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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

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4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  407 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and powerful new voices in American writing. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a collection of his essays, touching on subjects ranging from family, race, violence, and celebrity to music, writing, and coming of age in Mississippi. In this collection, Laymon deals in depth with his own ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Agate Bolden (first published January 1st 2013)
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Joshunda Sanders
I'm not sure that America has another writer like Kiese, so I hope that folks will pay attention. I will admit to bias since I've been writing about and reading his work closely now for several months.
I love how much hip hop is central to this narrative, not just through a lens of nostalgia, but also through a black male feminist or womanist lens which I feel like I've waited all my life to read from a black man in the 21st Century.
As a student of Kiese's work, I remembered reading the title e
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David Leonard
Kiese Laymon is a gem. His prose, his humor, and the brilliance in analysis are all reasons for his place at the top of the writing game. This book is amazing from start to finish. The title, which captures so much about life and death, race and racism, agency and unfreedom, and the perpetuate state of living/dying, is powerful. In just a few words, Kiese defines the importance of race, gender, and class, as it relates to life and death. It also encapsulates the level of vulnerability he shows w ...more
Nakia
These essays made me laugh, cry, grimace, think, feel, and learn. Our country, communities, families are often dissected through writing, but very rarely do we have young, open-minded Black male voices raised by southern grandmothers, struggling mothers, and hip hop give it to us this real. I picked this one up from the library, but I'll be purchasing it to add it to my own shelves permanently.
Pol
A collection of essays on Blackness in 20th/21st Century America. The piece on his grandfather's perceived failings had me laughing on the subway. The reflected letters from gay and trans men made me angry at the world. His reflections on the loss of cultural heroes (Bernie Mac, Tupac, Michael Jackson) made me sad.

It's a perennial form, the blues as book. Black pain, black anger, black grief & joy, served as a cold dish. I'd read the opening essay online and as a result the book sat on my fl
...more
Emily Meeks
Reading "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America," admiring Kiese Laymon's genius, I marveled, "Laymon is the next Richard Wright." Finishing it, I caught myself: "no, not Richard Wright...Kiese Laymon is the next Kiese Laymon: a canon-ready stand alone." Do note, however, that the similarities between Wright and Laymon are undeniable. Both are Mississippi-born, voracious autodidacts, brilliant thinkers, eminently readable, scarily clever social commentators. Listen to Jay-Z, Kanye Wes ...more
Fryeday
I really enjoyed how raw this book felt. His writing style seemed unconventional in lots of ways, but in a seasoned "I write a lot so I can make my own rules" kind of way, which I
LOVED.
It definitely made me think a lot about the words we could say to those we love that we don't and how we could possibly make a difference with people just by telling them what we want from them, for them, how they could change our lives. It hit home because I know at times I myself have wanted to be better for ot
...more
P.E.
Dec 21, 2014 P.E. added it
I enjoy Kiese Laymon's writing, and I will definitely recommend this book to several friends. In being honest, I have to admit that I lacked a lot of the context necessary for a book like this.

See, although my dad liked Michael Jackson, art and culture was never a part of my upbringing which means that I really have no clue about pop culture older than me, and that's exactly what there was a lot of: Laymon writing about his past and certain rappers and comedians and musicians and I guess I could
...more
Alise
Kiese Laymon's voice is so, for lack of a better word, real. I hate to use such a trite word to describe him, but his writing, his vulnerability, his sight just rings true. He puts himself and his experiences out there on the table and doesn't try to sugarcoat or gloss over the things that truly matter. This collection was insightful, in-your-face, and full of heart.
Megan
"...one of the responsibilities of American writers is to broaden the confines, sensibilities, and generative capacity of American literature by broadening the audience to whom we write, and hoping that broadened audience writes back with brutal imagination, magic, and brilliance.

