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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America Paperback – August 13, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Kiese Laymon and his debut novel LONG DIVISION:

"[How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America] is not intended to serve as "a woe-is-we narrative" about the difficulties of being black in America or the South...or even an attempt to illuminate the taboo-amongst-black-folk subject of mental health—although both serve as narrative threads in Laymon's writing. Rather, it's an exercise in recalling memories." —Jackson Free Press

"Funny, astute and searching.... The author's satirical instincts are excellent. He is also intimately attuned to the confusion of young black Americans who live under the shadow of a history that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves." —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"Don't miss Kiese Laymon's Long Division. One Mississippi town with two engaging stories in two very different decades. The sharp humor and deep humanity make this debut novel unforgettable." —Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC

"A novel within a novel—hilarious, moving and occasionally dizzying.... Laymon cleverly interweaves his narrative threads and connects characters in surprising and seemingly impossible ways. Laymon moves us dazzlingly (and sometimes bewilderingly) from 1964 to 1985 to 2013 and incorporates themes of prejudice, confusion and love rooted in an emphatically post-Katrina world." —Kirkus Reviews

"Laymon’s debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism.... the book elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political." —Booklist

“Smart, exciting and energetic...the language romps and roars along through some truly wonderful comic scenes and yet the book doesn’t hesitate to comment seriously on questions that matter to human beings everywhere, not just in rural Mississippi.” —Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine and Slapboxing with Jesus

“Laymon is a brilliant young writer...this is a book that sings in the heart but challenges readers to take careful consideration of the power of memory. Like the best of Hurston, Ellison, or Bambara, Laymon’s craft flows on frequencies that both honor and extend the traditions those writers established.” —William Henry Lewis, author of I Got Somebody in Staunton

"A little fantasy, a little mystery and a lot hilarious." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Long Division is one of those books that I picked up and just couldn’t stop reading...powerful, a classic American novel.... By far one of my favorite books." —Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop

"Kiese Laymon is an amazing, courageous and brave novelist and essayist.... Laymon fiercely tackles issues of prejudice, adolescence and love with a swagger and confidence all his own. You rarely find novels this honest and engaging. Read this book." —Michigan Quarterly Review

"Laymon’s voice is unique, a rarity in an era during which fiction tends all too often to chase trends.... At times touching, at times poignant, Laymon more than once strikes a beautiful chord in the midst of what often feels gritty and intentionally provocative. Those touching insights make Long Division worth the effort, and readers who stick with the story (stories, actually) will find themselves thinking about City and the people in his life long after they close the book." —Chicago Book Review

"A curious, enjoyable novel...take[s] relish in skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism..." —Publishers Weekly

“The racial/ethical awareness is as complex as Coetzee’s, and Laymon is just as good a writer. Laymon takes some real risks. I love the interplay of spirituality and sexuality. Nothing sounds forced, pandering or trendy. City, the husky citizen of the imagination, feels totally singular and totally representative. That’s tough to pull off.” —Tim Strode, author of Ethics of Exile

About the Author

Kiese Laymon was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College in 1998. He earned an MFA from Indiana University in 2003 and is now an associate professor at Vassar College.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Agate Bolden (August 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932841776
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932841770
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The publicist describes Kiese Laymon as a "black 21st-century Mark Twain," a curious sort of notion I was eager to test, and now, having read the book, am just as eager to reject. Laymon isn't some reconstituted version of a white man. Did the person who wrote this description even bother to read the book? Or was he just looking to strut some stuff, even stupid stuff, for the sake of a sale?

Laymon has a voice all his own. He's just now starting to hit his stride. Where this voice takes him, and us, is a long way from certain. I can say this much with confidence: He has my attention.

Some of the writing is obvious. Young men of color are born on parole. There may no longer be plantations, and Jim Crow is no longer the stated law of the land, but the color line still separates and divides: The white world can swing and miss on the road to maturity; young black men cannot. We still have zero tolerance when it comes to race. Say otherwise, and prove yourself to be a fool.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, is a collection of essays about music, race, rage, self-destruction and the discovery of voice. I liked most of what I read, even when it backed me into a corner white men don't like to face. Tucked away at the end of the fictive debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney moderated by Laymon are the following lines, spoken to Romney: "You? You were born rich. You will die rich. Help the country by teaching your people to be just and thoughtful losers.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The title of this book was the fist thing to catch my attention. After reading the synopsis and some well written reviews, I purchased the book at an incredibly reasonable price. I did not have high expectations, as I've read many books by unknown writers via Amazon kindle and I find many to be rather lacking in quality. However, after reading the first 20 pages or so I clearly saw Mr. Laymon's talent. He is quite eloquent at times. Often his imagery is excellent; however, there are times when it's a bit convoluted. I initially thought I was not his target audience (white, upper-middle class, highly educated, etc.). But I think everyone is his target audience. His world seems so far removed from the world I grew up in; yet, many of the truths seem universal. I know people who scoff at the notion that racism is still prominent in the U.S.; Mr. Laymon rips that falsehood open and lays it bare. He succeeds in showing how he, and those in his life, is not a victim but rather a player in a flawed system.

That being said there is something a bit off about the book. At times, the book has contradictions but he seems to say it is only because he is full of contractions (as we all are). This message is a bit lost at times. Additionally, the chapters are at time disjointed and could use a better transition. For that reason I gave the book four stars. I'm sure these problems will resolve themselves with experience. I will be watching for his next book because I am sure he has more to say and an excellent voice with which to say it. Well done!
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Extraordinary. Painful to read, but also more hopeful than the title would suggest. Laymon grapples with both an unjust world and the destructive impulses it's wrought in his character. Brutally honest and funny, too.
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I kept thinking even before opening the pages, having already read some of the essays on his blog titled Cold Drank, that it was a book I wanted and needed my not-so-adult younger brother to read- hoping it would serve as surrogate father-like wisdom that I believed the 22-year old who has had a series of screw ups, growing up the only boy in a house of women, needed. He recently announced the pregnancy of his girlfriend who I have never met and his pride at becoming a father. Kiese wrote something in one of these essays that struck me so strongly regarding the presence of men in a young black boys life- do women need and crave the presence of a strong male figure more than a young black boy needs it? The feminist in me screams "No, I'll be damned if I ever say that I'll ever need a man in my life." My mother, aunt, and grandmother did it for me- and I damn sure don't need it, though I thought I could understand why young boys need that presence... Not saying this made me realize that I needed a man in my life, but it made me open my eyes and drop my ego a few notches. I have come to a realization over the last few weeks that at the tender age of 28, I'm both too young and too old to be as unhappy as I have been in my life since graduating from undergrad some 6 years ago where I met and silently praised Kiese. So removed from him, I wondered if I just drank the Kool-Aid that everyone was serving him as opposed of really understanding him. I read half of the book of essays on my two-hour plane ride home from Seattle to San Francisco and fought back tears and realization that maybe I needed more from this book than my brother. We don't often see things from different perspectives, and I'm saying, I understand a little bit more than I did before reading. Thank you!
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