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Swish (thoughts)

June 13, 2009

I’m currently preparing a reading list for yet another challenge: The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Last month I realised I don’t read enough GLBT lit, so how perfect is this?! And Oscar Wilde’s on the button: I can’t resist that. It doesn’t start until July (so that means the OUAT challenge will be over, which is my unofficial ‘rule’ for joining new challenges, lol), but of course I’ll probably have the reading list up later today! In the mean time, I thought I’d review a memoir I read recently that would be a great choice for this challenge: Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner.

swishI have no clue what I expected when I put this book on my TBR list. In fact, I don’t even know where I heard about it! But what I got was a book that felt like I was chatting with a brutally honest, intelligent, socially awkward, hilarious friend.

Unfortunately, I had to return it to the library, so I can’t include the awesome passages to prove how wonderful his writing style is. You’ll have to take my word for it. But there is even a footnote referencing Middle Egyptian, for all of you other closet footnote lovers out there. :D

Essentially, Derfner writes about his experiences with various stereotypically gay/effeminate behaviors, each of which has a chapter dedicated to it (knitting, casual sex, cheerleading, camp camp, dating, teaching aerobics, musical theater, go-go dancing, and the last and best chapter, in which he goes to a retreat for born-again Christians with homosexual inclinations trying to become straight). But of course the book is about more than that; it’s about Derfner’s life experiences (in the introduction, he expresses his surprise at how, for instance, his mother kept appearing in the knitting chapter) and his own particular view of the world. He’s so honest, so into self examination, and so willing to laugh at himself that the book is really a delight to read. It also tackles tough, important issues, and the chapter when he goes to Exodus was simply brilliant and thought-provoking. Derfner’s had an interesting life, not so crazy that it’s unbelievable, but certainly very different from my own, which is always good in a memoir. But what I loved was his willingness to put it all on the table: Derfner struggles with OCD and since I had a boyfriend with the same condition, I was cheering when I read his mini-rant on people who say “I’m so OCD about washing the floor” or some similar nonsense. (Of course, I can’t just share the passage with you, because I returned the book. Argh! I love my library, but sometimes ownership would come in handy.) He feels incredibly uncomfortable in social gatherings, and in his descriptions of feeling left out or in the less cool group, I saw a bit of myself and most people I know (fortunately, for me, that feeling passes about five to ten minutes into a party, but I have to force myself to talk to those first few people!). And while I don’t often share his secret feeling of intellectual superiority, it made me laugh. :D

I’m rambling, I know; I’m so out of practice when it comes to book reviews. And it feels weird to review a book that’s not sitting next to me! So let me try to sum things up.

Derfner does a great job of getting the reader inside his head; you’ll definitely learn how he experiences his sexuality, mental health, daily jobs, etc. He has an extra helping of wit, especially the mildly snarky kind, but his writing on the people he meets on Exodus shows that he has a lot of sympathy for people as well. There are definitely sexually explicit scenes in this book; it’s not the whole book by any means, but Derfner’s not shy when it comes to the topic. They felt more journalistic/reporting of events than titillating, and they were organic to the parts of the book they were in (i.e.: he didn’t toss in scenes for the heck of it), and while I raised my eyebrows a couple of times, I didn’t feel uncomfortable reading them.

Since I can’t quote from the book, I’m embedding a video of Derfner that will give you a great idea of his tone. :D

You can also read the intro to Swish on Derfner’s site.

As long-time readers know, I have a love-hate relationship with memoirs. But this is one that I loved and wholeheartedly recommend. So what are you waiting for?!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2009 11:02 am

    I am putting this on hold RIGHT NOW. Thanks for the review :)

  2. June 13, 2009 11:04 am

    OH nooooooooooooooo

    My library doesn’t have it :( :( :(

  3. June 13, 2009 12:16 pm

    Sounds great. Great review!

  4. June 13, 2009 12:48 pm

    I’m not sure that I’ll read this, but it definitely sounds interesting.

  5. June 13, 2009 2:52 pm

    I read this; I thought it was pretty hilarious and very good. You know what’s awesome, is that the library down the street from me has the largest selection of GLBT books in the whole Bay Area. Amazing! I may have to do that challenge!

  6. June 13, 2009 3:11 pm

    Great review, Eva. I haven’t read much GLBT-lit, but come across it every once in a while, and have done so for many years, so I guess I’ve read a good share. Mostly G and L lit, though. I don’t think I’ve read any B or T.

    You may have read it already, if not, I can recommend Trash by Dorothy Allison, which is definitely considered L-lit. I may have some other suggestions, but of course cannot think of any other than Trash right now.

    Have a great Sunday :)

  7. June 13, 2009 7:03 pm

    All right. I’ll read it. ;-)

  8. June 13, 2009 7:23 pm

    Great review. If you’re interested in any YA LGBTQ lit, I highly recommend:

    Down To The Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
    Am I Blue (collection of short stories)- edited by Marion Dane Bauer
    The House You Pass On The Way by Jacqueline Woodson
    From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun- Jacqueline Woodson

  9. June 13, 2009 9:17 pm

    I took a look at this the other day when I was browsing and it looked really interesting. The only reason I hesitated was because I wanted something funny but still serious (if that makes any sense lol) Thanks to your great review, I will be adding this to my tbr list!

  10. June 14, 2009 11:59 am

    Good to hear you’re thinking of joining my challenge! I look forward to seeing your choices!

  11. June 14, 2009 3:39 pm

    I like the sound of this one – it sounds delightful. Love the title, too.

  12. June 15, 2009 8:03 pm

    Lu, ohhhhhhhhh: I’m sorry!

    Linda, thanks! :)

    Charley, it was so funny. And deep. All at once! :)

    Daphne, that is awesome! I’m glad you enjoyed it too. :)

    Louise, thanks for the rec!

    CB, hehe; I’ll be curious to see your review.

    Susan, oh: thanks for the list! :) I already had one on my own list, but now I’ll add the other three. :D

    Joanne, it does make sense, and I promise the book’s funny and serious at once.

    Amanda, it’s cool of you to host it! And such a clever title/button. :D

    Belle, isn’t it a great title?

  13. June 17, 2009 8:45 pm

    My husband is to thank for both the “alternate” title and the buttons. He’s so good at that stuff!

    BTW – I looked at the links on the challenge signup and didn’t see one for you. I added the Mr. Linky when it was having trouble and I know more than one blog that had entries dropped off that way (I had five entries on the June 100+ postings disappear, along with tons of other peoples’ books), and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to you. If you’d already linked up, I’m so sorry Mr. Linky dropped you. If you haven’t, no worries, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

  14. June 18, 2009 6:26 am

    Oh, I so want to read this! Does this robe make me look fat?!? Bah!!! :D

  15. June 18, 2009 11:40 am

    Amanda, go your husband! :)

    Maggie, hehe: it’s a fast read!

  16. November 20, 2011 11:01 am

    I’m so very glad you liked my book!


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