Echo."
Brilliant stuff about being fucked up in a fucked up country, but it circles again and again on love, self-love, radical love, urgent love, necessary love, and what forms that might take.
Tara Jay
Pretty close to perfect and invaluable in many ways. "The Worst of White Folks," the title essay, and "Our Kind of Ridiculous" hit me the hardest and taught me the most. Laymon does occasionally step into some typical male feminist pitfalls, but this writing is leagues better than pretty much anything I've read by men that might be characterized as feminist. I appreciated that he had the courage to explore the ways that he's used feminism shallowly and selfishly, and that he was able to write ab ...more
Joe T.
With a good analysis of race in America that produces this "slow death" Laymon is a modern day extension of great essayist James Baldwin but remixed for the hip hop generation. At times you laugh and others you feel heartbreak that America in the 21st century is still teaching It's citizens how to carry out the "slow death".
Maura
This aggregation of writing is a thing of integrity. It is as honest and loving an attempt as I have ever read of an artist and human being taking accountability for himself and the way he has moved and moves in the world. I very much appreciated the format - the use of contributed words, letters of sustenance from family in work and life; the weaving/situation of narration of events and memory with/amid broader personal and social themes. In one of the essays Laymon writes (I'm paraphrasing) of ...more
Tabitha
Can I give this book six stars? I would like to give it six stars. Imagine there's a extra star up there, please.

This is not to say Laymon's book is the best written book I've ever read. BUT (and this is coming from someone that reads a lot), I think it is one of the most important and meaningful books I've read in a while. The book is essays on race and racial awareness, privilege and awareness of that privilege. It's a hard read. Hard in that why that the best books are; they step on your toe
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Faith
I have no adequate words to capture my feelings about this book. The form, which includes the writings of family and friends as "echo" to his own writing, is where it's at - he models a form of interconnectedness that is deeply inspirational. And the content is deeply moving and honest, unique and universal. Seriously, I can't do it justice, just read it.
Andre
I definitely think Kiese Laymon is a writer to watch and pay attention to. This book along with his novel, Long Division has ushered him to the literary spotlight. How to Slowly Kill reads like part memoir, part confessional and satirical essay. There are some laugh out loud moments alongside some hard truths.

He writes with passion, and proves that writing is indeed fighting. He is courageous enough to fight for his vision and his words. He wants his voice to echo, to make a difference in the c
...more
Alexandra Grabbe
Dec 24, 2014 Alexandra Grabbe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Alexandra by: Read his recent essay in Gawker and wanted to read more of his work.
Every white American should read this book to better understand what it is like to be black in America today. Kiese Laymon is a powerful writer, and he writes about the reality of being a black man with an honestly so sharp it hurts. Although he uses a lot of slang, he uses words masterfully and they help us make sense of the absurd. Raw, funny, poignant – these essays feel like a cry of desperation. While I couldn’t understand all the references to black comedians and rappers, that didn’t matte ...more
Arno
I remember reading the title essay of this book on Gawker and feeling that it was one of the best pieces of writing I had read in a long time, and possibly the best essay I had ever read on being black in America today. What made that essay, and many of the others in the book, so powerful is their brutal honesty. Laymon illustrates the vicious, as well as the less vicious, racism that is pervasive in much of America. But the stories he tells are not polemics but autobiographical accounts of a yo ...more
Nicholas Lapp
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Todd Johnson
One of the things this collection of essays convinced me of is that publicly appreciating it and works like it is a half-assed self-satisfying dodge that I use to stand in for doing anything useful. So there's that.
Quaam
4.5 stars. Goodreads really need to sort out the half a star system! I loved the essays in this collection, so honest and open, funny and thought provoking. I can't wait to read more from him.
Kawai
It's an important book of essays, and Laymon's voice--that of a black man from Mississippi growing up and out in the shadow of an ignorant, privileged, and often oppressive America--deserves to be heard. He has insight into his particular situation that also gives insight into the greater problems of race relations in America, and his ability to mix the 'high' English one might find in a college classroom with the slick slang of the south is a welcome relief to the stuffier prose often found in ...more
Miss
about a year ago i read virginia woolf's a room of one's own. it was the kind of book that i wanted to talk out and argue with others, the ideal book club read. i feel similarly about kiese laymon's how to slowly kill yourself and other in america

