Monday 7 September 2015

The Empathy Exams

Finished September 3
The Empathy Exams: essays by Leslie Jamison

This collection was the winner of the 2011 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. It is a collection of essays about our interactions with others, about how we communicate about ourselves, how we feel about that communication, and how we react to others' communication.  The opening quote sets the tone: "I am human: nothing human is alien to me."
The book begins with the title essay and is about the author working as a medical actor who has been given a script and a specific protocol including a followup checklist and who evaluates doctors on their empathy with patients. The task is interspersed with her own medical issues.
* Devil's Bait is about the author's exploration of Morgellons disease including the attendance of a conference.
* La Frontera is about a visit to Mexico, partly for a literary gathering and includes Tijuana, Mexicali, and Calexico.
* Morphology of the Hit is about her experiences in Nicaragua where she taught Spanish to kids, was punched in the face and had a broken nose as a result, and includes the follow-up to this with the police.
* Pain Tours (I) has three parts. La Plata Perdida is about a visit to the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia. Sublime, Revised is about the reality TV show "Interventions" which is about trying to stop addicts. Indigenous to the Hood is about going on a gang tour in L.A. which is led by ex-gang members.
* The Immortal Horizon is about the Barkley Marathons, an extreme marathon race held in the Appalachians, inspired by a prison breakout.
* In Defense of Saccharin(e) is about sentimentality, sweetness, and artificial sweeteners.
* Fog Counts is about her visit to a minimum security prison in Fayetteville visiting Charlie Engle.
* Pain Tours (II) has three parts. Ex-Votos is about Frida Kahlo and her pain as a result of a streetcar accident at the age of eighteen. Servicio Supercompleto is about Joan Didion's account of the El Salvador civil war, looking at the contents of a grocery store as inspiration. The Broken Heart of James Agee is about Agee's book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and looks at labor, hunger, and guilt.
* Lost Boys looks at the murder of 3 boys in West Memphis in 1993, the three teenagers that were convicted of the crime, the trilogy of films that covered the case, and the subsequent release of the men years later.
* Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain looks at how women express their wounds, society's reaction to that expression, individual reaction, and what it means.
The book also includes an interview with the author.

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