Review: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

29430746Verdict: Brilliant but near unbearable to read.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memoir

Published by Bloomsbury, October 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

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 on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.

I find this memoir near impossible to review for a number of reasons:

  1. the book was near impossible to read for me;
  2. the book is brilliant;
  3. 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 way he tells his story and makes is points is just brilliant. I read very many memoirs but it is rare that I have a reaction as visceral as I had here. The whole book is a lesson in how to gut your reader with your words. And I mean this in the best possible way (and the worst: it took me forever to finish this because I needed to take breaks to read something else).

Laymon tells the story of his body – and how his relationship to his body is influenced by his difficult relationship to his mother. The way he grounds his experiences in the way his body reacted to them added a layer to this memoir that I appreciated immensely. Written in second person narration addressing his mum, Laymon lays it all bare for the world to see. Especially the first and last chapters really drove home how incredible his craft is and how deep the cuts his life made are. I found the book near unbearable in the claustrophobia of the unfairness of it all: the unfairness of racism, of poverty, of eating disorder, of addiction. The book is this successful because it is written for black people rather than about black people – a point Laymon makes at various points throughout the book, something he learned from his mother and his own mistakes.

Ultimately this is an intimate love/hate letter to the most important person in his life and I feel very grateful to have been able to read this.

 

Wrap Up: December 2018 or there goes the year.

I cannot believe the year is over. It feels like it went both super quick and super slow. My reading in December was a bit erratic because the first half I felt mega burned out (mostly due to work) and could not concentrate on anything difficult, then there was Christmas were I did not get any reading done – and then I had a few days to wrap up all the books written by men I was still reading.

Books I read in December:

  1. Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko: 5 out of 5 stars
  2. Dopesick by Beth Macy: 5 out of 5 stars
  3. Angel’s Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Archangel’s Kiss (Guild Hunter #2) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Archangel’s Consort (Guild Hunter #3) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. Archangel’s Blade (Guild Hunter #4) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  7. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: 4,5 out of 5 stars
  8. Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels #10) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  9. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1) by Theodora Goss: 3 out of 5 stars
  10. Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh: 3,5 out of 5 stars
  11. New Suns ed. by Nisi Shawl: 2 out of 5 stars
  12. Doggerland by Ben Smith: 3 out of 5 stars
  13. Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch: 4 out of 5 stars
  14. Heavy by Kiese Laymon: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

I adored Vita Nostra – every single second of reading this was a pleasure. Dopesick was another book that I appreciated immensely – it is wonderfully researched and impeccably told. Both books made my best of the year lists.

Continue reading “Wrap Up: December 2018 or there goes the year.”

Have I read my most anticipated releases of 2018?

I have written about my most anticipated releases twice this year, for the first and for the second half of the year. Let’s see how many of those I have actually read (and which I have enjoyed).

In my first post, I named 13 books that I was super excited to get to.

  1. Brave by Rose McGowan. I have neither read nor bought this book because before I could, she started showing TERFy tendencies, which I just cannot support. I have since seen some reviews that make me think not reading this was the right decision.
  2. Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. I loved this book so very much.
  3. Folk by Zoe Gilbert. I read this before it came out and it was ok. And now I cannot really remember much of it, to be perfectly honest.
  4. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. Again, I loved this book. I knew from the very first chapter that I was in for something extraordinary.
  5. The Sea Beast Takes A Lover by Michael Andreasen. This collection of short stories did not quite work for me, but I did enjoy some stories.
  6. Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay. Of course I loved this.
  7. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. This has possibly my favourite cover of the year and I really enjoyed this interesting book.
  8. Florida by Lauren Groff. She is becoming one of my favourite authors and this collections was no exception.
  9. Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch. I have not yet read it but will definitely do so before the end of the year. I have waited too long for this book to not pick it up soon.
  10. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. I loved this just as much as I thought I would. Slow-paced, wintery fairy-tales are my jam.
  11. Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Biggest disappointment of my reading year.
  12. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. The release date was moved to January but I have an ARC and want to get lost in this wonderful world, possibly during my (short) winter break.
  13. Vengeful by V. E. Schwab. I had so much fun reading this and it made me excited again for Schwab’s writing in a way I hadn’t been in a while.

I actually did okay here. There are only three books I haven’t read yet (and one of those is no longer on my TBR), I also enjoyed the majority of the books on my list, with four of them getting five stars.

Let’s take a look at my second list, with only eight titles on it.

  1. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennet. I enjoyed this a lot but it did not reach the heights of his Divine Cities trilogy yet. Still, I am excited to see where he takes the story next.
  2. Heavy by Kiese Laymon. I am embarrassingly enough still reading this. I started it at a really bad moment and while I think it is brilliant, it also deeply sad and I cannot quite get myself to pick it up.
  3. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. I am still super excited about this but the book is only out in hardback and still very expensive. It will be one of the next books I buy though.
  4. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. Another book that isn’t out in paperback yet and a bit too expensive.
  5. Rosewater by Tade Thompson. I really enjoyed this even if it confused me.
  6. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I did not love this and I am unsure whether Moss’ writing is quite for me.
  7. Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhorse. I loved this and it started my binge-reading of Urban Fantasy. I cannot wait for the next one!
  8. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. I got an ARC of this the day it released and I am super excited still. But I am also drowning in arcs at the moment. Hopefully I’ll get to it before the end of the year though.

