Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two RSBRs on the subject of empathy: "My Friend Dahmer," by Derk Backderf and "The Empathy Exams," by Leslie Jamison.

Ridiculously Short Book Reviews on "My Friend Dahmer" and "The Empathy Exams."
Here's a question I've been pondering: How far can empathy be stretched? Is it possible to put yourself in someone else's shoes no matter who that person is, no matter what acts of evil that person has committed? Is there always a path available to us through which we can understand another's experience? Backderf does this in his stunning graphic novel. The prose and pictures work together perfectly to convey what Backderf witnessed in and knew about Dahmer, his classmate: Dahmer's wildy dysfunctional set of parents, his childhood marked by neglect of such a magnitude it could have unmoored the best of us, and the terrible, cruel, evil behavior that escalated until the day he was caught. "The Empathy Exams" is a collection of essays by Leslie Jamison that I haven't yet finished. But it's a remarkable read. She deftly inserts facts about her own life into bigger world-stories which allows her to examine and parse complex issues. Isn't this why any of us write? To understand ourselves and the world?
Both books, athletics for the mind. Ways to stretch our empathy. Isn't this the basic job description of a human? Two books, so different, both gems.

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