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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,386 ratings  ·  523 reviews
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America

For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to brea
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Hardcover, 307 pages
Published March 26th 2019 by Ecco
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Oriana
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2019
I've been a big fan of Damon Young since way before Very Smart Brothas got rolled into The Root, so I was bonkers excited for this book.

And I loved it, of course. I love his voice, I love the particular way he writes, full of meandering and often hilarious digressions, absurdist but totally on-point analogies, and long passages that start funny and shift slightly and slightly until before you know it he's holding forth with righteous anger. The book is full of lines like "Pittsburgh, a city so
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chantel nouseforaname
I really enjoyed this book because it felt like the definition of black boy joy and young, youthful, black curiosity.

I found every story relatable and possessing this kind of understated, but really powerful, silent respect for it's being put on paper. There's so much power in capturing BIPOC stories, even chill ones.

Nothing really crazy happens in this book, nothing too out of the ordinary (when it comes to life, love, birth and death), but we need all the coming of age and young adult storie
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Reggie
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Performance isn't something exclusive to your favorite artist or to some of your faves whom you follow on Social Media. No, performance is something that dominates all of our lives. Moving respectfully, staying out of trouble, filtering our speech, amongst other things. Simply put: Performance is ubiquitous.

A particular performance that has been held under the spotlight lately, for better or worse, is masculinity, Especially that of the heterosexual variety. If you are looking for a good example
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Traci at The Stacks
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Parts of this book are take your breath away emotional and good. Parts are a little too funny/silly for me. I loved getting to know Damon Young and reading his thoughts on the big WHYS of his life instead of the what’s that so often fill memoir. The second half of this book was more enjoyable for me. I appreciate this book and what it does though I was often annoyed because I felt the amount of cute humor took away from the gravity of the work. Though I have to admit I laughed sometimes.
Janet
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir in essays by the blogger known for Very Smart Brothas was very smart, very funny, keen-sighted, outraged, yet often self-deprecating and revealing on blackness at every level and scale,--family life, being broke, being a black man hoping to be loved by black women, being a black man trying to get ahead. The pressure of performing blackness and black male-ness and searching for his own authenticity within that pressure to perform, and how to think of and deal with society's all pervas ...more
Corvus
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading what he thinks about his writing on rape (basically he wouldn't want to deal with being called out again because it wasn't very fun, but he stands by his comments and just wished he was more articulate about them,) I did some reading (I hadn't heard about this controversy until this book.)

The worst things he said are left out of his book (as far as I noticed) such as suggesting we "educate women" not to drink too many shots on the "first, second, or third date..." lest they be rap
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Tiffany Tyler
I really wanted to like this book but there was an excessive use of the “n” word and the time jumping from one essay to the next was a tad too much which messed up the flow. Damon is a voice I truly enjoy reading but I think I’ll stick with his articles.
Ken
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'd never heard of Damon Young, and it wasn't until I was deep into the book that I learned he was a successful blogger back when blogging was young and still cool, writing something called VSB (which means "Very Smart Brothas," which still can be found online by adding dot com).

These essays meander off topic at times, but there's no denying they are often funny and entertaining and, especially for white readers who are cave smart but not street smart, revelatory. Getting the POV of someone wit
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Amy Bruestle
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I won this book through a giveaway in exchange for an honest review....

