Reading Nonfiction: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Reading Nonfiction: Heavy by Kiese Laymon

In an effort to make myself more accountable this year, I’m going to be sharing some reviews and stories to my blog. This includes a category dedicated to nonfiction. As I might have written in the past, nonfiction is just one of those things that slips below my radar every year. I make an effort to plan out nonfiction reads, but I always pass it over for something else.

My first blog post for this new series will be for a book I read last month. Do you recall me reading Heavy by Kiese Laymon? Well, I wrote a review for it on Goodreads and I’m here to share it with you now. Mind you, this is my first time reviewing nonfiction, so I wasn’t fully sure what to include. I’ll probably improve upon this in the future.

By the first page, I already loved this book for its honesty. The first page was a warning at sorts; that you’re not going to get the uplifting heartfelt attempt at overcoming the throes of reality. Instead you get the very real and very “heavy” life Kiese Laymon lives.

The book is written like an open letter to his mother, a letter I know I would never write to my own mother. If I took the time to write out all the feelings and thoughts I had throughout the time she raised me, it would be pretty savage. Kiese Laymon writes with the eloquence and love he had for his mother expertly.

His writing style is beautiful. I wouldn’t say poetic because I’m not a fan of lyrical writing, but it does have a rhythm to it. It’s easy to read and easily digestible. I honestly would love to read more of his work in the future because he’s such a prolific writer.

I loved his usage of the word “heavy.” It’s describing his world and how the weight of his world sits squarely on his shoulders; the metaphorical Atlas. However, it also discusses his issues with his weight which bounced from over 300 pounds and then down to 159 pounds and everywhere in between. The book felt like a cycle of hatred towards yourself, your race, your class, and even your gender. However, it’s the reality of his life that he wanted to share with us. In that respect, this book actually feels uplifting.

Because everything he came across, he tried to handle the best way he can. Perhaps it wasn’t ideal every single time, but you get the sense that he’s trying. I would imagine a world like his would lead to some more self-destructive things, but you don’t see him down a bunch of pills or even do a lot of drugs and drinking. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything self-destructive. There was a lot of that, but in a different form. I think for him, it was his obsession with food, his writing and his work, and a little in the relationships he keeps.

Funnily, I kind of felt what he felt growing up. His mother was very adamant about his education; being a better Black person and even going above and beyond the bar for white people. In this way, I felt that kind of pressure to be the best. It makes me think back to that discussion my mom had with me about my school performance. “You have to work harder than everyone else, Simone,” she said to me. I thought she was just talking about my grades, but sometimes I wonder if she was talking about her struggle to fit into a predominantly white society.

And I think many POC can understand that and will draw them to this book because of that. My parents standards for me were ridiculously high and there were points where I couldn’t manage it. I was the one that was supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was the one to be successful and send money back to my parents every month. I was the one to excel beyond the stereotypes people have put on my race. As a kid, this kind of pressure is debilitating. Most can handle it, but there’s the few that can’t.

Kiese and I come from two very different worlds, so I won’t be comparing myself anymore to him. Being an immigrant’s kid is different than being an African American’s kid and our lives were very different. But that sentiment is still the same; that we need to keep pushing ourselves and constantly proving we’re just the same as everyone else.

While his experience growing up as an impoverished Black kid in Jackson, MS might be specific to him and the people around him, the sentiments of this book can resonate with others. I feel like that’s the connection here and that’s what brings us closer together as humans. Leveling the playing field and sharing a real story that isn’t spreading stereotypes about African American families brings a sense of reality to everyone’s world.

I received a copy of this book from Scribner for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

10 Nonfiction Novels I’ll Be Reading This Year

10 Nonfiction Novels I’ll Be Reading This Year


This year, one of my big goals is to read more nonfiction. Nonfiction is a category I’ve rarely explored mostly because I’m an escapist and I use reading to leave the confines of my own world and enter another.

But on occasion, I do read some nonfiction. My preferred genre is memoirs and autobiographies, though. I love reading stories of real people and their everyday lives. I usually pick memoirs of public figures I admire.

And while there are tons of nonfiction I could be picking up this year, I think I’m going to start off slow and read what I know. If I like it enough, then maybe I’ll be converted to nonfiction exclusively. But I don’t think that’s the case. Here’s a list of some of the nonfiction novels I’ll be reading this year:

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Of course I want to read about Michelle Obama’s life. Is there anything more I need to say about it?

Educated by Tara Westover

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this particular book. Reading the description, I’m now more intrigued. I love the idea of education being a journey through the dark unknown. The idea of someone who had been homeschooled her entire life in an isolated part of America and then setting off to find education outside the confines of what she knew. I mean, that sounds intriguing enough for me to continue reading.

My Life in France by Julia Child

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and it’s finally time for me to read it. I’m a huge fan of Julia Child and I’ve read biographies about her in the past. I even made her recipes to celebrate her birthday. However, I’ve never read her first-hand account of living in France and it’s finally time for me to read it and enjoy it like a delicious dish.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I’m not a fan of The Daily Show, but I’m a fan of Trevor Noah. Born a Crime is his personal stories of growing up in South Africa during apartheid and even calls his own birth a crime. It sounds like such an interesting story and I can’t wait to see what drives him to comedy and becoming the host of The Daily Show.

