Make It Scream, Make It Burn

Make It Scream, Make It Burn

by Leslie Jamison


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From the "astounding" (Entertainment Weekly), "spectacularly evocative" (The Atlantic), and "brilliant" (Los Angeles Times) author of the New York Times bestsellers The Recovering and The Empathy Exams comes a return to the essay form in this expansive book.

With the virtuosic synthesis of memoir, criticism, and journalism for which Leslie Jamison has been so widely acclaimed, the fourteen essays in Make It Scream, Make It Burn explore the oceanic depths of longing and the reverberations of obsession.

Among Jamison's subjects are 52 Blue, deemed "the loneliest whale in the world"; the eerie past-life memories of children; the devoted citizens of an online world called Second Life; the haunted landscape of the Sri Lankan Civil War; and an entire museum dedicated to the relics of broken relationships. Jamison follows these examinations to more personal reckonings — with elusive men and ruptured romances, with marriage and maternity — in essays about eloping in Las Vegas, becoming a stepmother, and giving birth.

Often compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, and widely considered one of the defining voices of her generation, Jamison interrogates her own life with the same nuance and rigor she brings to her subjects. The result is a provocative reminder of the joy and sustenance that can be found in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
One of the fall's most anticipated books: Time, Entertainment Weekly, O, Oprah Magazine, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Esquire, Seattle Times, Baltimore Sun, BuzzFeed, BookPage, The Millions, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Lit Hub, Women's Day, AV Club, Nylon, Bustle, Goop, Goodreads, Book Riot, Yahoo! Lifestyle, Pacific Standard, The Week, and Romper.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"If you ever need to be reminded of the potential of the essay and why essay collections matter or if you just want to get excited about one, read Leslie Jamison...In Make It Scream, Make it Burn, three of the most poignant and personal essays come in the final section: one on
Jamison's own marriage...A brilliant exploration of what it means to be a stepmother...and the last, an essay on giving birth that flips back and forth between Jamison's pregnancy and an eating disorder that marked her earlier experiences of her body."— Goop

"If you loved The Empathy Exams and The Recovering, you'll devour Leslie Jamison's new collection of essays about obsession and longing. From thoughts on Civil War photography to a museum dedicated to breakups, her insightful, thought-provoking writing shines brightly throughout."— Yahoo! Lifestyle

Publishers Weekly


These illuminating and ruminative essays from Jamison (The Recovering) explore obsession and alienation, combining reportage, memoir, and philosophy. The first (and most successful) section is largely focused outward, beginning with a profile of “52 Blue,” a blue whale with an extraordinarily high-pitched song who never found a mate, but did garner many human admirers who identified with his (perceived) loneliness. Jamison moves on to considering reincarnation, through uncanny cases of children seemingly remembering past lives, taking an approach “skeptical of knee-jerk skepticism itself.” In Part II, Jamison progresses into aesthetics and literary theory, discussing an exhibit of Civil War photography and James Agee’s sociological tome about Alabama tenant farmers, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which notably “documents the process of documentation itself.” Part III is decidedly more personal, as Jamison details struggles with intimacy and a series of doomed relationships, hitting a high note with her consideration of the evil stepmother archetype in the light of becoming a stepmother herself. Jamison is positively brilliant when penetrating a subject and unraveling its layers of meaning, such as how 52 Blue represents “not just one single whale as metaphor for loneliness, but metaphor itself as salve for loneliness.” Fans of the author’s unique brand of perceptiveness will be delighted. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie. (Sept.)

Library Journal


Essayist (The Recovering; The Empathy Exams) and novelist (The Gin Closet) Jamison gathers a seemingly eclectic group of 14 essays into a triptych organized by the headings "Longing," "Looking," and "Dwelling." Linked thematically by the human quest for answers and love, the pieces range in topics from the elusive lonely whale, 52 Blue; children who dream of past lives; people who survive their lives by spending time in the virtual world; a museum devoted to relics of relationships past; and the author's own personal life—all written with care and intricacy, drawing readers in and making us care. Many of the pieces originally appeared in publications such as the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, and Oxford American and are a reminder of the author's richly diverse writing. VERDICT Jamison's observational skills, genuine empathy, and lack of sentimentality create an intelligent blending of journalism, scholarship (she directs the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia Univ.), and memoir. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/19.]—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

Kirkus Reviews

A collection of essays, some journalistic, some critical, some memoiristic, all marked by the author's distinct intelligence.

In "Mark My Words. Maybe." an essay not included here, Jamison (Director, Graduate Nonfiction Program/Columbia Univ.; The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, 2018, etc.) recounts getting Roman playwright Terence's quotation Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto ("I am human, nothing human is alien to me") tattooed on her arm. That apothegm, which also served as the epigraph to her first collection, The Empathy Exams (2014), is put to the test in her latest book. Whether encountering a boy in a wheelchair in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, or a pushy woman on a layover in Houston, the author wonders at the limits of empathy. In "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live Again," she recounts her interview with a man who claimed he was "not a gun nut" even as he handled two guns and left "a collection of bullets spread across his comforter" for her to find: "Had I been foolishly unwilling to acknowledge that some people were alien to me? Did I need to identify with all the gun-loving men of this world? Was it naive or even ethically irresponsible to believe I should find common ground with everyone, or that it was even possible?" Jamison's other main intellectual concern is the exploitative role of the journalist. In "Maximum Exposure," she offers a sympathetic portrait of the photographer Annie Appel, who must ask her subjects, "Can I take this moment of your life and make my art from it?" The common cause she finds with the journalistic skepticism of Janet Malcolm and James Agee is odd, though, considering how many of her essays begin as reporting. Jamison thinks and writes so elegantly, the subjects that serve as many of her jumping-off points risk feeling superfluous to the real business of her essaying. Still, as with nearly all of her writing, this one is well worth reading.

A commendable essay collection by one of the leading practitioners of the form.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316259651
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 10/20/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 155,902
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.20(d)

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