Last week I spent a good amount of time reading after a forced retreat from social media. After Day 2 of not going online
feeding my addiction, I decided I needed something else to read if I couldn’t endlessly scroll the timelines of Black Twitter. What better way to do that than to read a book that had been on my list for a while? So I downloaded Kiese Laymon’s How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America.
Now, just a little background: Kiese Laymon also had another book, Long Division, that was released earlier this year. It was a book of fiction that I had the opportunity to read and had lots of thoughts and opinions on. It was hilarious, it was crazy, it was thoughtful, it was…a lot to process. And I don’t think I realized that having so many conflicting thoughts and feelings about Long Division was ok until I read this passage from “You Are Second Person”:
Well damn, lol. Just for context, this is a quote from Laymon’s book agent, basically shitting on his dreams of putting out the type of book that was in his heart. I recognized myself as the bougie black woman who loved plot-defined prose about professional hijinks. But I also recognized the writer in me that empathized with not wanting to change your story for anyone, not even a black-dude-bro-book agent who acts like he is doing you a favor by shitting on your vision. This line alone made me go back and challenge the way that I read Long Division, and throughout “How To Kill Yourself” I slowly began to see how the concepts Laymon explores in his non-fiction and the fiction fit together.
In my opinion “How To Slowly Kill Yourself” tackles issues like race, class, and sexism particularly well in the essays “The Worst of White Folks”, “How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America”, and “Kanye West and HaLester Myers are Better at Their Jobs…”. Reading “Hip Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy” validated how I felt about hip-hop’s identity owing some level of respect and gratitude to Southern artists. Reading “You Are Second Person” was a peek into what I might be getting myself into if I decide to go the mainstream publishing route. “Echo: Mychal, Darnell, Kiese, Kai, and Marlon” offered up insightful and varied perspectives on life as a black man in America. This book, as Laymon likes to say, “reckons with” a lot of issues that young people of color are dealing with every day and I appreciated it.
Anyway, I really dug the book. It’s funny, it’s smart, and it’s real. I think you’d dig it too. Check it out.