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Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Ended Up Happening Instead Paperback – June 16, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Derfner (Gay Haiku) recounts his forays into indignity, knitting and unlikely friendships in this engaging if uneven memoir. Derfner's affectionate portraits of the men he met at a Christian homosexual conversion retreat and his account of his dueling desires—to accept them or shepherd them toward self-acceptance—provide welcome gravity in a book that flirts with more substantive issues of intimacy, identity and masculinity but never fully engages them. The book's conversational tone suffers from a heavy reliance on hyperbole, and the author's carefully cultivated campy persona feels tiresomely derivative and forced. And while Derfner's foibles—losing his aerial cheerleading position to more capable females, making only $5 in his first night as a go-do dancer—are amusing, his kiss-and-tell accounts of hookups and bad sex rarely rise above their own prurience. The most forceful ruminations arise gracefully from unlikely sources: memories of his musical theater education digress into a discussion encompassing concentration camp artwork, ancient Hebrew concepts of creation and the Columbia space shuttle explosion. Derfner's essays on his struggle to form meaningful relationships benefit more from his emotional intelligence than his wit. (May 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“In a culture where we disguise vulnerability with physical perfection and material success, Derfner skewers heartache with Wildean wit . . . [Derfner is]the next Noël Coward.” —Out.com

“Searing.” —Washington Blade

“Derfner’s writing is perfect. . . . He’s your best friend. He’s your brother. He is you.” — EDGE Los Angeles

“Sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, always clever, and unpredictable.” —Philadelphia Gay News

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767924312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767924313
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,692,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
There are two basic types of reviews in this world, the;
'Oh my God, you should have seen/read the amazing characterization/acting/cinematography/special effects... you simply must go see/read this book/movie/play/production!' Yay!!!
Or... the;
'I have a rather large literary stick up my yahoo and am therefore qualified to relate all the technical achievements and defects of said book/movie/production... yadda, yadda, yadda.'
For myself...
In the WaHoo! Department... let me just say two things. I read the book cover to cover.... and I frequently had to hold a pillow over my face so that my out-of-control laughter would not wake anyone else in the house.
I am a gay man and I do live, to a certain degree, within the world that Joel Derfner describes. So I suppose that biases me a tad. But make no mistake, the humor is born, not from the triteness of the gay experience, but out of one man's incredibly resourceful coping mechanisms while living with multiple personality issues, like OCD, a pathological need to be accepted and fear of ever - under any circumstances - offending anyone... about anything. In other words... this is true courage in action.
Technically speaking... as a fellow author; all I could think after finishing each and every paragraph, was how I had to go back and rework my own writing. (ever damn word and sentence) My Derfner is a literary artisan who uses words with efficiency, precision and aplomb.
If all of that is a little too 'high brow' and you require a perspective a tad more mundane. Think of the character 'Jack' from TV's 'Will and Grace', only with a brain and something insightful to say.
The highest praise I can think of after reading this book; "I wish Joel Derfner was a personal friend of mine."
Go, Read... you won't be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I adore this book. It has something for everyone - gay, straight, striped, whatever. I laughed, I related, I didn't want it to end. An all-around fabulous read!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I heartily recommend Joel Derfner's "Swish." The campy title and subtitle belie the touching, sometimes devastating and always surprising revelations underneath. But it also is, as you may also have suspected, funny as hell and totally original in voice and point of view. A complete guide to being - or loving someone - gay in the 2000s. A great beach read and/or a great gift, too.
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Format: Hardcover
Rarely do I find myself taking the time to review anything (5 attempts at a blog and not one lasted more than a month!) but how could I not! While on a residency trip for grad school, I went to a bookstore to browse for diversion in the form of light reading or fashion magazines. How could it be possible for the cover not to completely draw you in! I read it on the plane ride from Virginia home to California. I laughed until I cried and then went online to order ten more copies to give away. Swish for everyone! I also recommend reading it out loud to someone you love, or like a lot, or just to complete strangers as a random act of kindness.
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Format: Paperback
At first, I couldn't get over how snobbish and bitchy Joel's words were. I had this resounding voice in the back of my head that said, "Oh, brother, another stereotypical gay writer who hopes to appease the straight people by making fun of our culture" -but I couldn't help loving him with ever page and finding a little of myself hidden within. His book is truly the perfect balance of perversion and purpose: damned him for sparking my interest in knitting because my scarf is coming out hideous, and I'm thinking of trying out at one of the local clubs, and I've already starting searching for the next Exodus convention!
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Format: Hardcover
This memoir is truly an occasion to be savored--complete with the after-good-book letdown and weeks-long depression. His bawdy, and extremely intelligent humor makes his essay collection downright delightful--so much so that I read the book with the jacket prominently displayed, just on top of my nose, while I rode the subway. And Nabokov and myself aside, I know no one with such a command for beautiful words that have unjustly fallen out of usage!

If the humor's not enough for you, Joel's book is bursting with profound insights that explore the vagaries of being a gay man today, the universal weirdness of relationships and dating, and the raw--and enlivening--terrain of being an artist. Joel is truly a literary soulmate, and SWISH is a book I will come back to and read for years to come.
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Format: Hardcover
Is Swish funny? It's hilarious.

Is it about life as a gay man? Yup.

But that's really not the whole story. The heart of the book - for me - was about Joel's mother. His relationship with her, the way he tries to reconcile his love with the terrible things they experienced together (and that she said) broke my heart.

This is a very grown-up book. It's the kind of book where no one's really that great, much less perfect, but everyone receives a fair share of compassion from our gentle narrator.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What does it mean to be "the gayest person ever?" The most homosexual? The most queer? It's not an answerable question because it's inherently absurd, but that absurdity is the foundation for the crux of Joel's quest. Swish isn't a lighthearted superficial series of anecdotes, but a deeply personal and moving retelling of his formative years leading into an insecure adulthood and the attempts at recognizing, compensating for, and ultimately realizing the insecurities were not so trivial as to be swatted away with a one night stand, a cheerleading club, or any of the stereotypical things Joel conjured up to give him the life he imagined.

Along the way you'll learn about his parents, two transformative figures in civil rights law in the United States, his growing up as a gay Jew in the South, what it's like to go to "gay" summer camp, as well as possibly expected stories about casual sex in the city, though with a substantially unique perspective (who knew knitting could be allegorical?). The paperback is slightly modified from the original hardcover, and the title has been unfortunately and unnecessarily extended with "and what ended up happening instead," but it retains the simultaneously earnest and self-defensively self-deprecating prose and asides that make the tone match the facts.

There's a video attached to the product page (and, if not, you can search for his name and find it easily) where you can see and hear Joel for yourself; once you've got his voice and speaking style in your mind, you might find the tone of the book accurately matches your imagined narrator.
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