Thursday, July 24, 2014

book review: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The basics: The Empathy Exams is an essay collection. Each essay, including the titular one, addresses empathy, although some focus more on it than others.

My thoughts: I've really been enjoying essays lately, and The Empathy Exams is the most buzzed about collection this year. Having read several edited collections, it was delightful to dig more deeply into a thematic collection of essays by a single author.

The first (and titular) essay is astonishingly good. It details Jamison's time working as a medical actor, where her job was to act out symptoms for medical students, who were then judged not only on their diagnostic skills, but also their empathy, both verbally and visually. The essay is simultaneously a fascinating glimpse into an experience and a deep meditation on health, wellness, humanity, and empathy.

As I read this collection, which I didn't expect to be about empathy after the first essay, I realized how much I'm drawn to essays about personal experiences. Given this revelation, it's not surprising I was most drawn to Jamison's essays about her immersive experiences. Many of them are journalistic at times, but Jamison pushes so much further. She uses these experiences as a stepping off point for deeper discussions.

Favorite passage:  "This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself."

The verdict: In a collection exploring both a singular theme and a variety of experiences and emotions, some essays in The Empathy Exams inevitably excel more than others. Judging them against one another seems almost unfair, however, as the collection is so strong. As the collection winds down, I found myself giving some of the later essays more of a 'meh' response because my expectations became so high as I read. Yet had I read them individually, I would have been wowed. Ultimately, The Empathy Exams is a strong, dynamic collection of essays, and the multiple-page Google doc of memorable quotes is one I'll keep returning to.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Empathy Exams from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Leslie Jamison's website and follow her on Twitter.

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1 comment:

  1. I love a good collection of essays and this one sounds stellar!


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