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If You Knew Then What I Know Now Paperback – April 5, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932511946
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932511949
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this moving debut, a collection of 14 linked essays, Van Meter charts the repercussions of growing up in Missouri with a secret. He delicately charts episodes from his youth, such as baseball practice with his increasingly frustrated father, who couldn't hide his disappointment in his son's disinterest in sports, despite the promise of a new TV. "Every time, I'm the small kid who slouches at the quiet corners of the action, stands still and tries not to be noticed." A season of practice culminating in a painful injury allows a new perspective to emerge: "This summer, we've been trying to be certain kinds of men we probably weren't ever meant to be." Van Meter recalls, with sensitivity, finally coming out of the closet and the strain it put on his relationship with his best college friend. "Before finally speaking those words, I had known I was gay but wasn't ready to admit it...before that, for almost all of my teenage years, I thought I might be gay and was afraid so I prayed every night for it to be taken away. And before that, I didn't know I was gay, but I knew I was different, and I didn't want to be that either." Thanks to Van Meter's honesty, essays on his own childhood, identity, and love have a profoundly universal appeal. (Apr. 1)

Review

In this moving debut, a collection of 14 linked essays, Van Meter charts the repercussions of growing up in Missouri with a secret. He delicately charts episodes from his youth, such as baseball practice with his increasingly frustrated father, who couldn’t hide his disappointment in his son’s disinterest in sports, despite the promise of a new TV. “Every time, I’m the small kid who slouches at the quiet corners of the action, stands still and tries not to be noticed.” A season of practice culminating in a painful injury allows a new perspective to emerge: “This summer, we’ve been trying to be certain kinds of men we probably weren’t ever meant to be.” Van Meter recalls, with sensitivity, finally coming out of the closet and the strain it put on his relationship with his best college friend. “Before finally speaking those words, I had known I was gay but wasn’t ready to admit it...before that, for almost all of my teenage years, I thought I might be gay and was afraid so I prayed every night for it to be taken away. And before that, I didn’t know I was gay, but I knew I was different, and I didn’t want to be that either.” Thanks to Van Meter’s honesty, essays on his own childhood, identity, and love have a profoundly
universal appeal.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reading Ryan Van Meter's collection of 14 ruminative essays, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, feels like sitting in the priest's side of a confessional. As Van Meter drifts elliptically between his childhood as a closeted young boy and his life now as an openly gay man, he draws the reader inexorably to this book, and its compelling weight.
—Vikas Turakhia, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Van Meter has come a long way from the 5-year-old who held his bestie’s hand and said, “I love you.” But in these moving pages, what he tells us about the years in between is every bit as shining and true."
—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Van Meter has come a long way from the 5-year-old who held his bestie’s hand and said, “I love you.” But in these moving pages, what he tells us about the years in between is every bit as shining and true.
This exploration is crafted with beautiful language and innovative attention to form, surprising the reader as often with humor as with heartbreak. In the end, If You Knew Then What I Know Now makes the coming out story and the coming of age story new again.
Bookslut

Ryan Van Meter’s is both a charming and wounding intelligence. To read a book this observant, this fiercely honest, and this effortlessly beautiful is to feel the very pulse of contemporary American essays.
—John D’Agata

If You Knew Then What I Know Now reconstructs the pain and astonishment of coming to know oneself deeply. These essays are insistently honest, darkened by melancholy and yearning, yet polished by prose so lithe, so elegant that Van Meter’s human presence brightens every line. It is truly rare for an essayist to marry dramatically compelling storytelling to rigorous investigations of language; Van Meter investigates both intimate and public forms of language with a highly refined sense of craft and a curious, open heart.
—Lia Purpura

In a culture hungry for consolation and easy answers, it’s a relief to come across a memoir that’s only hungry for the truth. “So how do we learn to be in love?” asks the speaker of Ryan Van Meter’s If You Knew Then What I Know Now. We don’t know, says the soul of his book, which is why I’ll keep coming back to these pure, generous pages again and again.
—Paul Lisicky