To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins

I didn’t know that Jedidiah Jenkins quit his job to create his career. If you’re not aware, Jedidiah Jenkins is Instagram famous for taking pictures of his beautiful journey. It’s like Wild, but in pictures. I love stories like this because I always become so inspired by their lives. I’ll definitely be reading this one and perhaps planning my own cross-continental journey.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

This book is actually going to be the first nonfiction novel I’ll be reading this year. I didn’t know about Heavy until a friend talked about it on her Instagram page. I think that honest accounts of the world make reading more interesting and I think Kiese Laymon’s life will be one that will not only surprise but educate us all.

Watch Me by Angelica Huston

I know after talking about a book like Heavy, I’m going to chat about Watch Me by Angelica Huston. TBH, this book has been on my TBR shelf for years and I want to read it to get it over with. Don’t you love a good celebrity autobiography once in a while?

Hunger by Roxane Gay

When Roxane Gay first put out this novel, I was definitely there to pick it up. I think body image and food are two very big topics that get messed around with a lot. We’re told so many things about the way we eat, what we eat, and what we look like. I want to explore Roxane’s book and listen to her account.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Over the holidays, a friend of mine told me that reading Men We Reaped brought a lot of insight to the other books Jesmyn Ward’s written. It’s a memoir about five men Jesmyn lost in five years. Each of these men died for different reasons, but I can understand with a tragedy like that why someone would want to look into it. I think the most interesting book will be learning what she’s learned from it and what we’re all going to be taking away from reading her novel.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

What I’m Reading Wednesday

Happy Wednesday everyone! I wasn’t sure if people liked sneaking a peek at what I’m reading this week, but I’ll keep soldiering on because I like it. That’s pretty much all that matters when it comes to a blog, right?

This week’s read isn’t technically a read, but it’s in book format and so I thought it’d be fun to highlight.

Continue reading “What I’m Reading Wednesday”

My thoughts on Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

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I’d made an early resolution recently to be a better non-fiction writer and committing myself to my voice and my writing. I want to do a better job sharing my experiences with the world through rhetoric. I want to be armed with adjectives and poetry to help me share what I see. I know it’s a little early for resolutions, but I still gathered all my favorite non-fiction works for inspiration; Susan Sontag, Hunter S. Thompson, the journals of Sylvia Plath. And of course, Joan Didion.

I woke up early Saturday morning hoping to get some chores done before diving into my current read. But for some reason, I was compelled to watch TV. Perhaps it had something to do with the new season of Stranger Things, but I tend to follow my gut. I remembered that a document recently came out about Joan Didion. Being the nerd that I am, I wanted to watch this.

I watched The Center Will Not Hold on Netflix before noon and I was surprised to find that Joan Didion is way more than just a non-fiction writer. I thought of her as your average writer; nothing remarkable or interesting. Someone who’s work speaks for themselves. Little did I know her life and her experiences were so crucial to showing the world what’s going on. How she came up in journalism and used her observing eye to share with the world the reality of life. Her work is poetry and even if her intention wasn’t to share her thoughts, she somehow manages to make you see and think the way she did.

When you see her for the first time, you see this tiny little old woman. Her bones hanging off her flesh and deep purple veins bulging through her like rivers on a map. She barely speaks without stopping to consider her word choices, so the movie is driven mostly by the readings of her work out loud.

I thought it would be interesting to hear how she spoke. You always assume that she would speak as eloquently as she wrote, but the words on the page and the words from her lips never matched. I guess you can say that she is a true writer, someone who finds her words in ink. I think my favorite part of hearing her read her own stories is also understanding where she was coming from and what she thought about. How she found a 5-year-old tripping on acid in the middle of someone’s living room to be journalistic “gold.”

But I’m not here to talk about the movie. I’m here to talk about this story and this life that has been stuck in my brain for the past 24 hours and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. I’m here to talk about my serious goals to improving my non-fiction writing because I love writing it. I’m here to talk about how Joan Didion will probably be my favorite non-fiction writer until the day I die.

I used to be able to write observationally. I would listen to music and point out the variations and mixology of drums to guitar to vocals. I would watch a stream of water from a car wash and how the soapy bubbles refracted hints of a hidden rainbow. I used to sit in my room and write terrible poetry about the imagery in my mind. “Consciousness is…” being a poem I wrote in five minutes.

I didn’t hear about Joan Didion until a few years ago when I read A Year of Magical Thinking. After watching that film, it was obvious I knew nothing about her life. All I knew was that she wrote this book about losing her husband and how incredibly beautiful it was. I honestly wish I learned more about her in college while I was studying journalism.

Journalism nowadays feels like the rapid reporting of trivial issues. A quick tweet from our president or five things you should know about your face cream are the kinds of stories that rise to the top of reading lists. It’s a series of short articles less than 500 words and meant to be read, digested, and forgotten. Even political pieces about the subject of the hour are overwrought with over-emotional commentary and opinions on how much he sucks.

If I’d known about Joan Didion in college, then maybe I would still be trying to be a better journalist. Maybe I wouldn’t believe that all journalism was a sham to please advertisers. Perhaps my experience interning at Conde Nast wouldn’t have left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I gave up that dream because it didn’t seem worth working hard when everyone was networking harder.

But after watching Joan Didion and how she made reporting a style and how her observations haunt her until she writes them down, it’s really made me rethink how I approach my work here. I don’t want to be writing short pieces that you can throw away. I want to write substantially, poignantly, and richly. Of course I don’t want to bore you as well, but as Joan Didion says, I just want to answer the questions I ask myself.