Again, around three books I have not got to which isn’t too bad considering how absolutely abysmal I am at setting myself TBRs.

How did you do with your most anticipated releases of this year? Did you manage to get to them?

Wrap Up: November 2018 or Genre Fiction is the best

I had a pretty horrific month, personally. But my reading recovered from the abysmal month that was October, which is at least something; within 10 days I had read as much as I had read in the whole month before.

Books I read in November:

  1. The Outcast Hour ed. by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin: 3 out of 5 stars
  2. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Vengeful (Villains #2) by V. E. Schwab: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. Binti (Binti #1) by Nnedi Okorafor: 2 out of 5 stars
  5. Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  6. White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews: 4,5 out of 5 stars
  7. Wild Fire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Broken Magic (Chronicles of Amicae #1) by Mirah Bolender: 3 out of 5 stars
  9. The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein: 4 out of 5 stars
  10. Be With Me Always by Randon Billings Noble: 3,5 out of 5 stars
  11. Sadie by Courtney Summers: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Continue reading “Wrap Up: November 2018 or Genre Fiction is the best”

October 2018 Book Haul: Or, I am not reading, so let’s buy more books.

I am currently not really reading. Work is still crazy and I come home feeling absolutely knackered, so I have not finished a single book in nearly two weeks. So I did the sensible thing and bought more books. I bought a mix of mostly short stories and non-fiction in the hope of one of these getting me excited enough.

Here are the books I bought, in no particular order:

Black Wave by Michelle Tea

32800012Blurb: It’s 1999 in San Francisco, and as shockwaves of gentrification sweep through Michelle’s formerly scruffy neighborhood, money troubles, drug-fueled mishaps, and a string of disastrous affairs send her into a tailspin. Desperate to save herself, Michelle sets out to seek a fresh start in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, climate-related disruptions and a string of extinctions are the background noise of impending doom. One day, Michelle wakes up to an official announcement: the world will be ending in exactly one year. Daily life in Los Angeles quickly becomes intensely surreal.

Humans begin to collectively dream of the lives and loves they would have had, if not for the end of the world, and the lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred. As the planet nears its expiration date, Michelle holes up in an abandoned bookstore and calmly begins to write—convinced she’s finally stumbled upon the elusive “universal story”—a novel about a struggling writer facing the end of the world.

Funny, gritty, improbable, and endearing, Black Wave muses on the hallucinatory confusions of addiction, the hope and despair of a barely published writer, notions of destiny, and the porous boundaries between memoir and fiction.

Why I bought it: It sounds like such a brilliant book that is so up my alley I am bemused that I haven’t bought it earlier. Also, Maggie Nelson blurbed it. Continue reading “October 2018 Book Haul: Or, I am not reading, so let’s buy more books.”

Most anticipated releases 2018 – mid-year edition

There are way too many brilliant books coming out this year. I keep buying books faster than I can read them and then I keep looking at other books that I want to read. But, just look how brilliant these books all sound! Below is a (probably) incomplete list of books I am excited about, in no particular order.

Foundryside by Robert Bennett Jackson (Published by Crown Publishing, August 21st)

Foundryside RD4 clean flat

I adored Robert Bennett Jackson’s The Divine Cities trilogy so very much when I read it last year and I cannot wait what he comes up with next. (This might be the one I am most excited about)

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (Published by Scribner, October 16th)

29430746This just sounds absolutely brilliant. I do love memoirs that blend the personal and the political, so this sounds right up my alley. That is has been blurbed by Roxane Gay obviously did not hurt my excitement.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung (Published by Catapult, Oktober 2nd)

30297153It is no mystery how much I enjoy memoirs written by women and this one focussing on adoption and identity sounds absolutely like my type of book.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (Published by G. P. Putnam’s Group, September 25th)

Small Spaces coverI would read Katherine Arden’s shopping list if she decided to publish it. As The Winter  of the Witch has been delayed until early 2019, this will be my yearly fix of her wonderful writing. I don’t usually read Middle Grade but again, it’s Katherine Arden.

Find it on Goodreads.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson (Published by Orbit, September 18th)

38362809I adored Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne and cannot wait for this one. I am lucky to have an E-ARC and trying very much to not read this already.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Published by Granta, September 20th)

38922230I have an ARC for this and I am very excited to get to this. Sarah Moss seems like an author I would adore and I really need to get to her books.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

 

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Published by Saga Press, June 26th)

36373298This just sounds brilliant and kickass and like something that I could love.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

 

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (Published by Orbit, November 13th)

39714124I don’t know what it is about this book but i just sounds absolutely wonderful. I really have not been reading enough fantasy. Also, yay for adult fantasy written by women.

Find it on Goodreads.

 

Which books are you excited about for the rest of the year? Do tell me!