his "private apocalypse."

Both erudite and full-hearted, Appel recounts storylines ranging from a bout of unrequited love gone awry to the poignant romance of his grandparents. We learn of the crank phone calls he made to his own family, the conspicuous absence of Jell-O at his grandaunt's house, and family secrets long believed buried. The stories capture the author's distinctive voice—a blend of a physician's compassion and an ethicist's constant questioning.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611173710
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Publication date: 05/31/2014
Pages: 136
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney, and bioethicist based in New York City. He is the author of the novel The Man Who Wouldn't Stand Up, the short fiction collection Scouting for the Reaper, and more than two hundred published stories. He also writes about the nexus of law and medicine, contributing to many leading publications including the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Detroit Free Press. His work has been nominated for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-required Reading, Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize anthology on many occasions.

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Phoning Home: Essays 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
SadinFL More than 1 year ago
The author gives us some delightful insight into his own life from childhood to the realization of his own mortality. The childhood stories reminded me of my own misdeeds as a youngster. I will never look at green jello the same ever again! I was especially intrigued by the discussions of moral/ethical issues which really made me think about my beliefs and why I feel the way I do. Is it just because it's what I've been told, or can I rationally defend my position. The medical stories bring such a peek into a doctor's relationships with his patients and how sometimes the choice regarding the patient's care is not very clear cut. Overall, I thought his was an amazing collection of short stories and well worth the read.
Lovz-Books More than 1 year ago
This is a collection of academic essays. In “Phoning Home,” Appel evaluates the acts of misbehavior—what drives the act and the effect on a person’s character. He states that “past performance is no indication of future unreliability.” (11) Author cleverly recounts childhood memories and the lessons—both joyful and cruel—that were bestowed upon him. He was like Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years with a PhD. Full of humorous anecdotes. In “The Man Who Was Not My Grandfather,” the author challenges his feeble grandmother to ponder what would have been had she gone through with the arranged marriage. His best theories were in “Sudden Death—A Eulogy,” an essay scrutinizing “sudden” death.” “Six decades after Great Grandpa Simon plunged off his mortal coil, sudden death now threatens to go the way of rotary telephones and passenger pigeons. The exact rate at which we are not dropping dead is difficult to calculate.” (63) “I made the mistake of observing to my date that Ms. Hager was ‘drop dead gorgeous.’ My date replied, acidly, ‘in that case, keep staring.’ Needless to say, as forcefully as I ogled, my heart beat only faster; it did not stop. ‘Drop dead gorgeous,’ of course, means far less in a world where people don’t actually drop dead…We can speak figuratively about sudden death, trivialize it—even joke about it—because we do not actually expect to confront it. Not now, not soon, not until we’ve been afforded ample time to prepare.” (64) “What we can do—and what we have not been doing—is paying closer attention to the complex ways in which how we die is transforming how we live. I fear the most subtle, yet pernicious, consequence of a world in which people do not as often die suddenly is a world in which people do not appreciate life.” (68) Riveting and compelling, these compositions are witty and intelligent; they are thought-provoking and insightful. Appel eloquently writes with craft, logic, and reverence. “What my students have never done, however, is reflect upon a life without toys. In a society where mass-produced plastic action figures cost ten dollars a piece and every middle-class family has a closet well-stocked with such wholesome board games as Monopoly and Risk, my students find ‘toylessness’ as alien as homelessness.” (20) At times, the concepts were foreign and complex. I didn’t understand the Jewish terms, and not every story was interesting. Jacob Appel is a giant, walking brain (physicist, attorney, bioethicist, professor.) He will take you back to the school of Critical Thinking.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
