Joshua James Amberson, Staring Contest (Perfect Day Publishing)

Cover artJoshua James Amberson is the author of the new essay collection Staring Contest: Essays About Eyes (Perfect Day Publishing, 2023). The essay “Contact: A Catalog” originally appeared in our Stranged Writing anthology, and the essay “The Noblest of the Senses: A Catalog” originally appeared in our Baring the Device column.

About Staring Contest:

As a child, Joshua James Amberson was diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum, a rare genetic condition that may eventually lead to sightlessness. “In my own mild way,” his book opens, “I like to obsess,” and what follows is a relentlessly curious series of detours through oft-ignored aspects of vision and vision loss. Deftly weaving together such disparate subjects as Bette Davis’s career, the daily challenges of eye contact, and his own decade-long saga of periodic eye injections, Amberson digs deeply into the physical and existential consequences of living with such uncertainty. Staring Contest is wise, generous, and—given the subject matter—surprisingly funny.


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