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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  2,568 ratings  ·  310 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, 146 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Agate Bolden (first published July 22nd 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
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Laymon's writing is so potent, so clear - the reader has to simply listen and bear witness. This collection of personal essays range from his childhood in Mississippi to the trials around getting his first novel, Long Division, published.

Laymon effectively uses personal stories to illustrate larger societal realities. In the title essay "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America", he traces the disciplinary action at his college (for not checking out a library book, yet subsequently ret
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this book of essays, which are a reflection on Laymon’s life, nothing is off limits. There are some essays that a broad audience can relate to but since his writing is so personal, there are many things that are not expressly stated. Several essays require some cultural awareness before you can digest them. Without it statements like,"We felt pride in knowing that the greatest producer alive was an uncle from Compton and the most anticipated emcee in the history of hip-hop was a lanky brother ...more
David Leonard
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Zachary F.
"I want to say that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really asks nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell, and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths, and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again."

I picked up this little book of essays because Laymon's recent memoir, Heavy, is being hailed as a masterpiece and I found the title of this o
Liz Matheny
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, ap-lang
You will be a better person and a better American once you have read this book.

I picked this up a few months ago at Busboys & Poets in DC. I always enjoy their selection because they cater to a racially and culturally diverse group of readers unlike any of the other bigger (albeit independent) bookstores in town.

Laymon's writing is crisp and smart. The only reason why this collection of essays (11 in total) took me so much time was because there was just so much to chew on and think about. From
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the Author's Note at the beginning of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon writes, "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 books as songs with multiple voices and layered musicality." This relatively brief (~150 pages) suite of essays does remind me of a hip-hop album like Jay-Z's Black Album or Kanye West's College Dropout, with an intro and outro, interpolation ...more
Emma Getz
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Nothing to add here except that it's a great reread, and I was prompted after Kiese reposted his essay from this book, "You are the Second Person," which is relevant to the online conversation happening right now about Black authors in publishing. Highly recommend this collection always

First review:

Beautiful and powerful collection of essays that I loved with all my heart. I was honestly moved to the point of tears with the level of self-reflection and self-actualization in these pieces. I also
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a book of essays and as such, there were some that intrigued me and some that lost me ("Hip Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy"). My favorite was his essay "Kanye West and HaLester Myers Are Better At Their Jobs". Kiese Laymon is a talented writer and essayist who has been discouraged and derided but persevered to get published. Some of his views are familiar as he stays close to the path of other young, Black male writers, and some are deliciously refreshing.
Traci at The Stacks
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Kiese Laymon is such a thoughtful and honest writer. He thinks about ideas and words in ways that complicate and intensify his arguments. That’s certainly true with this book. Some of the essays are about him some are about celebrities but they’re all deeply personal. Parts of this book haven’t aged so well, like the Kanye West essay. But it’s still a good essay it just feels icky now. This book is really good and though it’s clunky in spots, it helped me to understand how we got to HEAVY and al ...more
Rachel Smalter Hall
I am stunned by this collection of personal essays, and trying to figure out why I haven't been hearing more about it.

Kiese Laymon is a black writer who grew up in Mississippi, and here he excavates much of the pain he's endured throughout his life — an uncle's drug addiction and premature death, a racially charged incident that got him kicked out of college, police encounters with blackness as the only probable cause, working with a black editor who ultimately dropped him for being "too black,
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 floor
Charles Dee Mitchell
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 with them, run from them, emulate them, teach them, dodge them, and ultimately thank them for not being as fucked up as they could be.
(From "Our Kind of Ridiculous," page 52.)
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm trying to drink less coffee because my blood pressure is elevated. Uh, what does that have to do with anything, right? I'm kind of tired, "a bit bleary, worse for wear and tear" (name the song that line came from, Rolling Stone song, and win a prize). Shaking the cobwebs out of my head. I just went back to read my review of "Heavy" and I got teary. I got teary remembering reading the book and that yes, I felt I captured in that review just what the book meant to me.

There are a few things we
Jordan Barclay
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
You ever want to reach through the pages and give the author a hug for being such a fucking lovely human being?

I'll always have a special place in my heart for this collection of essays. Kiese gets painfully personal, even more so than Heavy.

The title essay moved me to tears, but other stories gave me a light-hearted chuckle. The topics in here range from Kanye West to Anti-Suicide, so these shifts in quality and tone can be a bit abrupt.

Also, there can be some inconsistencies through the lens o
Shirleen R
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
[Thoughts, a first response]
I've meant to read Kiese Laymon's collection since I saw his title essay on Gawker, then another viral essay on a racial incident at Vassar where he is a professor, and one about his visit home to Mississippi, and how he loved Ole Miss football while so at odds w campus climate and racist incidents. My preamble is to spotlight Kiese Laymon8s versatility. This collection delivers his nimble talent, working in multiple writing forms and voices.

The personal letter forma
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Damn.... this is another one of this book's full of painful truths we must keep our eyes open to seeing and internalizing.

One outrageous story is the author recounting a time and undercover (white) police officer taunted him & a friend in a fast food parking lot by calling them "n***** lovers" and driving away. The friends pursued and threw up obscene hand gestures and the cop slowed down to pull up behind and turned on blinking lights. He proceeded to pull them over, keeping a shotgun pointed
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Leland William
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kiese Laymon is killing it. In this collection of creatively structured essays centered around personal identity, Laymon's voice careens between the loose syntactical medley of his Mississippi youth and the deadly precision of a social critic who sees your argument and has already calculated how to burn your half-baked protest to the ground. Laymon masterfully negotiates juggling these styles with the presentation of disarmingly honest reflections about how he and his family fit into the larger ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Laura Wallace
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book actually irl made me both laugh and cry. Kiese Laymon is a national treasure and I am SO excited that he has a new memoir coming out in less than two weeks. the vulnerability he displays in this book is such a gift to his readers. his willingness to really let readers in on the process of his transformation as a writer and as a person is truly rare. what I mean is: read this book. read Long Division. buy his new book when it comes out. support writers who are out there doing the things ...more
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Joe T.
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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".
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Laymon's voice felt so familiar, tragic and hopeful. It's so great and honest. The humor was on point as well. I just want everyone to read it. Even when I wasn't completely with him, I still loved it. Really. I love this book.
Sidik Fofana
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
SIX WORD REVIEW: This guy is the next Ta-nehisi.
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books I have read in a while. Kiese Laymon has given the world something valuable and necessary, and I hope he never stops writing about those crucial truths.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is an absolute must read. I don't understand why it hasn't gotten more notice.
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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

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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.” 24 likes
“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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