Even the title of this book comes with a massive TRIGGER WARNING.

This book is about suicide and addiction. It’s also 464 pages which is quite unbearable for a memoir with a little bit of self help advice.

How Not to Kill Yourself:

A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind

by Clancy Martin

pub date: 28-March-2023 Knopf/Pantheon/Vintage

How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin - book cover

Publisher’s Summary:

An intimate, insightful, at times even humorous exploration of why the thought of death is so compulsive for some while demonstrating that there’s always another solution—from the acclaimed writer and professor of philosophy, based on his viral essay, “I’m Still Here.”

“If you’re going to write a book about suicide, you have to be willing to say the true things, the scary things, the humiliating things. Because everybody who is being honest with themselves knows at least a little bit about the subject. If you lie or if you fudge, the reader will know.”

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.


I’m stumped about how to even begin my review of this book which I got from NetGalley. Let’s start with basics: It’s 464 pages which is quite unbearable for a memoir with a little bit of self help advice. It’s not a scientific text—not that the summary pretends it is. It explicitly says this is a memoir. There is, however, no way I can think of to write this without including a lot of GIFs.

John Mulaney stand up: I quit drinking 'cos I used to drink too much and then I would blackout and "ruin parties."

Clancy Martin is a well-educated professor, world-traveled, and a Buddhist. That Buddhism is something that can be appreciated for American/Western readers. Like The Beatles and many other white, westerners, Martin encounters Buddhist monks who influence him and change his life (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche). Before them, he was encased in unfortunate influencers, people he still (by the end) refers to as his heroes: Édouard Levé, David Foster Wallace, Sylvia Plath, Nelly Arcan, Jean Améry, Paul Celan, Primo Levi, Emily Dickinson, and others. Within the “others” who have had influence on him is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W.

The Good Place - Jason pretending to be Jianyu the monk when he has no idea what's happening.

There are hundreds of pages about Martin’s experience in AA. He doesn’t fully endorse it, but admits that some of it is useful. He has no problem pointing out the many flaws with Bill W. as a person and the 12 steps. The great part about Martin’s insight into AA is that he shows there is still a tremendous amount of stigma surrounding the use of doctor-prescribed and -monitored medication. Does it suck that to get off one vice a person needs to be on another substance (or several, none of which provide any fun at all)? Sure. But if there is a part of neural wiring that makes some people obsessively thinking about self harm and death, and the solution of the time is to be dull, even lifeless, it needs to be accepted in places that are supposed to be safe to be oneself.

The Good Place when Chidi has a mental breakdown and shows up to teach his class: "The world is empty. There is no point to anything. And you're just gonna die. So do whatever!"

If this book had been cut in two and one about alcohol addiction and the other about suicide, my brain would have accepted it easier. There is so much dedicated to Martin’s father’s addiction (the man also had schizophrenia) and his own alcohol addiction. But then Martin states that they are not causal in relationship to each other. I questioned, Was there an editor on this book?

Several celebrity deaths are discussed thoroughly including: Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain; with cases that are considered parasuicide meaning that they lived dangerously through habitual drug use like Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. Of the celebrities mentioned, Martin’s discussions on Bourdain offer the most. There are quotes from Bourdain’s friends that offer insight into a man who struggled deeply with depression and anxiety and was willing to appear always comfortable when around people and cameras.

As far as the interviews included, I was beyond excited to see Dese’Rae L. Stage and Andrew Solomon included. Here I am 100% biased. I’ve known Dese’Rae for years. She kindly included my own story in her Live Through This project. It’s to show that people who try and die at their own hands are not one “type” but rather from every class, ethnicity, educational status, religious background, sexuality, or age.

Now I Understand Why Chidi Went to The Bad Place:

Martin’s writing has a particular flaw that bothered my own reading experience so much, I started to highlight it every time I saw it. He uses the she/her female pronouns almost exclusively when speaking in general (notice that I said almost). He uses he/him male pronouns when discussing specific people. There was a lot of subconscious emphasis on women. Maybe he meant to it. I don’t know. As soon as I noticed, I kept getting annoyed and irritated that a moral philosophy professor wouldn’t use they/them or give equal usage. He even includes a statistic in one of his sections on Anthony Bourdain that states: men over 65 were the most likely to die by suicide according to a 2015 study. Yet, he continued to make obsessive thoughts about death a female problem. Perhaps if even half the middle-aged white men in the study went to therapy and sought help, they wouldn’t be the biggest of the statistic. Needless to say, I got sick of seeing phrases like, “her despair,” “her psychological condition,” “choosing to kill herself,” etc.

The Good Place - Chidi "Were you a good person on Earth?" "I think so. I spent my life in pursuit of fundamental truths about the...Oh, no! I used almond milk in my coffee, even though I knew about the negative environmental impact."

As previously stated, this book could do with some major editing or overhaul it into two smaller guides. Did you see The Good Place? Do you remember how long Chidi’s thesis was?

If you watched The Good Place, there were many key elements about Chidi teaching Eleanor and the others moral philosophy. In one of the lifetimes, Eleanor finds Chidi all the way across the world because she found his speech online titled What Do We Owe Each Other?

This is important. Martin—in his standard of presenting all sides to an argument approach—debates whether suicide is the most selfish act a human could possibly do. He talks about loved ones mostly. The ones left in grief could be thinking the person should have continued suffering for their needs. Is it the bravest act to choose to live for others? This brought me to Chidi’s speech that urges Eleanor to get on a plane and learn how to be a better person. Mind you, Eleanor is not suicidal nor depressed nor self harming. She is however, a selfish Arizona trash bag (the show’s words).

There are other overwhelming contradictions besides whether suicide is selfish or not. The book is a roller coaster of mind-fuckery.
The Good Place, Michael: This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors.

I think the interview portion could have been in a better format and included photos (maybe they are in the published copy, but not the review copy).

The Good Place, Chidi (rapping): My name is Kierkegaard, and my writing is impeccable. Check out my teleological suspension of the ethical.

To complete my honest review, I’ll state that when I reached 50% in the review copy, I couldn’t take it anymore. I skipped to Appendix II (the interviews that are supposed to make the reader feel better, but that’s debatable); then back to the main text for another two paragraphs and skipped ahead again to Appendix I (links and phone numbers); then back to a little bit in the section on relapse (chapter 9). Then I gave up for good.


I cannot recommend this book no matter how much I wanted to. If you feel like reading a moral philosophy thesis mixed with a memoir on alcohol addiction, go for it. At least Clancy Martin gives plenty of credit to his current wife Amie for his healing process. I learned some terminology too.

Rating: 3 stars

3 stars

The Good Place, Eleanor figures it out: "This is the Bad Place."


Live Through This http://livethroughthis.org/



US National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Veterans’ Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 (also has an online chat function through veteranscrisisline.net)

Trans Life Line http://www.translifeline.org/
US: (877) 565-8860
Canada: (877) 330-6366

NAMI http://www.naminj.org/us.html

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