First off, I must say, Damon man, you are quite HILARIOUS! A+ as far as humor goes! The only down side to this book for me was that I felt like a few of the different chapters were just a bit drug out and repetitive. However, all in all, one of the best memoir style books I have read so far!
stacia
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I *loved* this book. I like memoirs that aren’t chronological or linear, so the decision to make this a collection of essays that read as reflective vignettes worked well for me. I also just like that, though this is a Black personal narrative that addresses trauma, the trauma isn’t the focus or the point. It’s part of the fabric of the Black experience but it isn’t the sum total of it and Young gets that in a way and allows himself the freedom to toggle between laughter and gravitas. He takes h ...more
Ruby
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir was not designed for a reader like me. There were so many cultural and basketball references I did not get or understand. And, at the same time, especially toward the end, the author's dissertations on racism and white supremacy should be required reading for everyone. ...more
Mehrsa
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the funniest memoirs I've read in a long time. I loved it. His section on Obama and the one about basketball at the end made me both laugh and cry.
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Jenna
Some funny parts, some sad parts, and way too much use of the "n" word (a total of 463 times - 91 for the -er ending and 372 for the -a ending). Also, what's with the gazillions of Pittsburgh references??? Streets, restaurants, Giant Eagle (grocery store for those of you who've never been to "the Burgh"), schools, newspapers, medical centers, Kennywood (an amusement park), etc etc etc. I lived in Pittsburgh so I know all the places he mentioned, but if it was a city I didn't know, I wouldn't hav ...more
Julie Christine
"So much of the national dialogue about race deals with either terrible trauma or black excellence," Young said. "I was more interested in the space in between, because that’s where I exist." Damon Young, in The New York Times, March 2019.

I love this, in all the ways that I love when writers examine those in-between spaces of theme, language, character, place. Reading this gave me the space to enter into a conversation with Damon Young while reading his raw, irreverent and fun-as-hell-to-read c
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Mark
This is, quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read -- not only because it so funny, so well crafted and so openly honest, but because it opened up a parallel universe for me, into the everyday experience of blackness in America that, in this case, is literally right next door to me.

Damon Young is a writer who expresses his wisdom at the site Verysmartbrothas.com in Pittsburgh. He also grew up in East Liberty, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where my church is located, where I shop, and whic
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Gemini
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-favorites
I’ve never read a book that touched me on such a personal level. Damon Young perfectly described the neighborhood that raised me. The neighborhood that I no longer recognize thanks to gentrification. Every restaurant & lounge that he mentioned was familiar. His funny stories about his best friend resonated with me because that’s exactly how I remember Brian from high school. I swooned when he talked about the book release party that sparked his relationship with his wife. I was at that party. Wh ...more
Melissa
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-review
Young uses the form of the essay to both tell his own story of growing up black in Pittsburgh AND write about the culture around him. He has a sharp turn of phrase and a dry humor that I really enjoyed. There is a lot to think about here, from ripping culture, to masculinity, to use of the N word in black culture, to his lack of an driver’s license and how that impacts employment, to his new identity as a parent. I really appreciated how he constructed the chapter about his mother’s illness and ...more
Aaron S
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dear Damon Young,
Thank you for writing this book. Early on you said you wanted to write something that you would’ve wanted to read. I hope this lived up to your expectations because it far exceeded mine. I listened to you on a panel at Los Angeles Time Festival of Books and thought it was easily one of the top three panels/discussions I’ve ever heard at that event. The book was excellently crafted with exceptional diction and topic arrangement. I will and have recommended this to many people a
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Rupa
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On a scale from 1 to Queen Latifah’s cover of “I Put a Spell On You”, how cool did I feel reading a galley of this memoir on the subway? Pretty damn cool. This book was such an absolute pleasure to stumble upon. I wasn’t familiar with VerySmartBrothas.com but Young’s writing in this collection of essays is so incisive, so honest, so full of love, and so goddamn hilarious that I know I’ve been missing out. The fact that any discourse about race in this country so often has to be cloaked in humor ...more
Andre
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Damon Young provides the reader a look at the peculiarities of the Blackness from a Black male perspective with a mix of honesty, hubris and humor. Certainly, these essays will resonate with those in the tribe. But, the prose is inviting enough to pull in any reader interested in the lives lived from the edge. Damon names the introduction, Living While Black Is An Extreme Sport and writes,

“This hypercognizance of both my blackness and what the possession of blackness in America is supposed to me
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Colin
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I am white, I am male. I am glad I read this book. I had hoped to learn more about life in America as a young African American. I would say about 15% of his stories are unequivocally uniquely from this experience - the rest is just the human condition. I worry that the ossified boundaries between our communities leaves us convinced that our human experience is unique and the "other" is simply not human and cannot understand. I will always strive to understand, but it can be enervatin ...more
Kimberley
***3.5 STARS***

I was excited to read Damon Young's book. As one who's familiar with the work he's done via Very Smart Brothas, I was interested to learn more about him. However, this read less like a memoir than a collection of anecdotes--told in no particular sequence--which seemingly span the entirety of his life, from the time he was a boy, to now.

