Advanced Praise for Staring Contest

Staring Contest is a jewel box of an essay collection: It takes a quotidian facet of experience—the human gaze—and considers it at length, revealing an overlooked world of ideas and resonances. Amberson approaches this subject from playful, sometimes unexpected angles, with agile, elegant meditations on the eye patch, Mr. Magoo, staring, looking directly at the sun, Stevie Wonder, photography, and more. The prose is lush and precise, and the gaze (ha) feels singularly tender. A delight.”

Jordan Kisner, author of Thin Places: Essays from In Between

“These essays are at once inquisitive, vulnerable, humorous, and deeply humane. While sharing his experience with a chronic illness that threatens his vision, Amberson also interrogates the way we as a culture privilege the sense of sight. Especially in our image-saturated present moment, Staring Contest is a revelation—readers will never again experience the world in quite the same way.”

Justin Hocking, author of The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir

Staring Contest is a lovely example of one of my favorite approaches to the essay collection form. On the surface, it addresses one multifaceted topic through several nimble and unexpected inquiries. But as Joshua James Amberson employs personal narrative, research, or pop culture criticism in each unique essay about the eyes and vision, he not only adds depth and nuance to his study of sight; underneath that, he builds an eclectic and telling map of an individual consciousness, a well-examined life.”

Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

“While Staring Contest explores many facets of eye-related subjects—crying, Bette Davis, David Bowie, eyepatches, Mr. Magoo, Braille—the unifying theme here is Amberson’s eager curiosity to understand why vision holds such power, and how we navigate the world with and without it."

Michelle Kicherer, Willamette Week

Reviews for Staring Contest

Selected Bibliography (Expanded)

Note: This is expanded from the book’s selected bibliography, which (in the interest of keeping things a little more compact) left off most songs, nondocumentary films, and television episodes. This is for anyone who wants to go really deep into the weeds.

Bette Davis Eyes: A Brief History

All About Eve. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Bad Sister. Directed by Hobart Henley, Universal Pictures, 1931.

Baldwin, James. The Devil Finds Work. Dial Press, 1976.

Bianco, Marcie; Johns, Merryn. “How Bette Davis Became a Hollywood Icon By Refusing to Conform at Every Turn.” Vanity Fair, 2016.

Carnes, Kim. “Bette Davis Eyes.” Mistaken Identity, EMI America, 1981.

Canby, Vincent. “Film View.” New York Times, 1989.

Davis, Bette. The Lonely Life. G.P. Putnam’s & Sons, 1962.

Dyer, Geoff. The Ongoing Moment. Pantheon Books, 2005.

Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte. Directed by Robert Aldrich, 20th Century Fox, 1964.

Hyman, B.D. My Mother’s Keeper. William Morrow and Company, 1985.

The Letter. Directed by William Wyler, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1940.

Now, Voyager. Directed by Irving Rapper, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1942.

Of Human Bondage. Directed by John Cromwell, RKO Radio Pictures, 1934.

Shales, Tom. “Bette Davis.” The Washington Post, 1989.

Sikov, Ed. Dark Victory. Holt & Company, 2007.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Directed by Robert Aldrich, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1962.

Wicked Stepmother. Directed by Larry Cohen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1989.

The Blind Cartoon

Burness, Pete, director. When Magoo Flew. UPI, 1958.

Hubley, John, director. Ragtime Bear. UPI, 1949.

Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Magic A History of American Animated Cartoons. McGraw-Hill, 1980.

Maurer, Marc. “Of Mr. Magoo, Disney, and the National Federation of the Blind,” 1997.

Military Magoo.” Mr. Magoo. Season 1, episode 2, 1960.

Thin-Skinned Diver.” Mr. Magoo. Season 1, episode 9, 1960.


Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Hill & Wang, 1980.

Cartier-Bresson, Henri. The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture, 1999.

Don’t Blink: Robert Frank. Directed by Laura Israel, Arte, 2017.

Dyer, Geoff. The Ongoing Moment. Pantheon Books, 2005.

Evans, Walker. American Photographs. Errata Editions, 2008.

Finding Vivian Maier. Directed by John Maloof, IFC Films, 2014.

Frank, Robert. The Americans. Robert Delpire Press, 1958.

The Impassioned Eye: A Film About Henri Cartier-Bresson. Directed by Heinz Butler, NZZ Film, 2003.

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. Penguin, 1977.

Trachtenberg, Alan (ed). Classic Essays on Photography. Leete’s Island Books, 1980.

Marshall, Colin. “Filmmaker Wim Wenders Explains How Mobile Phones Have Killed Photography.” Open Culture. August, 2018.

Contact: A Catalog

Aron, Arthur, et al. “The Experimental Generation of. Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Bechtle, Mike. “Are You Talking to an Extrovert or an Introvert?: A Simple Test.”

Børns. “American Money.” Dopamine, Interscope, 2015.

Catron, Mandy Lee. “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” The New York Times, 2015.

Chiem, Richard. “Ten Times Gravity.” City Arts Magazine, 2018.

Ellsberg, Michael. The Power of Eye Contact. Harper Collins, 2010.

Faulkner, Michael David. A Novice’s Guide to Speaking in Public: 10 Steps to Help You Succeed in Your Next Presentation . . . Without Years of Training!. Pearson Education, 2016.

Gabriel, Peter. “In Your Eyes.” So, Geffen, 1986.

Givens, David, and Shelley Hagen. The Everything Body Language Book: Succeed in Work, Love, and Life—All Without Saying a Word!. Adams Media, 2011.

Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. University of California Press, 1993.

Jones, Daniel. “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” The New York Times, 2015

Marcus, Ben. “The Dark Arts.” The New Yorker. 20 May 2013.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture of the Senses. John Wiley and Sons, 1996.

Rankine, Claudia. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2004.

Robinson, Shelagh “Eye for an Eye—Visual Violence.” Psychology Today, 2017.

Rowland, Kelly. “Heaven.” Here I Am, Universal Motown, 2011.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Routledge, 1943.

The Supremes. “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.” Where Did Our Love Go, Motown, 1963.

Troy, Doris. “Just One Look.” Sings Just One Look & Other Memorable Selections, Atlantic, 1963.


Brown, Michael J. “Is Justice Blind or Just Visually Impaired? The Effects of Eyeglasses on Mock Juror Decisions.” American Society of Trial Consultants, 2011.

Can't Buy Me Love. Directed by Steve Rash, Touchstone Pictures, 1987.

Corson, Richard. Fashion in Eyeglasses: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present Day. Peter Owen Publishing, 1967.

Drewry, Richard D. “What Man Devised That He Might See,” 2009.

Elman, Donald. “Physical Characteristics and the Perception of Masculine Traits.” The Journal of Social Psychology, 1977.

Goes, Frank Joseph. The Eye in History. JP Medical Ltd, 2013.

Handley, Neil. “To Wear or Not To Wear: Changing the Social Norms With Regard to Eyewear.” Gresham College, 2012.

The Hero Who Couldn't Read.” ABC Afterschool Special, Season Twelve, directed by Martin Tahse, ABC, 1984.

McLannahan, Heather. Visual Impairment: A Global View. Oxford University Press, 2008.

“Mixed Signals.” DtR from Gimlet Media, 2017.

Paulus, Rick. “The Hidden Psychology of Wearing Glasses.” Pacific Standard, 2015.

She's Out of Control. Directed by Stan Dragoti, Weintraub Entertainment Group, 1989.

Shields, David. Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity. Alfred Knopf, 1996.

Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. “6 Messages Your Glasses May Be Sending People.” Psychology Today, 2016.

Dry Eyes

Anka, Paul. “It's Time to Cry.” Paul Anka Sings His Big 15, ABC Paramount, 1959.

