Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever
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Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever [Hardcover]

Joel Derfner
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 13, 2008

Joel Derfner is gayer than you.

Don’t feel too bad about it, though, because he has made being gayer than you his life’s work. At summer day camp, when he was six, Derfner tried to sign up for needlepoint and flower arranging, but the camp counselors wouldn’t let him, because, they said, those activities were for girls only. Derfner, just to be contrary, embarked that very day on a solemn and sacred quest: to become the gayest person ever. Along the way he has become a fierce knitter, an even fiercer musical theater composer, and so totally the fiercest step aerobics instructor (just ask him—he’ll tell you himself).

In Swish, Derfner takes his readers on a flamboyant adventure along the glitter-strewn road from fabulous to divine. Whether he’s confronting the demons of his past at a GLBT summer camp, using the Internet to “meet” men—many, many men—or plunging headfirst (and nearly naked) into the shady world of go-go dancing, he reveals himself with every gayer-than-thou flourish to be not just a stylish explorer but also a fearless one. So fearless, in fact, that when he sneaks into a conference for people who want to cure themselves of their homosexuality, he turns the experience into one of the most fascinating, deeply moving chapters of the book. Derfner, like King Arthur, Christopher Columbus, and Indiana Jones—but with a better haircut and a much deeper commitment to fad diets—is a hero destined for legend.

Written with wicked humor and keen insight, Swish is at once a hilarious look at contemporary ideas about gay culture and a poignant exploration of identity that will speak to all readers—gay, straight, and in between.

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.


Praise for Swish:

"Joel Derfner writes what we all feel but aren't brave enough to say. SWISH is the best book about gay sexuality I've ever read."
- Elton John

“Reading Swish is like having a marathon phone call with your gay best friend—assuming your friend is hilarious, brilliant, and completely honest. Which he probably isn’t, so you should read this book.”
—Marc Acito, author of Attack of the Theater People

Praise for Gay Haiku:


“Just the author’s foreword in this little pink book is the funniest three pages I’ve read in ages.”

“A world of hilarious juxtapositions, melancholy reflections, and stingingly smart observations.”
In Los Angeles

“Go out and buy five copies; it will never be returned if you lend it to friends.”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767924304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767924306
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, Insightful and Courageous June 28, 2008
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars you HAVE to get this! December 18, 2009
By Heidi
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading December 20, 2008
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rude, Disgusting, and Absolutely Delicious! July 22, 2010
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just funny, and not just about being gay September 18, 2008
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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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hoop-hoop-hooray! May 13, 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining, thought-provoking gem May 11, 2011
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and funny memoir October 19, 2008
By Pols
Swish is an excellent book, well-written and moving. It is considerably darker than you might expect, given the title and the author's previous book--Derfner's life story includes a dying mother and struggles with mental illness. Nonetheless Swish is well-leavened with humor and packed with insight.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious & Insightful Book
I like the author's ability to make you feel like you're being talked with instead of feeling like you're reading a journal. You will laugh a lot. You might cry. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alexzander Joseph
5.0 out of 5 stars A great way to start with Joel Derfner
This is a fun read, a peek into the life of a creative, smart guy. It is a primer for a young gay guy.
Published 10 months ago by George Zahrobsky
3.0 out of 5 stars A Lacking Entry in the Gay Memoir Genre
David Sedaris has unleashed quite a genre since his 1996 publication of BARREL FEVER. Men and women, gay and straight and any combination thereof feel that they have a series of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Stacy Helton
5.0 out of 5 stars An almost-misleading title for an excellent book
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... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Daniel A. Finkelstein
5.0 out of 5 stars For Everyone
This is a great book, enough said. As Joel says, the book is about insecurities, so yes, this book is for everyone.
Published on September 22, 2011 by DJ
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read!
I pretty much enjoyed reading this book, it was not a waste of time. Really well written.

Although sometimes it was too detailed and sometimes I really thought: 'Joel,... Read more
Published on April 5, 2011 by CursedEvil
5.0 out of 5 stars Swish and it was here.
I ordered the book for my daughter as a gift. Was here in 3 days and in perfect condition. She's gonna love it.
Published on November 17, 2010 by Bonnie Gentry
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written
"Swish" is a very well-written book. While it seems to be about the gay experience, it is that but in the way that it is about the human experience, and the various hurdles... Read more
Published on September 27, 2010 by Sharon
3.0 out of 5 stars NO DENYING DERFNER'S WIT, BUT....
This is one of the funniest and most intelligent gay memoirs to hit the stores in recent years. That said, however, there's something disturbing about the author's criteria for... Read more
Published on July 28, 2010 by Holden Caulfield
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but uneven read.
This book is similar to another "gay memoir" I read so much so that at first I actually believed they were written by the same author. Mr. Read more
Published on September 12, 2009 by Joseph A. Monastra
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