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The Empathy Exams | Graywolf Press

These books create a stunning portrait of contemporary American life. They live, they write, they love; we read.


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Hello, Login. Visit Our Stores. They really just don't design books the way they used to From Powells. Jamison is a remarkable essayist, keen-eyed, observant, and astute.


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The opening piece centers on her stint as a medical actor and expands into a thoughtful rumination on what exactly empathy is. Recommended By Mary Jo S.

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How can we feel another's pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain — real and imagined, her own and others — Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory — from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration — in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.

A tough, intrepid, scouring observer and vigilant thinker, [Jamison] generates startling and sparking extrapolations and analysis. On the prowl for truth and intimate with pain, Jamison carries forward the fierce and empathic essayistic tradition as practiced by writers she names as mentors, most resonantly James Agee and Joan Didion. Leslie Jamison is so intelligent, so compassionate, and so fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best.

Once again we are opened up. Across the essays within The Empathy Exams Jamison situates herself in the tract between, exploring the ways in which we can stretch the limits of ourselves to be, to know and to understand. She burrows deeply into her own experiences and those of others unselfishly, and her writing is often so energetic it requires breaks to regain the breath.

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The Empathy Exams: Essays

Jamison seems incredibly motivated by the power of empathy and the frustration felt when it is absent; so reading this collection within the current political context is both energising and exhausting as she makes a call for more open-heartedness. But this is what it means to empathise openheartedly; it is a vulnerable, uncomfortable state. It was more like inpathy. For Jamison, this means going out into the world and reporting back, as well as marshaling an absurdly impressive range of sources.

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Sometimes there is a slight tremor of anxiety in all this reaching — as if Jamison fears she will not be taken seriously — but then she coaxes these sources into unexpected juxtapositions that lead to insight. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it. What makes something better is connection. They want us to go down into the hole and sit, to listen and ask questions, to believe in and work for connection.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams