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Heavy: An American Memoir

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4.47  ·  Rating details ·  12,060 ratings  ·  1,931 reviews
In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.
Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both o
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Kindle Edition, 257 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Scribner
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Monic In my family, we often pronounce it "noun." I think Laymon defines it pretty well in the chapter where he and his mama notice her returned check at…moreIn my family, we often pronounce it "noun." I think Laymon defines it pretty well in the chapter where he and his mama notice her returned check at the grocery. It means "not one" or "not any" or "none."(less)

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Average rating 4.47  · 
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 ·  12,060 ratings  ·  1,931 reviews


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Roxane
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How do you carry the weight of being a black man in America? In electrifying, deliberate prose, Kiese Laymon tries to answer that question from the first page of Heavy: An American Memoir to the last. He writes about what it means to live in a heavy body, in all senses of that word. He writes of family, love, place, trauma, race, desire, grief, rage, addiction, and human weakness, and he does so relentlessly, without apology. To call the way Laymon lays himself bare an act of courageous grace is ...more
Diane S ☔
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
"I wanted to write a lie
I wanted that lie to be titillating.
I wrote that lie.
It was titillating.
You would have loved it.
I discovered nothing.
You would have loved it.
I started over and wrote what we hoped I'd forget."

So begins this letter, memoir that Laymon writes for and to his mother. Growing up in Jackson. Mississippi, to a brilliant and difficult to understand mother, he struggles to understand his place in the world, in his family. A hou
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Michael
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2018
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my my blog.

Following the author's life from his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, to his teaching position at Vassar College, Kiese Laymon's memoir considers what it means to grow up Black, male, and heavy in America. Laymon centers Heavy on his close bond with his single mother, and from that viewpoint he writes succinctly about body image, Blackness, masculinity, trauma, language, education, addiction, and so much more. T
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Hannah
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I find this memoir near impossible to review for a number of reasons:

the book was near impossible to read for me;
the book is brilliant;
the book is not written for me.

If you only take one thing from my review, let it be this: Kiese Laymon is utterly, utterly brilliant. On a simple sentence by sentence level his writing is absolutely stunning, it wrecked me in the perfection of his prose. But even more so, the structure of this memoir is impeccable and the wa
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Tucker
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last time I read a memoir as powerful and unforgettable as “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon was Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.” So it seems especially appropriate that she would be the one to write the cover blurb for Laymon’s book.
“Heavy is astonishing. Difficult. Intense. Layered. Wow. Just wow.”
Laymon’s sentences are each finely crafted gems. The deep dive he makes into his history, examining his relationships with his Mother and Grandmother, issues of obesity, anorexia, abuse, trauma, secrets, lies
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
I've struggled with this book - reading it, reviewing it - for a host of reasons. There has been a lot of discussion in Instagram about white people reading black memoirs and adding to the audience of suffering. I haven't participated in the discussion but I have been following it to a small extent.

On Friday, I went to a Beloved Community breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr., with 200 or so people from my community gathering together. The speaker was Wade Davis, an activist who is openly g
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Thomas
A brilliant and harrowing memoir about growing up black in America. In a roughly chronological fashion, Kiese Laymon details his coming of age in Mississippi, his college years, and his job as a professor at Vassar College. As a child, he dealt with physical/sexual abuse, and throughout his life he dealt with persistent racism that damaged his body and his relationships. With a consistent overarching focus on structural racism, Laymon hones in on two salient aspects of his life in Heavy: his complicat ...more
Jessica Woodbury
At the very beginning of HEAVY, Laymon writes, "I did not want to write to you. I wanted to write a lie." The "you" is Laymon's mother, and the book is, above all else, about the two of them, written with such openly bared love and fear that it feels like intruding on them to read it. Even the people you know best don't reveal themselves to you this way, and that is, perhaps, some of what Laymon is trying to correct for at least one reader.

The heaviness of the title is made manifest throughout
...more
Reggie
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heavy is a memoir that reads like the best novels. A work of art that warrants plenty discussion and begs for dissection. A book that is a force for radical honesty, sincerity and reckoning in society. Laymon knows that if society as a whole cannot deal with our personal histories with radical honesty & sincerity then the United States will continue to be the revolving door of denial that it's always been.

His freedom dream is imaginative, utopian, and so difficult to obtain that
...more
Darlene
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been attempting to write a review for this memoir, 'Heavy: An American Memoir' by Kiese Laymon for about a week. I can't explain why I've been having such a difficult time finding the words to describe this book and my feelings about it, especially since I consider it one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read. Initially, I read a print copy of this book... which I've filled with post-it notes to mark various passages I wanted to return to. After finishing the print copy, I immedia ...more
Rachel
This is one of the hardest reviews I've ever attempted to write. Probably because, as my friend Hannah so aptly put it in her own review, this book was not written for me. But that's what was so admirable about it. Kiese Laymon states clearly in the prologue to his memoir that he has no intention of writing a sanitized, palatable version of events; it's almost painful in its honesty but it's for this reason that I think this book is so crucial and necessary (especially for non-black readers).
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Dianne
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2019
“Heavy” is a……well, a very heavy memoir.

Kiese Laymon recounts his life growing up in a dysfunctional home as the heavyset black son of an exacting and troubled single mother in a Jackson, Mississippi. His mother is highly educated and demands excellence from her only son. She also has a heavy hand, and regularly beats Kiese when she feels he is not “striving for excellence, education and accountability when excellence, education and accountability were requirements for keeping the insides
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Monica **can't read fast enough**
Heavy is overwhelmingly honest, heart wrenching and written in a stunningly beautiful way. Kiese Laymon not only looks into the mirror and sees himself wholly, he reflects all of the ugly injustice and brutality of our culture. Both as American and as African Americans. The long held and brutal belief that as parents of black children you must beat your children and treat them almost cruelly just to keep them safe and enable them to make it to adulthood is devastating. The cruelty that we impose ...more
jo
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i read this in three days and i am a slow reader. i am a bit shell-shocked. i feel i've been thrown into the spin cycle of the washing machine i don't have and kept there for 72 hours. i also feel tremendously humbled. i cannot say anything about this book because i'm not black and i'm not american. but i'm trying to learn, and i hope to have learned at least a fraction of what kiese laymon is offering in this incredible memoir.
Lisa
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
[4+] Kiese Laymon writes about his experiences with such immediacy that I felt as if I knew him when he was 9, 10, 16, 18, 21, 30 etc. There is no distance, he is living it on the pages. He shares the heaviness of his complicated relationship with his mother, his body, the white world around him in a way both sorrowful and graceful. I hope there is more to come from him. The audiobook was powerfully read by the author.
Meike
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, usa
Now Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction - well-deserved!!
Kiese Laymon writes about his life growing up as a black man in Mississippi and how racism and violence result in lies and addiction - lies to oneself and all loved ones because the truth is too painfully overwhelming and the perceived feeling of defeat too shameful, addiction because it promises some degree of comfort (over-eating and drugs), control (starving), or freedom by surrender (gambling). Laymon's writing is dark, intense, poetic, angr
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Jamise // Spines & Vines
WOW, what a book! How do you call something so heartbreaking BRILLIANT? The writing is stunning, the vulernability on display is breathtaking and the delivery is masterful. There were times that I forgot I was reading a memoir because it reads like the perfect novel.

Kiese Laymon delves into many “heavy” topics -- the struggle of living life as a man in a black body, his weight, abuse, sex, racism, gambling, education, friendships & family dynamics. I don't think there was a topic that was n
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Michelle
"I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. I wrote this to you instead because I am your child, and you are mine. You are also my mother and I am your son. Please do not be mad at me, Mamma. I am just trying to put you where I bend. I am just trying to put us where we bend."