If you're familiar with Young's style of writing--lots of satire, colorful language, regular use of the "n" word and heavy on the tongue-in-cheek--
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Aqura (engineersreadtoo)
I am a sucker for memoirs so I thought I would fly through this one, but that wasn’t the case. All in all, I feel neutral about it. There were a few essays that I enjoyed, specifically the two dedicated to his mother and daughter. Other chapters I thought were somewhat longer than necessary to get the point across, but I think that’s just Damon Young’s style and I respect that. He is brutally honest, sharing his failures, fears, and vulnerabilities while being unapologetically Black; and that is ...more
Amy | Foxy Blogs
WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU MAKES YOU BLACKER is a memoir in essays. Damon Young shares his experiences as a black man in the United States.

I came upon this book when I was looking through the library catalog. I looked it up and saw it on the NPR site.

One thing a reader should know before going into this book - the n-word is used a lot.

Audiobook source: Library/Overdrive
Narrator: Damon Young
Length: 8H 11M
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Punk
Nov 25, 2019 rated it liked it
The essays in this book stand alone, but also come together nicely as a memoir. You really feel like you're getting to know Young the more you read.

The book is written with non-black people in mind, but not always—this isn't a criticism, just an observation about the diversity of the audience Young is addressing and how he deliberately includes and excludes through his writing. The essays cover basic straight male anxieties: basketball, girlfriends, getting into fights, not being mistaken for g
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Jared Gulian
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Until we are able to download someone else’s consciousness into our brain in order to fully understand how the world looks from their perspective, I will continue to read memoirs from people with very different life experiences from my own. These essays are smart and insightful and sometimes funny. They opened up my brain in new ways to what it’s like to be a black American.

I was bothered by the overabundance of the N-word and the F-word, but Young wasn’t writing to please people bothered by th
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Jenny Shank
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
from https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/5...

Damon Young is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas, a senior editor at The Root, and a writer of great wit and acumen who tells the story of growing up black and male in Pittsburgh with incredible verve. He wrote this book, he explains, “to examine and discover the whys of my life instead of continuing to allow the whats to dominate and fog my memories.” Why did he wait until age 26 to earn a driver’s license? Why did his mother die
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Ebony Rose
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this far more than I expected (mostly because I had NO idea who this author was before hearing him on an episode of the Death, Sex and Money podcast with Kiese Laymon, which was recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Camille!!)). So I went into it sort of blind, but this was a fantastic reading experience for me.

A laugh-out-loud-funny memoir that displays an immense (and sometimes shocking) level of honesty, accountability, wit and keen observations about blackness and the world, Damon
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Laura Hoffman Brauman
Young takes an unflinching look at America and race in this collection of essays/memoir. It's thought provoking and moving, and he is exceptionally good at using humor to make a point. I laughed out loud more than once and then stopped and thought, yeah - I hadn't thought about it that way before. In addition to the exploration and discussion on race, I also thought the sections on gender as performative were really interesting, in particular the idea of what you do or how you act specifically t ...more
Max G.
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a longtime VSB reader, I went into this book feeling like I knew Damon, and I got everything I expected; the pithy observations and wry humour that make his writing so distinctive and enjoyable.

But what I didn’t expect was the feeling that Damon knew ME that I got from this book. As he might say, there’s some deeply insightful sh!t in this book that brought clarity to some of my own experiences; both as a Black person in a white world and as a slightly awkward perpetual over thinker.

In short
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Pittsburgh native Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas (VSB) and a professional Black person. He enjoys selfies with his infant daughter, getting hurt playing pick-up basketball, and unsolicited pancake dinners. He can be reached at @verysmartbros or damon@verysmartbrothas.com

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“It’s just too fucking much to always have to be angry and alert. To always have to be ready and willing to challenge whiteness. To always have a perfectly pithy tweet or a thousand-word screed ready in response to the next Trayvon Martin, the newest Sandra Bland, and the latest Eric Garner, and to feel all the same feelings again. And again. And again. I just wanted a fucking break.” 4 likes
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