This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison.
In her best book yet, Leslie Jamison pokes into the unexplored corners of the world and tells stories on behalf of the collective and the individual. She begins with a singular premise and then widens her scope to encompass universal experiences. So when she writes about 52 Blue or Second Life
or children with memories of past lives, she’s also writing about loneliness, alienation, and a deep longing for a connection strong enough to extinguish any dread. Vivid and vital, Make It Scream, Make It Burn
is a book to light up the dark. — Lauren P.
Leslie Jamison’s writing wins frequent comparisons to Joan Didion
, Susan Sontag
, and Rebecca Solnit
, arguably three of the finest nonfiction prose writers of the last 70 years. What Jamison shares with this elite crowd is an uncommon knack for drawing on disparate narrative threads and concepts to elaborate on a grand idea, be it loneliness, art, politics, illness, or an unexpected fusion of several themes. These writers also stretch the popular maxim that the personal is political; with Jamison, especially, one gets the sense that the personal is cultural — though she’s keenly aware of the limits of her discrete experiences in the world, her capacity for self-criticism seems to generate within her an unusual level of curiosity and empathy for the experiences of others. A Jamison essay may start with the story of a whale or a computer game, as in Make It Scream, Make It Burn
, but those subjects will wind through many people’s lives, Jamison’s included, as subject and metaphor, before Jamison concludes with an argument that is at once intensely personal and illuminating of society at large.
This is the delight and wonder of reading Jamison’s work. Her penchant for titillating topics like past lives, virtual reality, and intimate confessions certainly doesn’t hurt; Jamison may be the smartest person in the room, but her focus on fascinating yet common human experiences softens the intellectual challenge of her work. In their reviews, Publishers Weekly
notes, “Jamison is positively brilliant when penetrating a subject and unraveling its layers of meaning” and Kirkus
observes, “Jamison thinks and writes so elegantly, the subjects that serve as her jumping-off points risk feeling superfluous to the real business of her essaying.” You will be lured to Make It Scream, Make It Burn
by the colorful cast of animals and individuals who populate the work, but you will stay for the surprise and pleasure of reading writing this good.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here