Pain Studies

192 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $16.99
ISBN: 9781942658689


ISBN: 9781942658696

Share on Goodreads

“Lisa Olstein’s luminous meditation on pain winds around a beautifully curated series of artifacts. Bits of poetry, ancient medicine, brain science, television episodes, excerpts from the trial of Joan of Arc, and works of art support the spiderweb on which her insights hang like condensed mist. A fascinating, totally seductive read!”

Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays and On Immunity: An Inoculation

see more reviews hide reviews

“Lisa Olstein’s remarkable Pain Studies is a book built of brain and nerve and blood and heart, about what it means to live with pain. Irreverent and astute, synthesizing the personal and the historical, popular culture and poetry and visual art, Pain Studies will change how you think about living with a body in our beautiful and doomed world.”

Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck and Bowlaway

“These spectacular sentences chart a thrilling investigation into pain, language, and Lisa Olstein’s own exile from what Woolf called ‘the army of the upright.’ On a search path through art, science, poetry, and prime-time television, Olstein aims her knife-bright compassion at the very thing we’re all running from. Pain Studies is a masterpiece.”

Leni Zumas, author of The Listeners and Red Clocks

“Olstein succeeds marvelously when directly reflecting on her own pain and her attempts to treat it. An accomplished poet, she often uses language beautifully and inventively.”

New York Times Book Review

“In the spirit of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. . . . Think of Pain Studies as a kind of travel literature, a Gulliver’s Travels-like guidebook for those visiting the land of pain.”

Rain Taxi Review of Books

( link)

“[Olstein] lays down shimmering prose that subtly unhinges the reader, conveying what it’s like to see the world from a migraine’s point-of-view. . . . Pain Studies is all the more powerful because its content is echoed by its form. It builds in fragments and bursts of prose. Its colors are vivid and brilliant.”

Adroit Journal

( link)

“Deft, ingenious. . . . This is raw physicality in words. . . . Take the journey, read it. It’s brain, blood, pain, life, and death; poetry in prose, a book that must be read and lived.”

Lone Star Literary Life

( link)

Pain Studies is an excavation—no mere poking around!—of pain and transcends the restraints of either prose or poetic forms. . . . Olstein achieves a gorgeous mosaic . . . to produce remarkable work.”

Literary Review

( link)

“Unexpectedly bright and punchy. . . . [Olstein] drops the heavy mantles of pain writing and dips, like a swimmer, into the ways that pain infiltrates and orients a bodymind, into the ways that it arranges a life.”


( link)

“Like an artist’s drawings of a bird or a human hand, Olstein’s studies show us pain from dozens of angles so that we eventually see its whole shape.”


“Dazzling, puzzling, ornate, arcane, and deeply intelligent.”

Literature, Arts and Medicine Database

( link)

“Olstein is a poet, which is clear in the quality of her language. [Pain Studies] is rich, absorbing, and suggestive.”

Book Riot

( link)

“Grabs readers’ attention, even those without a history of chronic illness. . . . Its analysis spans multiple perspectives and includes Olstein’s sincere recollections, making this extended lyrical essay shine.”

Library Journal

“Fascinating. . . . [Pain Studies] succeeds in delivering an intriguing look at a set of questions with wide relevance.”

Publishers Weekly

“Erudite. . . . Olstein’s blending of the personal and the academic is compelling. . . . A quality addition to the literature on pain.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Thoughtful and thought-provoking.”

Midwest Book Review

( link)

“Olstein writes with eloquence and power. . . . To someone living with chronic pain, this book is pure catharsis, a warm voice in an endless tunnel of dark saying ‘I hear you. I understand you.’ To anyone else, this book is the first step toward empathy. Pain Studies must be read by all.”

Laura Graveline, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)

( link)

“[Olstein’s] words carve out fissures of understanding and deep, familiar meaning in what it means to have chronic pain—that there is meaning in it.”

Lindsey Moore, BookPeople (Austin, TX)

( link)

Pain Studies takes a good long look at how bodies (human ones) experience and manage the wide spectrum of pain and discomfort. . . . A very fun and fast-paced read.”

Nefertiti, Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA)

( link)

“Lisa Olstein offers readers an eclectic and deeply personal set of meditations on pain as experienced and remembered, inflicted and endured, perceived and denied. Through neuroscience, literature, and history, from hit TV shows to classical philosophy, this is a unique and fascinating contribution to the literature of pain in general, and migraine in particular.”

Katherine Foxhall, author of Migraine: A History

“In Pain Studies, Lisa Olstein paints a sharp-witted and insightful picture of the rollercoaster ride that is called pain. Her own experiences allow her to approach the topic in a way that provides relevant reading to anyone treating or living with chronic pain. As doctors, we need to find more effective ways to help patients dealing with pain. This book is a step in that direction.”

Jill Heytens, M.D., neurologist

“Like a prismatic series of artist’s sketches, Pain Studies offers a dazzling variety of perspectives—personal, political, phenomenological, lyrical—on the unanswerable question of human suffering. Through virtuosic readings of everything from pre-Socratic philosophy to the trial transcripts of Joan of Arc to the cultural semiotics of House M.D., Lisa Olstein brilliantly extends the literature of pain into our contemporary historical moment. But this searching work also illuminates how pain studies us. Turning the last page on Olstein’s agonistic anatomy, we’ve come to know one of hurt’s intimate acquaintances, unbroken by her suffering, or if broken in parts, then painstakingly remade.”

Srikanth Reddy, author of Voyager and Changing Subjects: Digressions in Modern American Poetry

In this extended lyric essay, a poet mines her lifelong experience with migraine to deliver a marvelously idiosyncratic cultural history of pain—how we experience, express, treat, and mistreat it. Her sources range from the trial of Joan of Arc to the essays of Virginia Woolf and Elaine Scarry to Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Gregory House on House M.D. As she engages with science, philosophy, visual art, rock lyrics, and field notes from her own medical adventures (both mainstream and alternative), she finds a way to express the often-indescribable experience of living with pain. Eschewing simple epiphanies, Olstein instead gives us a new language to contemplate and empathize with a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

This book was published with the support of a University of Texas at Austin Subvention Grant awarded by the Office of the President

Writers’ League of Texas Discovery Prize Winner

Big Other Book Award Finalist

Robert W. Hamilton Book Award Nominee

Mayor’s Book Club selection

Malvern Books “Favorite Books of the Year” selection

BookPeople “What We’re Reading” selection

Brazos Bookstore Staff Pick

Brookline Booksmith Staff Pick

Excerpt from Pain Studies

Watch Lisa Olstein in conversation about her brilliant lyric essay Pain Studies with Eula Biss in a Women & Children First virtual event and with Paul Lisicky on the VBC Rekindled program.

Listen to Lisa Olstein discuss Pain Studies on the State of Us podcast and read interviews with her about the book in Sightlines Magazine, New Delta Review, and Synapsis.

Lisa Olstein talks to Elizabeth McCracken about taking a poet’s approach to research and the eclectic sources informing Pain Studies at The Rumpus.

View the Pain Studies-inspired comic collaboration between Lisa Olstein and artist Lauren Haldeman at Poetry Northwest.

Read excerpts from Pain Studies at Post45 and the Literary Hub.