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Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them Hardcover – December 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; 1 edition (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595583955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595583956
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

They are fodder for the giggles--and groans--in every ER: the alarming X-rays of coins, toys, buttons, safety pins, needles, and other nonedibles of both the benign and potentially fatal variety. Award-winning author Cappello (Called Back) brings a poet's sensibility and a journalist's fascination to the modern history of foreign body ingestion through the story of early–20th-century endoscopy pioneer Chevalier Jackson, who meticulously documented his extractions, which along with his tools are on display at Philadelphia's medical Mutter Museum. "We have entered... a form of literature and not of science, a philosophical treatise... for a theater of the absurd," marvels Cappello of the detritus Jackson retrieved from throats and stomachs. Hewing closely to Jackson, Cappello chronicles the odd cases and people--and in one case, an entire family--who built his practice and reputation. Their improbable accidents elicit gasps of astonishment; how did a baby swallow more than two dozen pins, needles, and cigarette butts? Cappello smartly focuses on Jackson's peculiar life, wondrous fine art, and diligent science, transforming an intriguing medical history into a lyrical biography. Medical practitioners and nonprofessionals will be equally fascinated. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As topics of expository writing, objects that people accidentally inhale or swallow may seem like interesting, if somewhat unappetizing, attention-getters for, at most, an in-flight magazine article. Yet Cappello, an award-winning author of three previous works of literary nonfiction, successfully devotes an entire book to the subject by focusing largely on a fascinating, eccentric doctor who collected them. Born and raised in Pennsylvania and trained as a laryngologist in Philadelphia, the colorfully named Chevalier Jackson revolutionized his chosen field by developing safe methods of extracting objects lodged in airways and abdomens. But even more interesting, as Cappello sees it, was Jackson’s obsession with painstakingly cataloguing each object, from thumbtacks to watches to miniature opera glasses, and donating the lot to Philadelphia’s famous Mütter medical museum. As a sideshow to probing Jackson’s curious asceticism and fussy, prolific studies, Cappello spends ample time ruminating on the complex mechanics of, and psychology behind, swallowing, ingestion, and appetite. While Cappello’s endless digressions and hunger for detail won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, her prodigious rhetorical gifts are undeniable. --Carl Hays

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.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia has long been a site of pilgrimage for the unsqueamish who are interested in medical curiosities or just general freakishness. Under a stairway there is a cabinet with heavy drawers which visitors are invited to open. Within each drawer are further compartments, each of them containing a small object. The objects are not extraordinary, and they certainly are not as dramatic as some of the museum's other exhibits. There are coins, brooches, a steering wheel from a toy automobile, safety pins, a crucifix, a watch, a padlock, peanut kernels, a bullet, and hundreds more, objects of such diversity that it is hard to see what might unite them. These are, however, the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection. Dr. Jackson plucked the items from the interiors of bodies where they had no business being, from esophagi, stomachs, and bronchial tubes. He would have been distressed, perhaps, that they were curiosities in a museum which houses many monstrosities, for he had indexed each object with data about the age and sex of the person from which it was extracted, the procedure used, and so on. He said that the collection was, "in my opinion, of enormous clinical value to the physician and surgeon." Dr. Jackson had a mission, to increase doctors' understanding that people swallow or inhale such items with distressing frequency, and that such accidents need to be considered when any patient comes in with throat, chest, or stomach complaints. The story of Dr.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By AOK on June 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In "Biography or Biographeme," which Mary Cappello posted as a guest blogger for Powell's Books, she explains that she was aiming for "an extended, deeply researched poem" with Swallow, as opposed to the "definitive" or "official" biography of Dr. Chevalier Jackson. I'm pleased to report that she succeeds on that score.

Throughout the book, Cappello capitalizes the word "thing" when it "refer[s] to an object that has undergone a transformation once it has been swallowed, retrieved, studied, and placed in Jackson's collection." I loved that in addition to detailing the metamorphoses of particular swallowed objects into Things, her supporting prose is full of this kind of magic. The esophagus and windpipe are not merely adjacent, they share a "party wall." A sword swallower becomes a "human sheath." A "knobless drawer" invokes "tight-lipped terror." Jackson, who could close a safety-pin lodged in a patient's esophagus, becomes a "time-bomb detonator."

I also enjoyed Jackson's own memorable analogies that Capello quotes, including his likening using a forceps to walking on stilts and his discussing a foreign body's position in terms of obstetrics.

Here's a passage on umbrella-headed tacks that Capello shares from Jackson's "Diseases of the Air and Food Passages of Foreign-Body Origin": "The umbrella-shaped head with its weighty stem for ballast certainly is well constructed for being drawn in by the inspiratory blast, like a parachute on a rising wind...This shape, as well as the point, resists bechic expulsion unless the tack is overturned; we all know the pull of an umbrella when the wind gets under it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dina Tanners on November 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was fascinated by the subject matter when I read a review of the book in a local newspaper. The story of the ingestion of foreign objects and the "curious" doctor who extracted many of them (and kept a record which is available for all to see in a museum in Pennsylvania) fascinated me. Unfortunately, the writing style of the author left a lot to be desired. She did not focus on the objects and the people who swallowed them but seemed to add them incidentally in a very scattered way. Dr. Chevalier Jackson is mentioned throughout the book but different bits and pieces are added at different places, often seemingly random. I would love to read more on the subject matter and visit the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia where Jackson's Foreign Body Collection is on view. The knowledge of the collection is one thing I gained from the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cochran on March 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A dazzling sketch of a pioneer doctor and the objects he retrieved from the bodies of his patients.

With the same care and precision Chevalier Jackson once exhibited within the human body, Cappello examines his work and what it means to be human, vulnerable, swimming in the reckless depth of every breath.

I would say this book offers a rich tapestry of thought that adds to our collective consciousness of medicine and magic. With a poet's sensibility, Cappello questions what few are willing to plummet. To read this work of nonfiction, "We might have to ask why we say we swallow our pride and not our envy, anger or greed." For this sentence and so many more, I am in wild admiration of this marvelous and powerful work.

To open this book called Swallow, we take an unflinching look within, to every beautiful and tender corridor.
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