Mother's Response:These Are Your Memories

Typically when I read a memoir I am trying to see through the other person's e
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Brandice
I appreciate the raw honesty Kiese Laymon wrote with in Heavy: An American Memoir. This book is dark and intense, delving into difficult relationships Kiese has with family, with himself, and with others. Trauma and lies are rampant yet so is Kiese’s authenticity. His ability to rise above the challenging circumstances he is faced with time and time again was admirable. Heavy confirms Kiese’s clear talent as a writer.
Kathleen
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kiese Laymon knows the debilitating effects of being overweight, and the never-ending battle of diets and exercise to lose the extra pounds. But, for much of this memoir, he is a very heavy man. It causes him to be shy and insecure.

Then there is the heavy expectations his mother has for him to achieve excellence and a fine education. She insists that he read books—lots of books, and write about them. She beat him regularly when he fell short of her expectations. And he did fall short
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Kimberly Dawn
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love truth even if it hurts you.
- African proverb

Kiese Laymon will always carry with him some HEAVY burdens.

The brilliant, brutally honest account of the pain Kiese suffered by growing up black in Mississippi, and still suffers, being black in America.

His personal story is a part of the much larger story of racism in America.

You will wince and recoil as you feel Kiese’s pain. It will inform your thinking on a new level.

Dear white people in America, please read th
...more
Gabriella
WHAT IN THE WORLD. I am truly not (yet? ever?) ready to say anything smart about this one. Heavy is the sort of memoir that you don't feel "done" with, even after reaching the last page, and it strips away the notion that you will find words anywhere close to as precise as the author's.

For me, there are few books that get difficult, dependent parent-child relationships so RIGHT that every other paragraph has my jaw on the floor. I felt this way last year with A Place for Us, another book that is (
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Kate ☀️ Olson
This memoir via audio felt like I, as the listener, was absorbing punch after punch after punishing blow. No relenting. Laymon addresses his words to his mother, and speaks TO her. That means in my ears, I heard him addressing ME. I was the one who beat him as a child. I was the one who hurt him and was hurt by him.

As a white woman listening to this memoir, I was crawling in my skin and sitting with the realization that the majority of his pain is caused, whether directly or indirect
...more
Wendy Ortiz
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite books read this year.
Ava Butzu
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I have ever wanted so desperately to re-read a book as much as I want to re-read "Heavy." The author, Kiese Laymon, subtitled his book "An American Memoir," but it could just as easily have been sub-subtitled "A Writer's Memoir." But Laymon is not just any writer. He is a heroic wordsmith, an acrobatic stunter of syntax, a tenacious deep sea diver of emotion, a noble explorer of the dusty and horrifying paragraphs of his life.

I haven't re-read anything in over 25 years.
...more
Andre
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an aptly titled memoir because it is indeed heavy, not only speaking about his struggles with weight, but also heavy in the literary and impact sense. It is both heady and the words land with real impact on the reader. Kiese Laymon has given us a brutally honest look into his life and asks us, the readers to bear the weight of his experiences, and that is a challenging request but one well worth the payoff. And that recompense comes in the form of a piercingly written memoir that soars to h ...more
Aleatha
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been waiting on this book all year and it didn't disappoint.
Sarah
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just brilliant. If I was to write a full review of this it'd be jam-packed with all the superlatives. Just go and read it!
Luis
Dec 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't hate to be the skunk in this party where everyone seems to believe this is a great book. It is not! This is Ta nehisi coates 2.0. America is going through a period of victim-hood and self flagellation that will only result in the evisceration of the experiment that Abraham Lincoln called a government 'of the people, by the people and for the people.' Which goes back to a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin when he was asked what kind of government the founders had created: "A Republic ...more
Monica
Profound, raw, insightful!

4.5ish Stars

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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
“America seems filled with violent people who like causing people pain but hate when those people tell them that pain hurts.” 22 likes
“For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn't only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.” 19 likes
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