How to Not Kill Yourself by Clancy Martin

Published: March 28, 2023


Genre: Psychology/Self Help

Pages: 464

KKECReads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily.

CLANCY MARTIN is the acclaimed author of the novel How to Sell (FSG) as well as numerous books on philosophy, and has translated works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, and other philosophers. A Guggenheim Fellow, his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, The New Republic, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Believer, and The Paris Review. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi. He is a survivor of more than ten suicide attempts and a recovering alcoholic.

The last time Clancy Martin tried to kill himself was in his basement with a dog leash. It was one of over ten attempts throughout the course of his life. But he didn’t die, and like many who consider taking their own lives, he hid the attempt from his wife, family, coworkers, and students, slipping back into his daily life with a hoarse voice, a raw neck, and series of vague explanations.

In How Not to Kill Yourself, Martin chronicles his multiple suicide attempts in an intimate depiction of the mindset of someone obsessed with self-destruction. He argues that, for the vast majority of suicides, an attempt does not just come out of the blue, nor is it merely a violent reaction to a particular crisis or failure, but is the culmination of a host of long-standing issues. He also looks at the thinking of a number of great writers who have attempted suicide and detailed their experiences (such as David Foster Wallace, Yiyun Li, Akutagawa, Nelly Arcan, and others), at what the history of philosophy has to say both for and against suicide, and at the experiences of those who have reached out to him across the years to share their own struggles.

The result combines memoir with critical inquiry to powerfully give voice to what for many has long been incomprehensible, while showing those presently grappling with suicidal thoughts that they are not alone, and that the desire to kill oneself—like other self-destructive desires—is almost always temporary and avoidable.

“The prelude to compassion is the willingness to see.”

This was a heavy book to read, and there were several moments when I had to put it down and take a break.

Suicide is something that catches people’s attention. The stigma attached, the judgment, adds unnecessary weight to an already desperate feeling.

The manner of suicide discussed was genteel. It was kind, and that won’t make sense unless you have read the book. Clancy states early on that he will discuss suicide with kindness, and he absolutely does.

The research is vast and thorough. And there are a lot of cited texts and experts, survivors, and stories about those who have died by suicide.

I found the use of the word heavy. But the reason was to bring a sense of normalcy, to remove the knee-jerk reaction most of us have when we hear the word suicide.

The stories shared and the details are heartbreaking and enlightening. The fact is that this is not a manifesto to death but a guide for getting yourself through whatever muck you’re in.

The accountability that is discussed is also quite heavy and, at times, can feel harsh. But Clancy is delicate in how he handles the people. The human element in this book is beautifully sculpted, and I found the lack is accusation powerful.

The delicacy in which Clancy discusses suicide, alcoholism, and addiction, in general, makes this an engaging read. The conversational writing style leaves you feeling like you’re chatting with a friend.

Part three was my favorite section, as I felt the most sincere and compassionate explanations from the author.

Overall, this book has a lot of information and a different perspective. I appreciate and value Clancy’s experience. He was honest, raw, vulnerable, and believable.

I feel like this man wants to help others, and he is using his struggles to further the conversation. The lack of judgment and stigma throughout this text was fantastic, and the resources available are excellent.

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