The Box Tops. “Cry Like a Baby.” Cry Like a Baby, Bell, 1968.

Burke, Solomon. “Cry to Me.” Rock 'n Soul, Atlantic, 1964.

Charles, Ray. “Drown in My Own Tears.” Ray Charles in Person, Atlantic, 1960.

The Drifters. “(If You Cry) True Love, True Love.” Dance With Me, Atlantic, 1959.

Footloose. Directed by Herbert Ross, IndieProd Company, 1984.

The Four Seasons. “Big Girls Don't Cry.” Sherry & 11 Others, Vee Jay, 1962.

Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. “Cry Baby.” Cry Baby, United Artists, 1963.

Gladys Knight And The Pips. “Letter Full Of Tears.” Letter Full Of Tears, Fury, 1962.

Gore, Lesley. “Judy's Turn to Cry.” I'll Cry If I Want To, Mercury, 1963.

Holly, Buddy. “Valley of Tears.” Buddy Holly, Coral, 1958.

James, Etta. “All I Could do was Cry.” At Last!, Argo, 1960.

John Ellison and the Soul Brothers Six. “Lost the Will to Live.” Lost the Will to Live, Phil L.A. of Soul, 1974.

King, Anna. “I Don't Want to Cry.” Back to Soul, Smash, 1964.

Kottler, Jeffrey A. The Language of Tears. Jossey-Bass, 1996.

Lutz, Tom. Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears. W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Orbison, Roy. “Crying.” Crying, Monument, 1962.

Presley, Elvis. “I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You).” Elvis Presley, RCA Victor, 1956.

Question Mark And the Mysterians. “96 Tears.” 96 Tears, Cameo-Parkway, 1966.

Ray, Johnnie. “Cry.” Johnnie Ray. Columbia, 1952.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. “Tears of a Clown.” Make it Happen, Tamla, 1967.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. “The Tracks of My Tears.” Going to a Go-Go, Tamla, 1965.

Trimble, Michael. Why Humans Like to Cry: Tragedy, Evolution, and the Brain. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Wilson, Jackie. “Lonely Teardrops.” Lonely Teardrops, Brunswick, 1959.

The Eye Patch: A Brief History

Brooks, Charles Stephen. Frightful Plays!. Harcourt, Brace, 1922.

Nguyen, Hanh. “‘Game of Thrones’ to ‘Twin Peaks’: Here’s Why Your Favorite Quirky Characters Wear Eyepatches.” IndieWire, 2017.

Holt, Ardern. Gentlemen's Fancy Dress: How to Choose it. Wyman & Sons, 1882.

Lester, Paul. “Slick Rick: ‘You learn from prison time – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.” The Guardian, 2016.

Mackay, D'Arcy. Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs: A Practical Working Handbook. H. Holt, 1915

Ritchie, Anna Cora Mowatt. Anne Evelyn; Or A Heart Unmasked: A Tale of Domestic Life, Volume 1. G.B. Zieber, 1845.

Schulz, Charles. Security is an Eye Patch. U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1968.

Unknown Author. Male Character Costumes, a guide to gentlemen's costume suitable for fancy dress balls and private theatricals. Samuel Miller, 1884.


The Amsler Grid.” Accessed 20 February 2018.

Magic Eye: A New Way of Looking at the World. Magic Eye Inc., 1993.

Un Chien Andalou. Directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Les Grands Films Classiques, 1929.

The Idea of Doing Nothing at All

Archers of Loaf. “Underachievers March and Fight Song.” Vee Vee. Alias, 1995.

Kopkind, Andrew. "Slacking Toward Bethlehem." Grand Street, 1992.

Nirvana. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Nevermind. DGC, 1991.

Prince. “Rasberry Beret.” Around the World in the Day. Warner Bros, 1985.

Schuftan, Craig. Entertain Us: The Rise and Fall of Alternative Rock in the Nineties. ABC Books, 2012.

