Awhile back I finally read “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison. First, I am a hard read these days. As I’ve gotten older, it takes more and more to catch me as a reader, but once caught, I usually devour the book in a day. I’ve bought (downloaded) a number of books recently just to keep myself up with the current state of publishing and what is considered good/great. Kudos to Jamison because her book not only snagged me, it kept me reading until through at one in the morning.
In this book Jamison not only provides a continual stream of unique topics, but does so with an intelligence that I miss in so many other books. Perhaps it’s the “literary” choice, but those books often fail to interest me as well. I’m not in the space anymore where I will see a book through despite a poor first chapter. Jamison, as solipsistic as many authors of essays are (and perhaps must be) nevertheless adroitly pulls together this collection in her quest to dissect empathy. Full of personal experiences and deep mots justes, Jamison often left me with the kind of “aha” delights in thought or reflection that just don’t come along every day.
Some of her personal thoughts come across as shallow- this is where the solipsism arises- but she juxtaposes these by drawing on formidable writers past and present to blend her contemplative ingredients with a generally seamless effect.
Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and a Harvard and Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, Jamison is currently earning her Ph.D. at Yale. Jamison, here in “The Empathy Exams”, while displaying some of the intrinsically entropic symptoms of the MFA world, manages to break out from the MFA Chinese finger trap to write an engaging and relevant book. More importantly, her writing is the result of adept critical thinking and the ability to conceptualize and synthesize seemingly disparate ideas, events and people. The result is an apt model for the new essay standard.
To see her own thoughts on similar matters, one need only go the following article, by Jamison herself, published in February. You can find it here: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/11
Up next for my reviews, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman