Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: PHONING HOME by Jacob Appel

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.

My rating: 4 stars

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