Innervisions: A Brief History

Abbott, Lynn and Doug Seroff. Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895. University Press of Mississippi, 2002.

Evans, David. Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues. University of California Press, 1982.

Gaye, Marvin. What's Going On, Motown, 1971.

George, Nelson. Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound. St. Martin’s Press, 1985.

Godin, M. Leona. “When People See Your Blindness as Superhuman, They Stop Seeing You as Human.” Catapult, 2018.

Posner, Gerald. Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power. Random House, 2002.

Ribowsky, Mark. Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder. John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Tuuk, Alex Van Der. Paramount's Rise and Fall: A History of the Wisconsin Chair Company and Its Recording Activities. Mainspring Press, 2003.

Wonder, Little Stevie. “Fingertips.” Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius, Motown, 1963.

Wonder, Stevie. “Higher Ground.” Innervisions, Motown, 1973.

Wonder, Stevie. Innervisions, Motown, 1973.

Wonder, Stevie. “Superstition.” Talking Book, Motown, 1972.

Wonder, Stevie. “Uptight (Everything's Alright).” Up-Tight, Motown, 1966.

Wolff, Efram. Personal interview. 16 March 2019.

The Kingdom of the Sick

Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.

A Machine for Writing: A Brief History

Adler, Michael H. The Writing Machine: A Typewriter History. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1967.

California Typewriter. Directed by Doug Nichol, American Buffalo, 2016.

Linhoff, Victor M. The Typewriter: An Illustrated History. Dover Publications, 2000.

Wallace, Carey. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine. Penguin, 2010.

Wershler-Henry, Darren S. The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting Innervisions. Cornell University Press, 2007.

The Noblest of the Senses: A Catalog

“Eye of the Beholder: Theories of Vision.” The History of Philosophy from King’s College London, 2013

Jay, Martin. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. University of California Press, 1993.

Levin, David Michael. Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision. University of California Press, 1993.

Levin, David Michael. The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation. Taylor & Francis, 1988.

Marmor, Michael F. The Artist’s Eyes: Vision and the History of Art. Abrams, 2009.

Mathieu, W.A. The Listening Book. Shambala, 1991.

Mathieu, W.A. The Musical Life. Shambala, 1994.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture of the Senses. John Wiley and Sons, 1996.


“Avastin Treatment for Eye Disease.” Macula Center.

Boyd, Kierstan. “What Is Macular Degeneration?.” American Academy of Ophthamology.

“Can Further Studies Lower the Cost of Preserving Vision?.” EurekAlert!

“Cancer Treatment Controls Macular Edema Related to Diabetes and to Cataract Surgery.” EurekAlert!

“Fears of Potentially Blinding Complication from Avastin Eye Injections Overblown, Says Penn Study.” EurekAlert!

Finger, Robert P., et al. “Fundus Autofluorescence in Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum.” Retina, The Journal of Retinal and Vitreous Diseases, 2009

Finger, Robert P., et al. “Long-Term Effectiveness of Intravitreal Bevacizumab for Choroidal Neovascularization Secondary to Angioid Streaks in Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum.” Retina, The Journal of Retinal and Vitreous Diseases, 2011.

“Lucentis Vs Avastin.” Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

“Macular Degeneration Insight Identifies Promising Drugs to Prevent Vision Loss.” EurekAlert!

Mukamal, Reena. “Avastin, Eylea and Lucentis–What’s the Difference?.” American Academy of Ophthamology.

Myung, Jane., et al. “Long-Term Outcomes of Intravitreal Antivascular Endothelial Growth Factor Therapy for the Management of Choroidal Neovascularization in Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum.” Retina, The Journal of Retinal and Vitreous Diseases, 2010

Pollack, Andrew. “Genentech Offers Secret Rebates for Eye Drug.” New York Times, 2010.

Thomas, Katie and Rachel Abrams. “Paid to Promote Eye Drug, and Prescribing It Widely.” New York Times, 2014.

