Books About Empathy: Background information when reading Books for Living

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Books for Living

by Will Schwalbe

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe X
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2016, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Books About Empathy

Print Review

Empathy seemed to take a huge hit in 2016. I can't think of many weeks that went by where blatant hate or some form of intolerance wasn't at the forefront of the news. I got to a point where I decided to disconnect from media. I couldn't take it anymore.

When Will Schwalbe's Books for Living arrived on my doorstep, it couldn't have come at a better time. I opened the cover and was taken away to a happier and more thoughtful world – the one of books. I was smiling before I could finish the introduction. In each chapter, Schwalbe picks one book and talks about the one value he most draws from it. Among other things, he writes about the value of hugging when discussing Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, the process of finding friends when writing about Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, and the art of remembering when recalling Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

Books for Living isn't always light, but it is always kind. Schwalbe approaches each topic with grace and gentleness and, as I finished reading it, I kept thinking about the need for empathy in today's world. Really, we desperately need more kindness and tolerance. So, for this Beyond the Book, I'm looking at the five books that help me see empathy – and its importance.

Flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Daniel Keyes' 1966 epistolary novel is, in my opinion, one of the most moving stories ever told. Charlie Gordon is a young man with a low IQ who works a lousy job. He tries to better himself and because of his promise, is selected by researchers for a brain operation that will increase his intelligence. The procedure immediately works, but what follows is a stirring tale that reminds readers to love and to accept unconditionally.



PushPush by Sapphire
Long before the movie Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire won multiple Academy Awards, the story was on the page – about a woman desperately searching for kindness in a dark, bleak world. Sapphire's 1996 novel focuses on the life of sixteen-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones, who is overweight and illiterate. Precious lives with her abusive mother, and they struggle financially, and to make matters even worse, she is pregnant by her father. While the setup is tragic, not all is lost. A teacher helps her, and there is eventually hope for a brighter tomorrow in her world. Push is a novel that teaches us that a little kindness and love can change someone's world.



The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone wakes up to discover that Wellington, his neighbor's poodle, has been murdered, and he sets out to find the killer in this 2003 novel from Mark Haddon. The mystery guides the novel's plot, but it's Christopher's quirks and personality that readers will remember most. Although Christopher's condition is never clearly identified, many readers have stated that he seems to be suffering from an autistic spectrum disorder. Regardless, he's a lovable outsider who will steal your heart.



The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion's 2005 memoir is one of the most devastating books ever written, but it's also one that shows us the value of being kind to one another. Days before Christmas in 2003, Didion's daughter Quintana falls ill. Slowly, her illness progresses to the point where Quintana is on life support. After Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Didion's husband, visit Quintana on the day before New Year's Eve, John collapses at dinner and dies from a massive heart attack. More struggles aren't far away. The Year of Magical Thinking reminds us to treat others with gentleness because we never truly know their challenges.



The Empathy ExamsThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Leslie Jamison's 2014 collection of essays is a work that explores the real life application of empathy. In one particularly moving section, Jamison recalls her own experience as a medical actor, where she performed as a patient with various illnesses and had medical students try to diagnose her. Understanding and connection are cornerstones of her essays, as well as determining how we should care for – and about – one another. The Empathy Exams is a book that calls for the need for human compassion.

Maybe we can create a more empathetic world. Perhaps reading these books can be one kind of spark to creating more kindness.

Article by Bradley Sides

This article was originally published in January 2017, and has been updated for the September 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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