How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays by Kiese Laymon

ecruikshank's review

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At some point four or five years ago, I read the first edition of HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA. I can’t find that copy now, so I haven’t been able to compare the two editions meaningfully. I was moved by Laymon’s story of buying back his essays so he could republish the collection as he envisioned it. It was especially poignant in light of recent conversations about racism in the publishing industry to hear of a Black creator being obligated to purchase, at a steep price, his right to his own words.

This is a layered collection covering a range of topics, from the early COVID response to Ole Miss football culture to OutKast to the constraints imposed on Black writers. Laymon writes beautifully about his complicated and textured relationship with his home, Mississippi; his generous friendships with other Black men; and his loving dynamic with his Grandmama. He keenly observes the impossible expectations of responsibility and respectability imposed on Black men and the dire penalties for failure to conform. The essays focus on Laymon’s experiences but make clear how those experiences were shaped by geographical and cultural context.

I found the collection uneven: Some essays had sharp direction and insight and lyrical prose, while others were more elliptical and didn’t seem entirely clear on what Laymon wanted to convey. At times when I thought Laymon was going to dive into a tough topic—what he meant when he said he was slowly killing others, and particularly his allusions to his own toxicity in romantic relationships—he backed off, switched subjects, or kept the discussion vague. The reverse chronological structure was compelling but made some essays hard to track: I didn’t have context for where we were in his story or understand his references to his own experiences, some of which were explained in more detail only later in the book.

I am glad to have read this book and think Laymon is a gifted critic and storyteller. Since I might have appreciated this book more if I knew more about Laymon’s life, I am hoping to read his acclaimed memoir HEAVY soon.

enbyhamlet's review against another edition

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buer's review against another edition

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This is one of those rare books that dares to admit that it isn't written for everyone. Anyone can read it, of course, but not every chapter is going to speak to everyone with the power that it will to some.

Mostly, this book is written for African American males, a group to which I do not belong, and can put up no pretense of truly understanding, much as I would like to.

Laymon is a gifted writer and this collection of essays is deeply personal, introspective, and critical. He criticizes even as he embraces popular black icons, politicians, himself and his family members. His sharp observations force his readers to do the same, simultaneously embracing and pushing away the cultural and familial forces that shape American lives.

Laymon discusses being a man, having dark skin, being an American, hip-hop, comedy, how hip-hop and comedy inform gender relations in African American culture, cultural differences, police bias, the industrial prison complex, family, friends, alcoholism, drugs, friends, self-acceptance, being a writer, and so much more.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is sad, funny, intelligent, personal, and inspiring.

I cannot suggest these essays strongly enough. Not all of them are meant for everyone, but I think (I hope) that it's okay to stand at the periphery of someone else's experience and get an idea of what they go through. There will be moments of overlap, because we're all human, and there will be gaps in experience that are just as, if not more, important to give space to breathe.

cangell's review against another edition

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challenging dark emotional inspiring reflective fast-paced


This frank, powerful essay collection explores the complexities of family, love, art, Southern Black identity, and what it means to be a Black artist in America. The book is poignant, heartbreaking, and often deeply funny. Kiese’s unwavering determination to tell his story in the face of staggering obstacles is genuinely inspiring and made me appreciate his words even more. It’s a quick read and my only complaint was that some essays felt too abbreviated and I wanted more! Looking forward to reading more of his work. 

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moka_b's review

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I was reading this for class and prof decided to quit halfway. Intended to finish it but got busy and had to return to library.

phantommilkshake's review against another edition

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dark emotional inspiring reflective medium-paced


jaimebz's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging dark emotional funny hopeful informative inspiring reflective sad fast-paced


hsienhsien27's review against another edition

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So I actually got this by accident? I got a credit from Audible and I thought that I would get this book for free because that's what happens when you try it out in Audible free trials. So I thought that credits were free books, but turns out after you trial ends, credits are discounts. I got this for $19 and you know what? It's totally worth it.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a long title and the audiobook is like 7-9 hours? It is narrated by a guy named Kevin Free. It's a collection of essays on being African American. It is about the journey of being Black in America, the suffering, and how it slowly kills you mentally and physically. African Americans have the highest rates of depression, diagnosed or undiagnosed. And I gotta say, this is a real powerful collection. I loved it. Especially the first essay. The whole collection itself, despite the title, has a warm heart and Kevin Free really knew how to read Laymon's words and channel every ounce of emotion into it, and he just has a nice clear voice.

Ranging in topics from pain to writing to Hip-hop, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America has little something for everyone. He covers the relationships between Black Men and Black Women, how Black women are often unheard and ignored, and how Black men silence them. There's one essay that consists of letters from various marginalized people in the Black community who are also unheard, LGBTQIA, disabled, those who feel unloved, those who feel they aren't "Black enough".

There's at least two or three essays about hip-hop and how it defines and forms our culture and reveals some of the nasty sides of our culture (such as misogyny, homophobia, etc) Although, I will admit I grew up listening to more Motown and salsa music, so I don't relate much to the hip-hop essays, like I know the hits, but not enough to know it all, especially since it's not my generation. I was born 1995, that's halfway through, I'm not going to pretend that I remember the 90s like most 1995 kids.

One interesting essay was on the trials and obstacles he had to go through during the writing of [b:Long Division|16129174|Long Division|Kiese Laymon||21954114] which I would like to get one day. The essay brings up the conflict with Black writers where they are rejected for writing about Black pain and being "too political," but at the same time are expected to due to the racist publishing industry's creepy curiosity for it. So Laymon says screw it, and lets himself write whatever. Based on what I've read in reviews Long Division seems to be a magical realist or Sci-Fi, African American Southern Goth tome and is compared to James Baldwin, Mark Twain, and Alice Walker. As you already know he finally does get it published.

The whole concept for this collection is living and surviving, recognizing pain and moving on. That's kind of how I feel about this. There's so much to point down that I don't even know how to write it out. And I always say to myself that a good book usually leaves me flabbergasted anyway. I also don't read much non-fiction, but this is a non-fic fave. I would totally read more Laymon. Like this was so wonderful and intimate.

ohainesva's review against another edition

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There were definitely some parts where you can tell that it was written in 2013 (Obama will do great things once he is out of office, Michael Jackson stuff, the bit where he signed the prologue "Kiese Laymon, 2013"), but overall I really liked this.

rkaye's review against another edition

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challenging hopeful reflective medium-paced