at the same time i kind of want to keep it to myself and process for like a month before sharing it. his essays are all really personal empathetic narratives and i feel like if i gave it to someone and they started criticizing i'd have the same defensiv
...more
Sorayya Khan
The title essay of this collection is stunning. I had read it previously a few times, but it just gets better with each reading. Writing is an act of courage, but Laymon's writing is far more brave than anything I've read in a long time. In his author's note, he says: "Still, I wanted to produce a book with a Mississippi blues and gospel ethos. And I wanted to shape the book in the form of some of my favorite albums. I thought of the essays as tracks. I thought of some of the pieces in the book ...more
Daniel
“I never wanted to be, a shiftless paroled "nigger "worthy of only hallow awe or rabid disgust, a smiling "nigger" who fought a few good rounds before getting his ass whupped by white supremacy and quaint multiculturalism.” [Pg.19]

“I wish we could have waited in the awkward acceptance that we are neither African nor conventionally American; neither subhuman nor superhuman; neither tragic nor comic; neither defeated nor victorious.” [Pg.20]

“Never been allowed to just be victims. There rarely eve
...more
Lawrence
"My insides bruise easily and I'm prone to addictive tendencies when my heart hurts, just like you. I have looked fleshy, complicated love in the face and convinced myself I wasn't worthy of love or loving. I have lied. I have cheated. I have failed and I have maimed myself and other close to me. But I believe in transformation, and for the first time in my life, I really get how transformation is impossible without honest acceptance of who you are, whence you came, what you do in the dark, and ...more
Toph
Rarely do I read something that hits me in the heart or in the gut. This collection succeeded at doing both. Effortless storytelling, biting insight, sprinkled with strikingly honest self reflection, and just the right amount of sardonic humor. I LIKE a lot of books. This is one of the few I absolutely love.

I only gave it four stars because it's difficult for me to give a book 5 anymore, and there's no 4.5 option.

Read it. Now.
Mary
If white American entitlement meant anything, it meant that no matter how patronizing, unashamed, deliberate, unintentional, poor, rich, rural, urban, ignorant, and destructive white Americans were, black Americans were still encouraged to work for them, write to them, listen to them, talk to them, run from them, emulate them, teach them, dodge them, and ultimately thank them for not being as fucked up as they could be.
Erin
Quite simply, I thought this book was amazing. Laymon writes with such clarity and purpose that I often found myself drawing in a deep breath like I had forgotten to breathe or had taken a punch to the gut while I was working through it. The breadth of this book is impressive, especially given the short length; Laymon wastes no words. And he's definitely not wasting writing's time.
Jetaime
It's been awhile since I underlined and took margin notes on a non-academic novel. Kiese makes exploration of grey subject areas adventurous--teaching and entertaining in an unmistakably authentic way. I remember reading How To Slowly..on Gawker a year or so ago and sharing the article with a person I had not spoken to in years. His writing style was fresh and shook the ground beneath me in a way that forced me to take action in the best way I could--even if it was as a small gesture. I hoped wi ...more
Paul
This collection of thoughtful, often humorous, semi-autobiographical essays about being black in America provides an informative and sometimes inspirational read. Although the author states that he wrote the book intending it to be written in one setting, I recommend against it. Read each essay, and then stop to think about it. Let it sit for a hour or two, or maybe a whole day. Give it time to gel before moving on to the next one.

Having said that, my only gripe about the book is its length - mo
...more
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Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division in June 2013 and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America in August 2013. Laymon is ...more
More about Kiese Laymon...
Long Division # 2 My Name Is City

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“I lie in a bathtub of cold water, still sweating and singing love songs to myself. I put the gun to my head and cock it.

I think of my Grandma and remember that old feeling of being so in love that nothing matters except seeing and being seen by her. I drop the gun to my chest. I'm so sad and I can't really see a way out of what I'm feeling but I'm leaning on memory for help. Faster. Slower. I think I want to hurt myself more than I'm already hurting. I'm not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill ourselves and others close to us in America.”
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“Not so deep down, we all know that safety is an illusion, that only character melds us together. That’s why most of us do everything we can (healthy and unhealthy) to ward off that real feeling of standing alone so close to the edge of the world.” 4 likes
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