Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? 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.
Leslie Jamison is the author of a novel, The Gin Closet, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times First Fiction Prize. Her essays have appeared in the Believer, Harper s, Oxford American, A Public Space, Tin House, and The Best American Essays. She is a regular columnist for the New York Times Book Review and lives in Brooklyn, New York.