Jacob M. Appel : Phoning Home: Essays

Afternoon readers, hope you’re having a wonderful day. Just wanted to say, expect a lot from me here at mylittlebookblog these next few months, I’m pushing the blog to the limit in the next few months trying to get the more views, more followers, more comments, and more interactions with all you lovely people. During August I lost my writing flow. I have vowed this month not to let that happen again whatever happens. There are some interesting things going on in the next couple of months  and I cannot wait to share them all with you! This review comes off the back of my last review of Jacob’s book. I read this when I went away to France and it really helped wile away the ten or so hours I spent locked up in the back of the car so merci to Jacob and onto the review.

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. 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.

Three words for this book; nostalgic, thoughtful and satirical. Those three words pretty much sum up my perfect writing style. Something a little witty, self-deprecating and emotional, this is a personal and private collection of events, snippets, and conversations, in Appel’s rather interesting life. This book is incredibly heartfelt and achingly beautiful, rather than focusing on the ‘big picture,’ the tales are tiny scraps that are woven together to create a beautiful book filled with wisdom. The first story describes Jacob’s family having trouble with a telephone joker (this will explain the cover of the book) calling up the phone at unsystematic times in the day, the family are at the end of their tether. We later find out that little seven year old Jacob is the culprit (sorry!) however, the real moral of the story is that these days as soon as little boys or girls do something out of the ordinary there is immediately something terribly wrong. Jacob notes that in his case this small instance of rebellion was never anything more than the casual interest of a little boy. The stories often take this format; explaining the events and then looking deeper, taking a philosophical view point. It leads to an incredibly heart-warming collection of short passages.

Two other stories (they are separated out into 13 essays as the title suggests) stick in my mind one desciribing the loss of two rubber cat toys. “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.” However the beloved toys are stolen and never seen again, Appel struggles with what he calls a private apocalypse; even now there is a space for Fat and Thin on his shelf at home. The internal grapple with the loss at such a young age affects Appel even now although in a different way. The self-reflection is incredibly humbling. The second story (my favourite) describes a patient Mr Nimble a 94 year old male who falls and hurts himself. Once in the hospital he jokingly asks for a suicide pill. (Appel is a physician and ethicist.) Sending the doctors into a panic over his mentally stability, it turns out the last time Mr Nimble was sick such a thing still existed; as they realise he is without a telephone, family or friends, he is a danger to himself. The state is intervening, however the patient asks why? He has lived so long like this and yet now he is going to be kept against his will. “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 neighbours before we take away his freedom.”

Just a few technical bits; the writing is strong and unfaltering. Woven with beautifully deep descriptions I was completely submersed in Jacob’s world. Even though the essays are quite short the characters are full-bodied and spring from the page in an incredibly mature way. Additionally although the stories are told in first person, we get to learn a lot about the narrator’s personality which is lovely. It allows the stories to all consume the reader and drag them further into the authors life. I liked the length of the book too, although I did find myself wanting it to go on and on. I found myself needing time to reflect over all the stories and it has made me want to learn more about some of the themes discussed throughout. 

Overall this is a witty book full of philosophical nuggets of wisdom. The writing is incredibly fluid and has an unsolicited feel, We really get an insight into the thoughts, hopes and fears of the author. I said last time that Appel was going on my list of authors to watch out for in the future and this book has helped him to shoot straight to the top of the list. Beautifully honest I found myself thinking about this book long after I turned the final page. The essays have a real mix, some talk about family, love, unrequited love (that’s another special story) hope, fear, friendship it constantly mixes and matches beautifully personal moments and discussions of society and the norms that we live by. Overall I loved this book; gorgeous, spectacular and humbling. PERFECT

Front Cover

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