10 Unbiased, Impartial and Very Good Reasons Why You Should Buy Damon's Memoir, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker

Panama Jackson and Damon Young at Politics and Prose at The Whart (March 27, 2019, Washington, DC)
Photo: Panama Jackson

If you follow VSB on any social media platforms, you know that Damon is currently in week one of his national tour for his debut book, a memoir-in-essays titled What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, released on Tuesday and published by ECCO Books. The release of this book is the culmination of a book deal he signed toward the end of 2016. In just over two years, he went from idea to publication and hopefully its to infinity and beyond from here. Inshallah.

I had the good fortune to moderate one of his book talks during his Wednesday stop in Washington, D.C., at an indy bookstore. To a standing-room-only crowd, Damon talked a lot about the characters in his book, namely his family, and about the title of said book and the very funny story of its original banner. He even got a bit emotional at one point when I asked him about a certain phrase in the book that stood out to me.

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While he was writing the book, he’d send me (and a whole slew of others name-checked in the book) complete chapters and incomplete ideas in process as he attempted to mold the book into the final released product. I’ve been reading this book for the better part of a year because of that, but in preparation for the book talk, I re-read the entire book from beginning to end so that I could get it all as a complete, unified work. I was waiting until the talk was over to drop my thoughts so I didn’t repeat myself.

And since the talk is over and he’s out here trying to sell books and since VSB is home, I figured I’d drop a list of thoughts and 10 entirely unbiased, impartial and very good thoughts on why you should get it (if you haven’t already).

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1. At this point, I’ve known Damon for something like 15 years. I know his wife and have spent time in his home with his children (and he mine). He was in my wedding and is somebody who I talk to almost literally every day in some form or fashion. I feel very confident in saying that I know Damon about as well as you can without being his spouse or very close relative. And yet...

...I learned so much about Damon from reading this book. I learned so much, in fact, that I was confused about why I didn’t know the shit I didn’t know considering how much we talk about life and our relationships and, well, everything. Hell, after his D.C. book talk, we sat in my car for about an hour talking about marriage and being married. We have real-life talks, and here I go learning important, informative information about him. What that means is that people who read Damon are going to get a real foray into who he is as a man and a person.

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2. There are chapters in here—well, one long story and one whole chapter—where I literally said to myself out loud, “Why in the hell would you put this in a book?” It was joked that he might be preparing for a potential political run and this book would make sure to lay it all on the table so nothing could be used later. But shit.

3. A few years ago, I floated the idea to Damon about gathering all of the black male writers we know to write about our individual experiences about being black men in America, specifically because I assumed that while we’ve all been through some shit, we would all, unfortunately, have similar experiences with crime, money, etc. Well, there’s a chapter in this book that proves I wasn’t wrong (it’s also one where I learned much of the shit I’m amazed I didn’t know), but I don’t know how many other dudes’ stories I know involve Molotov cocktails. You know whose story does? Damon’s. It’s in the book.

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4. Damon spends a considerable amount of time in this book talking about money, the lack of it, the lack of access to it, the way it impacted family decisions in small and super large ways, and I think that’s a story common to many, many folks in both the black community and the larger community. I also don’t know that we spend enough time talking about that. I asked why it was important to talk about that in the book and basically, it’s because it was life and it’s a very common black existence.

5. There are very heartfelt chapters dedicated to his mother (heartbreaking) and his daughter (cautiously optimistic) that contain the kinds of thoughts and questions I think all of us ask ourselves and literally sum up the original title of his book, which I haven’t mentioned here because he does it in this awesome video at The Root:

6. To know Damon and be around Damon is to notice that he only wears colors approved by what I can only imagine is some French beatnik society. I thought he just liked to look like a shadow (no Adelaide/Red), but it turns out there is a very actual and practical reason for his chosen haberdashery choices. Who knew? That’s in this book too.

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7. I will never not get enough of black men’s stories about breaking up with their barbers and the full-on anxiety attached to it. Because he’s a black man who has basically had a United Colors of Benetton menagerie of barbers, there’s a chapter about it, which includes effectively breaking up with his barber. That might need to be a series on VSB. Personally, I went to my barber probably a year longer than my hairline and Jesus intended and ghosted him. I almost caused a car accident because I saw him while we were both stuck in a traffic jam one day and almost had a heart attack. Maybe that will go in my book.

8. He goes into great detail about the time he almost ended VSB with a very ill-advised article he wrote. I think that if that circumstance happened today, we’d be done for, but timing is everything, both in positive and negative ways and thankfully we’re still here, and Damon took that on full bore.

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9. It’s rather amazing how similar so many of our stories are, with obvious differences because of our locations and various skill sets, that led us into different extracurricular activities. Damon does a great job telling his very Pittsburgh story that somehow manages to be a story that I think you could superimpose on many of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s on a certain set of black movies like Love Jones. Because I too wrote terrible poetry that I cringe at when reading now. Damon decided to share this with the world in book format, and it made me laugh so hard I dapped him up in my mind. You want to see era-specific-and-appropriate poetry inspired by every poet-ass-nigga in black America? This is your book.

10. Damon is a fairly contained persona, almost deliberate in nature. Or at least I think that’s how he comes off. Obviously funny, but very measured and just, cool and chill. This book is a personality explosion. It’s funny, charming, sad, endearing, anxiety-inducing, sad, happy, frustrating, etc. It’s so many things because his life has been so many things and in a book, there’s not much more you can ask for. I read a lot of books these days; probably too many. I’m starting to learn the kinds of books that I hate. Even if I didn’t know Damon, this book would be brilliant in its depth and how far he’ll go with an idea and analogy. He’s an incisive thinker, but also there’s so much wit and levity, it makes for a wonderful read. A legit, wonderful read.

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About the author

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.