More About the Author

Ryan Van Meter grew up in Missouri and studied English at the University of Missouri-Columbia. After graduating, he lived in Chicago for ten years and worked in advertising. He holds an MA in creative writing from DePaul University and an MFA in nonfiction writing from The University of Iowa. His essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, and Fourth Genre, among others, and selected for anthologies including Best American Essays 2009. In the summer of 2009, he was awarded a residency at the MacDowell Colony. He currently lives in California where he is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at The University of San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Awesome book, well written.
Brian Palomar
I read one of the short stories in this book online before purchasing the book, so I knew that it was likely I would love it - and I absolutely did.
ccody
I remember when he talked about that!" in a way I might if a friend was telling me a story and he repeated himself.
Chance Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Murphy on April 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
I picked this up at a brick and mortar bookstore last week and can't put it down. Van Meter's memoir of growing up as a deeply repressed homosexual in a mostly unaccepting family and community is brutally honest and heart wrenching. Those who live in and around St. Louis, Missouri will recognize the conservative suburbs of St. Charles in this book--a place notorious for touting 'family' and 'Christian morality.' For those not familiar with Missouri's socio-cultural and political geography, let's just say: some people didn't read much after Leviticus...

As I read Van Meter I was reminded of Kirk Read's How I Learned to Snap, a similar memoir of growing up gay in late twentieth-century America suburbs. Read's tale is one of overcoming adversity; Van Meter's work reminds us of the terrible costs to gay kids of homophobic families and communities. But more than that, we also see how intolerance damages everyone in these author's lives--there's enough collateral damage to go around. If you ever wondered how it feels to grow up gay in America, read this book! It captures the texture, detail, and inner dialogue of gender non-conforming and sexually variant kids better than anything I've ever read. A magnificent first book. I look forward to reading more!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Spencley TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
I need to make small disclaimer, while reading this book i wept copiously.
No book illustrates this more adeptly than Ryan Van Meter's collection, If You Knew Then What I Know Now. Van Meter affirms what I saw in pre-pubescent faces all around me: it's scary stuff discovering who you are and where you fit in the vast world. In fourteen linked essays, Van Meter does just that, walking back in time and toward self-discovery from his earliest memories to the present. There's a distance between the world's perception of "normal" and Van Meter's; this collection is his intimate search to understand that gap. What he's learning, with some trepidation, is how he came to discover he's gay.
That he loves and wants to marry a boy at the age of five, for instance, feels intensely true: "What I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this fact before we return to our separate houses." Van Meter's mother overhears him proposing marriage, and his inner-reality clashes with the exterior world. Mother and son look at each other "for one last second without anything wrong between [them]" and she says: "You shouldn't have said that. Boys don't marry other boys."
The essays progress (mostly) chronologically. Van Meter recounts setting the table for his grandmother while he's wearing a dress, successfully avoiding kissing his girlfriend of more than a year--unsure, himself, why he's content donning the former and dodging the latter. Van Meter's observations are razor-sharp, sweet, and conveyed in selfless prose. His honest bewilderment wounds the reader while his graciousness rewards.
By the book's end, that five-year-old boy has become a man aware enough to know what he'd like to say on a first date but won't: "That we should split the bill.
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By ang on June 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was disappointed with this book. I love to read stories about true life..I am just one person with just one review but I did not enjoy this book. To me it was not written very well
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There were few essays in this collection that didn't leave me misty-eyed for some reason or another, yet I never once felt manipulated.

Van Meter's collection is a series of essays, in mostly chronological order, about his childhood. Many of the essays revolve around coming to terms with his sexuality. Because most of the essays were published in a variety of publications (I think maybe all of them), and not written explicitly for a book, there is sometimes an overlap of detail. This might annoy me, but with van Meter, it was like "Oh! I remember when he talked about that!" in a way I might if a friend was telling me a story and he repeated himself.

There is a great interview with Van Meter on bookslut, and two of his responses stood out to me. The interview mentions how he finds empathy in his "antagonist" characters, and he responds, "I care very much about most of the people in the essays. The technical challenge was writing about them in a way that the reader cares about them too."

And the way van Meter talks about the title essay fascinates me. In this essay, he writes about an incident that happens in sixth grade that is never spoken again... until a reunion. He says, "Back when I was trying to just write it as a story, before that apology at the reunion, it wasn't a story. It was just an anecdote of suffering, and that's not interesting. After the reunion, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I wasn't the only one who'd been bothered all those years by that one day in sixth grade. What I thought was private wasn't just mine. So the anecdote started being an essay, because as I hint at in the finished piece, a short story with a bully apologizing at a high school reunion would be hokey and sentimental.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ryan Van Meter is an amazing author, the story of his childhood carries with it both the vulnerability and uncertainty of a child, as well as the delicate knowledge of his adult self.
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