Entertainment :: Books

The Empathy Exams

by Daniel Scheffler
Contributor
Wednesday May 21, 2014
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Every three million years someone will come into your life and breath insight, a type of truth (with humility) and above all an AHA moment like you’ve never felt before. This person for me has been Leslie Jamison with her book "The Empathy Exams." And so far, it’s the best book I’ve read this year. I sigh as I say this - it was that spectacular.

Hearing her on NPR and at independent Manhattan bookstore Mcnally Jackson shifted something within me. Jamison manages to hold up a clean and shiny mirror right to my face and gently whisper in my ear - look, don’t look away, really look. And with almost my cynicism or argument I did.

Her collection of essays are about empathy, either how there is an obvious lack of empathy or apparent presence of it. And her genius stems from there, with no fear. Her way of delving into her collection is by offering us her heart, right up front. The first story, where she is a medical actor, asks questions about how we care for each other - and how should we care for each other - and what it all means when empathy is intertwined. She breathes her first and last breath; she eats her own brain here and brings it up for us to feast one. It’s real and untarnished; it’s a spread for anyone willing to question their emotional, spiritual self.

She just flows with these unbelievable insights into humanity, into what makes us get up, get down and binge on life.

Jamison, a beautiful girl who lives in Brooklyn, also speaks with humility - no ego nonsense clouding her judgment or her ability to write beauty. She reveals how she just can’t pitch stories and manages to win this award (Graywolf) but didn’t really imagine she could ever. She just flows with these unbelievable insights into humanity, into what makes us get up, get down and binge on life. She veers off into bodily attacks, illness and love (the kind we reserve for ourselves) and doesn’t stop until the car is wrecked on the side of the road. She lays herself bare and that’s what makes the book so poignant and perfect. Forget "Girls" and everything that’s seeming real - this is that, without the icing. This is THAT, with an extra shot in the arm, the bum and the throat.

Jamison is a voice, not this generation’s or another’s - she is just a voice. And I’d like to listen to it on repeat.

"The Empathy Exams"
Leslie Jamison
$12.05
Greywolf Press

Daniel Scheffler is a writer who spends his time in New York, Cape Town and India. Follow him on Twitter @danielscheffler

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