book review: Heavy by Kiese Laymon



Scribner, 2018


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).

Heavy is Laymon’s visceral and fearless attempt at reckoning with a number of issues that have plagued him his entire life – his relationship with his mother whose uncompromising expectations for her son often resulted in abuse, his fraught relationship with his own body, addiction, trauma, poverty, education, masculinity, and ultimately what it means to be black in America. The honesty and nuance with which he examines anecdotes from his childhood, even more than the anecdotes themselves, make this an unforgettable read.

(4 stars instead of 5 because ratings are subjective and I never ever end up connecting with audiobooks as well as when I’m reading printed text, which isn’t to say that Kiese Laymon did a bad job with the narration – on the contrary he was a joy to listen to – but I’m just not an auditory person. Anyway, this was brilliant.)

11 thoughts on “book review: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

  1. So well said! I know what you mean, something like this can be difficult to review when the topics are so painful. I’m interested in the way it sounds like he examines them, it seems like an important experience to know about and try to understand, especially if the author dissects it so well themselves.
    (P.S. I can’t connect with audiobooks either and I’m glad I’m not alone there, it seems like they’re booming in popularity lately and I feel kinda left out!)

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    • Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this if you pick it up! It’s such a difficult and intense read but so important, and I thought Laymon did an amazing job of bringing nuance to the subjects he was examining.

      Ugh, YES, I feel your pain!!! When I’m picking out audiobooks from Overdrive I actually go out of my way to find books that I think I’m going to like but not love, because audio is just not the format that makes me fall in love with books. So maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when I don’t end up loving them…? But I also feel like I’ve given the format an honest try enough times to know that it’s just not for me. I still reach for audiobooks now and again while I’m doing boring data entry stuff at work, but it takes me ages to get through them. I feel left out too!!

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      • I think we must be more visual learners than auditory and that has some influence on it. It drives me crazy when I’m listening to something (usually podcasts) and I can’t picture how a name or a place is spelled. I can barely go on without looking it up 😂 And I can’t pay attention to something I’m listening to the same way as with a physical book. I listen to podcasts when I’m doing mindless work too and I miss out on bits of them all the time when my mind wanders, but it doesn’t bother me as much for some reason. With a book it’s unbearable! And I hear you, I feel like I’ve given audiobooks enough of a try and it’s just not for me…I did an Audible trial recently and even listening to the sample clips was like ugh, NO. I’m sorry you have the same disappointment with them but I was actually so excited to read that because I’ve felt like the only one who can’t stand them!!

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      • It’s wild to me that auditory learners actually exist, I CANNOT relate. My mind wanders SO often when I’m listening to audiobooks, and then I feel like I’m cheating so I always rewind them and try to find my place (which is maddening) and end up listening to the same section three times in a row.

        Also, I don’t know if this is a universal thing or just me being weird but I get SO fixated when I’m reading print books on things that won’t translate well to audio. e.g. I’m reading a thriller right now and someone asked the main character a question, and she answered in her head in italics revealing some information that the other character didn’t know, and I was getting so stressed thinking about how in the audiobook it would inevitably sound like she was answering out loud. So audiobooks stress me out even when I’m not listening to them!!

        And speaking of all this, I’m going to be listening to the audiobook of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man later this month, which is probably going to be far beyond my listening comprehension capabilities, but Colin Farrell is narrating the audiobook and I am a very big fan to say the least so I feel obligated to listen to it. Pray for me. I may end up following along with the print book.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I can imagine with fiction it would be super hard to translate some things to audio. When I tried listening to fiction years ago I was so annoyed with the voices some of the readers did, like trying to differentiate between speakers. A man raising his voice a few notches to denote it’s now a woman speaking is just always going to sound ridiculous!! That’s too funny that they stress you out when you’re not even listening to them!!

        Actually following along in the physical copy doesn’t sound like a bad idea, that might be the best way, really. I’m wishing you luck with it!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh the difference voices drive me nuts as well! This is why I mostly try to stick to memoirs for audio, whenever I try fiction I just find it a hundred times more offensive to listen to.

        I may just end up frustrated with how much longer it’ll take me to read than if I weren’t listening along to the audio, but we shall see, fingers crossed!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve definitely heard all these things you mentioned said about this book… It seems to be a pretty universal opinion that it’s brilliant, but challenging and uncompromising. Which is no bad thing…

    Liked by 1 person

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