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Make It Scream, Make It Burn

Essays
Written by: Leslie Jamison
Narrated by: Leslie Jamison
Length: 9 hrs and 3 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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

With the virtuosic synthesis of memoir, criticism, and journalism for which she has become known, Leslie Jamison offers us 14 new essays that are by turns ecstatic, searching, staggering, and wise. In its kaleidoscopic sweep, Make It Scream, Make It Burn creates a profound exploration of 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. Indeed, this refusal to hide - this emotional and intellectual frankness - is precisely the quality that makes her questing and irrepressible voice impossible to resist.

©2019 Leslie Jamison (P)2019 Hachette Audio

What the critics say

"An astounding triumph...Rings achingly wise and burrows painfully deep...A recovery memoir like no other." (Entertainment Weekly)

"Brilliant...Jamison is a writer intent on holding nothing back." (Los Angeles Times)

"We perhaps have no writer better on the subject of psychic suffering and its consolations." (The New Yorker)

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  • Scott Feuless
  • 2020-04-06

Some truly great parts

Several months ago something unusual, though not as unusual as you might think, happened to me. I kept encountering the idea of _story_ in unusual places. The stories we tell ourselves, their importance, their meaning, their power, how they shape the world and how we think. It came up in church. In a TV show. It came up again a day later in a philosophical non-sequitur in a science fiction novel. Then I came across an essay in Harper's called Layover Story. And it was a story about stories. And it was powerful. Poignant. Moving. I took it back to my discussion group at church and read it to them. Harper's categorized the story as memoir, and I thought "I have never had any desire to read a memoir," but I've learned to pay attention to these odd little synchronicities in life. They usually take me to good places when I pay attention enough to follow them. It turned out the piece was from a book of essays called Make it Scream, Make it Burn, by Leslie Jamison. And so I used my monthly Audible credit to get a copy asap.
I'm glad I did. The author never really says this, but to me it is a collection stories about stories; that is the unifying theme of the book. The essays are divided into three groups: Longing, Looking and Dwelling. Longing, which includes both the aforementioned essay and a few other very compelling listens, including one called "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live Again," is worth the price of admission all by itself. I was fascinated by every word. Have you ever had the experience where someone confides in you something that you've thought all your life but never told anyone? And how exultant that feels, like you've stumbled across a kindred spirit? I had that feeling when listening to Ms. Jamison talk about skepticism in a very nuanced way, but with exactly the same nuance I would use if I but had the skill as a writer to use it. She writes about things in the way that I _think_ about things. It made me want nothing more than to go grab a coffee with the author and talk to her for hours.
Unfortunately the experience I had with the other two sections of the book wasn't as rewarding. These essays are at their best when Jamison is telling us interesting stories about things that she's noticed or come across in the world, since that world is something we have in common with the author. These are experiences that we could have if we went to the same places or did the same things. Unfortunately, when the later chapters turn to specifics about the author, about a boyfriend or a relationship, it gets much harder to get through. I will never meet her boyfriend, so unless her observations about him reveal something about people in general or the larger world, my connection with the material simply breaks, and the book begins to sound very, very self-absorbed. So, if you read the book and agree with me that it begins wonderfully, but then find yourself losing interest somewhere in the second or third part, I'd recommend skipping to The Museum of Broken Hearts, which is about a fascinating thing, even though it digresses perhaps a little too much, and then leaving it if you must.
The narration is very good, except for a habit that I found slightly annoying after hearing it many times, where her lilting, rhythmic, down-note at the end of every phrase, style manages to make long sentences sound like the reading of a list that the speaker is bored by. That's a nit that I'm picking, however, and I feel a little guilty for even mentioning it.
The parts of this book that are great make it a gem. The fact that it's not perfect enough to call the whole book "great" all the way through should not deter you. I've read works with many more pages just to feel satisfied after finding a single thought-provoking idea. This book has many such ideas, and the quality of the prose alone is enough to make it noteworthy.