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Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life Paperback – October 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mary Cappello is the author of two previous books of literary nonfiction, Night Bloom and Awkward: A Detour, a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Her essays and experimental prose appear in such places as The Georgia Review, Salmagundi, Southwest Review, and A
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Alyson Books (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593501501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593501501
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,992,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary Cappello, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, is a regular contributor to the world of literary nonfiction and experimental prose. Her four books include a memoir, a detour, an anti-chronicle (or "ritual in transfigured time"), and a lyric biography. She is the author of Night Bloom: An Italian/American Life (Beacon Press); Awkward: A Detour (a Los Angeles Times bestselling book-length essay on "awkwardness"); Called Back, and most recently, Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them.

Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, received a ForeWord Book of the Year Award and an Independent Publishers Award (IPPY). "Getting the News," an excerpt from Called Back that appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of The Georgia Review, won a GAMMA Award for Best Feature from The Magazine Association of the Southeast. Called Back was also a Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and a Publishing Triangle Award, the judges for whom described the book this way:


"The narrative of cancer has become disconcertingly familiar to us. But Mary Cappello turns the story inside out, folds it up, and deftly re-opens it into something new and rather marvelous. This is someone who reads Proust on the gurney while waiting to be wheeled into surgery. She brings us along for the ride, and it's a dizzying, discursive delight. With a bracing combination of intellectual and emotional acuity, Cappello explores the inanities and indignities of the medical establishment, the solitude and camaraderie of illness, the politics and poetics of cancer culture. "Most essays are finished before they've begun," Cappello cautions her undergraduate writing students. Her book is an essay continually striking off into unexpected terrain with giddy courage and wonderment. Called back across that grim border, Cappello brings with her a luminous gift."

Some of Cappello's recent essaying addresses Gunther von Hagens' bodyworlds exhibits (in Salmagundi); sleep, sound and the silence of silent cinema (in Michigan Quarterly Review); the psychology of tears (in Water~stone Review); the uncanny dimensions of parapraxis and metalepsis (in Interim), and the aesthetics of the short form. Her experimental prose piece, "Objective Correlatives: a trialogue on love" appearing in Hotel Amerika was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her work has enjoyed numerous Notable Essay of the Year citations in Best American Essays. A recipient of the Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies and the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Cappello is a former Fulbright lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow, Russia) and currently Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island where she teaches courses in Creative Writing, Literature and Medicine, nineteenth century American literature and culture, Literary Acoustics, and more. Her latest book-length project on a single theme is a foray into sound and mood, tentatively titled In the Mood.

For media features (from the LA Times to the New York Times, from Salon.com to the Huffington Post, to radio appearances in Vancouver and Australia),a schedule of appearances, reviews, and projects relative to SWALLOW, please visit www.swallowthebook.com

Cappello is interested, along with a number of other contemporary nonfiction writers, in restoring the word "essay" to its verb form. For more information, including interviews with Julie Bolcer for HERE! TV, NPR affiliate Celest Quinn for "Afternoon Magazine,"and Jean Feraca for "Here on Earth," go to her website: www.awkwardness.org,

or read more on her Faculty Homepage: http://www.uri.edu/artsci/eng/Faculty/Cappello.html

or visit her youtube channel, where a series of visual meditations on awkwardness can be found.





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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have read my share of cancer memoirs, and I'm quite sure I have never encountered a woman whose reaction to the diagnosis of breast cancer --- a friend's, not even hers --- is this:

"I responded in that selfishly aggressive way that each of us has at least a touch of. I flung myself on the bed and...and commanded Jean to...have her way with me, to do what she would with me....to return me to myself by way of the erotic."

Mary Cappello, just as an FYI, is not some attention-seeker using "Called Back" to call attention to her gay status or to shock and tease. She's a noted author and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Rhode Island. She knows the value of every word.

So imagine what it was like when she got the word that she had breast cancer.

First, the attention to language.

"It's concerning," says the ultrasound technician, explaining why Cappello needs a biopsy. A few pages later, the professor weighs in: "Words...cast shadows." And later again, she'll ask: "What does breast cancer awareness really make anyone aware of?"

Well, in her case, it's mostly interior, it's about consciousness: memories of a friend who had a small lump and is now dead, considerations of the breast as a milk machine and as "a WATS line to the clitoris," free-association to Gertrude Stein's remark about roses, and, not least, a fierce attention to interior logic ("A person's cancer is new to her but not new to itself").

But not totally interior --- this is also a story about radiation ("fighting fire with fire"), told with no hurry to get to the end. That sounds odd; the book is 200 pages, it's a brisk read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Theo Greenblatt on October 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "Called Back," Mary Cappello does us the favor of resisting the sappy pink-ribbon sentimentality and jaded battle metaphors of cancer lore; instead she brings a whole new language to the experience of the disease, the response, the treatment, the ongoing life of a cancer patient. Cappello is both a keen observer of the details of her own passage and a poet in her exposition of that passage. Deeply intimate and relentlessly honest, she takes us inside an experience that we all fear--not to do anything as mundane and perhaps useless as to "reassure," but to show us how it is mundane; to show where cancer intersects and overlaps with life. There is nothing of the "usual" in this account, but there is much we need to know.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Megan Sullivan on October 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Called Back" is a georgeous book, and I don't mean just the beautiful x-ray photograph on the cover. The book aims to talk about cancer differently and succeeds. To call Cappello's language "poetic" is not quite accurate; to say she utilizes the conventions of poetry to get at what's true -- that to think about cancer differently is to think about language in a new way -- is more to the point. Although Cappello is very honest about her experience, she isn't writing "merely" about her cancer journey. She's writing about how we feel, think, love, smell, and write differently because of cancer and its aftermath. The book is for all of us -- those of us who do not have cancer, those of us who do, and those of us who will someday.
If you want to think and breathe and write, then read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sara A. Greenslit on October 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Regardless if you're a patient or a poet, a doctor, a nurse, a caregiver, a reader, or a loved one, Called Back asks us to look not only into our lives, but out to something much greater. It's more than a guidebook through one woman's cancer; it's an examination of the intricacies of dailiness and love--from Cappello's life and her voice, into ours. For how could we not be unchanged by a work of such grace, wit, fierce temperament, and even joy? We would be utterly lost without this book.

Sara Greenslit, author of The Blue of Her Body
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