Wong, Wai. Personal interview. 30 October 2016.

Wong, Wai. “PXE & the Eye.” PXE International.

Poked in the Eye: A Brief History

Anguish. Directed by Bigas Luna. International Spectrafilm, 1987.

Bataille, Georges. Story of the Eye. Penguin Books, 1928.

The Birds. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Universal Pictures, 1963.

Brothers Grimm. Grimms’ Fairy Tales. 1812.

Buxton, Richard. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Child Eater. Directed by Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen. Wheelhouse Creative, 2016.

A Clockwork Orange. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Polaris Productions, 1971.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” The Uncanny. Penguin Books, 1973.

Halloween II. Directed by Rick Rosenthal, Dino De Laurentiis Productions, 1981.

The Headless Eyes. Directed by Kent Baterman. Laviniaque Films, 1971.

Hoffman, ETA. “The Sandman” The Best Tales of Hoffman. Dover Publication, 1967.

Jesus' Son. Directed by Alison Maclean. Evenstar Films, 2000.

The Lobster. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Element Pictures, 2016.

May. Directed by Lucky McKee. 2 Loop Films, 2002.

Meruane, Lina; McDowell, Megan (translator). Seeing Red. Deep Vellum Publishing, 2016.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. 1605.

Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde. Oxford University Press, 1974.

Slumdog Millionaire. Directed by Danny Boyle. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008.

Un Chien Andalou. Directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, Les Grands Films Classiques, 1929.

Waking Life. Directed by Richard Linklater. Thousand Words, 2001.

Staring Contest

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present. Directed by Matthew Akers, Dakota Group, 2012.

Stigh, Daniela; Jackson, Zoë. “Marina Abramović: The Artist Speaks.” Inside/Out, 2010.

Staring into the Sun: A Brief History

Bates, William H. The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses. Henry Holt, 1943.

Huxley, Aldous. The Art of Seeing. Harper & Row, 1942.

"Obituary of William H. Bates." New York Times, 1931.

Rawstron, JA; Burley, CD; Elder, MJ. "A systematic review of the applicability and efficacy of eye exercises." Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 2005.

Staring Contest press (and out-of-book experiences)

Read a write-up of the collection on Powell's Books' "Books That Got Us Through 2023" year-end list.

Read a write-up on Willamette Week's "Best Books from Portland Authors" year-end list.

Read about the Staring Contest tour in the new issue of Basic Paper Airplane.

Listen to an interview about Staring Contest on the Jonesy radio show through KBOO Portland.

Listen to and read the book's annotated playlist through Largehearted Boy's Book Notes series.

Watch the Staring Contest multimedia group reading by tuning into Open Signal's Public Access stations, where it's in rotation.

Listen to an interview on The Lives of Writers podcast with guest host Jeff Alessandrelli.

Listen to my interview with poet Russell Brakefield (author of My Modest Blindness) on The Lives of Writers.

Read reviews of the book in the Chicago Reader and Willamette Week.

Read a long-form interview about the book with Lillie Gardner for Hippocampus Magazine.

Listen to an interview with Jenn Chavez on Oregon Public Broadcasting's Think Out Loud program.

Watch a virtual reading through the Quimby's Bookstore YouTube channel.

Listen to a reading and interview on the Low Profile podcast, recorded live from the Scherler Sundays summer concert series.

“At times unsettling, often tender, and always thoughtful, Staring Contest encourages readers to perceive with greater empathy and care."

Anca L. Szilágyi, Chicago Reader

"Joshua James Amberson is the best Portland writer you probably don't know about. His published output thus far has included many entertaining zines and a handful of engaging small press books. His newest book of essays offers not only a personal deep dive into his own vision diagnosis, but also features some thoughtful cultural criticism that is generous and wise. The vulnerability and wit of Staring Contest made me appreciate not only Amberson's singular voice, but the beauty and wonder of the world around me."

Kevin Sampsell, Powell's Books' year-end list