The Empathy Exams: Essays; Leslie Jamison

Empathy Exams cover

The Empathy Exams: Essays; Leslie Jamison
| published November 1, 2014 |

Book Review by Kristy Webster
Thursday Review contributor

“Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.”

The Empathy Exams are an outstanding collection of essays that explore a genuine and passionate desire to explore outside and “Other” experiences through complete immersion. From tours through the ghettos, to dodging grenades in Mexico, from her time as a medical actor to her time spent with a community that share a bizarre, unexplained illness, Jamison’s rich prose is a candid analysis of what it means to discover, reveal and express empathy for people and emotional places beyond our comfort zone.

One of my favorite essays is one about saccharin and the topic of artificial sweeteners. She uses this as a metaphor for discussing how we generally detest or look down upon sentimentality as a false sweetness, as a substitute for the real thing. However, she turns the gaze back towards our disdain for what we perceive as false sentiment or feeling and explores the roots of it as a cultural insecurity.

Not only is Jamison’s writing sharp and impeccable, it’s remarkably self-confirming as well as self-exposing. The essence and vibrant quality of these personal essays will reverberate through your consciousness long after you’ve finished reading the book.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Looking for Alaska; John Green; book review by Kristy Webster; Thursday Review; July 11, 2014.

Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy; Joshua Corey; book review by Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; Juny 21, 2014.

Soul in Space; Noelle Kocot; book review by Kristy Webster; Thursday Review; April 18, 2014.