Phoning Home Essays by Jacob M. Appel Phoning Home is composed of thirteen essays that range on various topics and are related to Mr. Appel's life. They start with mundane topics and progress to the philosophical and ethical themes of our times. In "Phoning Home," we learn that when Mr. Appel was seven years old, and after his grandmother Ida moved home with them, he started to phone the family and hang up. He then speculate on what a prank is and how to deal with their consequences. In "Two Cats, Fat and Thin," Mr. Appel narrates how his aunt Emma gave him two plastic cats and how they were lost on their trip back home. He then communicates the sense of loss that people have, whether it be for the cats he lost, or the loss of relatives. In "Mr. Odd and Mr. Even," we are told of the lives of both of his grandparents. One went to Tulane School of Medicine and the other was a Jeweler in Manhattan. This is a personal tale on Mr. Appel's roots. In "The Man who was not my Grandfather," we learn that Appel's grandmother, Lillian was supposed to marry her cousin so that he could escape the Germans, but she refuse to do so. This caused all of her relatives to be killed by Hitler and his army. Appel wonders as to whether it might have been worthy for him not to exist if it means that his relatives could survive. In "Caesura-Antwerp 1938," Grandpa Leo's watch become a metaphor for how to many Jews time froze in Antwerp in 1938 because their lives were changed forever and most of the people they knew were lost. In "Sudden death-A Eulogy," Appel talks about how we are prolonging life, but at life's expense. "I can accept death because i recognize it as a part of life. What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes, my life" He then narrates how his family tried to prolong his Grandpa Leo's life and how miserable he was at the end - not to mention the unnecessary costs. In "An Absence of Jell-O," Appel touches the subject of Alzheimer's disease and how he struggled to diagnose himself on his chances of getting it (gene ApoE testing). In "She Loves me Not," Appel discusses the concept of "unrequited love." After stating that Gabriel García Márquez exposed the concept in "Love and the time of Cholera" where Florentino Ariza waited fifty one years for Fermina Daza husband to die so that he may continue the interrupted romance of their youth, proposes the theory that: "we love unrequitedly because unrequited love 'always' meets our expectations." He concludes that is the reason he's still single: "As long as my dream girl keeps me at arm's length, I can still aspire to a perfect relationship." In "Opting Out," the right to refuse treatment is discussed. Mrs. Y has lung cancer with metastasis to bone and her daughter does not want to let her know of her diagnosis or her impending death. As a medical student in an ethics rotation Appel must decide whether it is the right thing to tell her. In "Charming and Devoted," Appel discusses his experiences as an intern with end of life care and exposes the problems of two very old patients: Mr. Charming and Mr. Devoted. They are "much like tens of thousands of other mildly impaired elderly men and women who stumble into the health-care system each year, usually as a result of minor ailments, but are unfit to stumble back out." In "Livery," Appel narrates an encounter with a patient: Mr. Nimble. A 94 y/o male who jokingly states he wants a "suicide pill" and ends up in the psych ward. "The underlying problem is that our society has never had a meaningful, collective conversation regarding how much risk a mildly impaired senior citizen must pose to his neighbors before we take away his freedom." In "Our incredible Shrinking Discourse," Appel exposes the problem our society has with opposing views. "Our intellectual discourse is contracting...The most dangerous ideas are not those that challenge the status quo. The most dangerous ideas are those embedded in the status quo, so wrapped in a cloud of inevitability, that we forget they are ideas at all." Finally, in "Divided Expectations," Appel struggles with his middle age and his mortality. There has been a trend to publish actual stories by writers. Felice Picano published a set of books: "True Stories" and "True Stories Too" in which he narrates real experiences from his life. I myself published a similar narrative in "Historias." Where Mr. Picano and Dr. Appel stick to the facts, I have filled in the blanks with fiction, exaggerated the facts to fit my plot, and created an alternate reality. Mr. Appel book is narrated from the first person point of view is influenced by his education in medicine, law, and bioethics. His prose is entertaining and thought-provoking filled with the author's quirky family, his Jewish heritage, and his New York City upbringing. The themes of love, family, sense of loss, the Holocaust, caring for the old, end of life decisions, society's struggles with opposing views and discourse, middle age and mortality are dealt gently, self-mockingly, and sometimes absurdly. In each essay, he reaches some sort of equilibrium, a kind of intellectual epiphany that doesn't come easily; instead, it feels raw and hard-earned. A must read.