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Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  708 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
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
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 13th 2008 by Crown
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(showing 1-30)
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Emma Sea
I sobbed, I laughed, I couldn't put the book down. Only a poet could combine orgies, go-go dancing, and Nazi death camps. God, that makes it sound terrible and exploitative and horrendous, but it's not. It's charming and hopeful and entirely about the tender human spirit.

All my friends: read this book.
Apr 23, 2008 Johnathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Besides the fact that Joel is one of my favorite gays (and people), 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 ...more
Jul 02, 2009 Schmacko rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let’s admit it: a part of gay life—especially of stereotypically gay culture—is so moronic that it’s inadvertently hilarious.

We can find a few easy examples. On sexual conquests: when one considers the momentary pleasure of the actual orgasm, the drive to sleep with absolutely everyone just seems stupid. On dizzy queens: we all personally know at least one wisp of a thing who can name every guest star on Facts of Life but cannot hold onto a job at the mall for more than a few days. Yes, the cult
Dec 14, 2009 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lulz, queer
This book is seriously hilarious. Not just because of the "Oh, I'm so gay listen to some of my gay antics" part (though that is there too, especially in the beginning few chapters of the book, about knitting and cheerleading etc.). But also because, as the book goes on more and more of his insights have, really, nothing to do with his gayness. Ultimately his book shows that even someone who is (by their own admission), a flaming stereotype.. is not JUST that. I mean, obviously. I know this, most ...more
As we stumble around searching for Truth, the best we can do is to remind one another, when we collide, that there are moments in which we are not alone.

SWISH is Joel Derfner's story of his life, searching for Truth, for himself. It's the most honest account of a human being I've ever read. I can't but being awed at what he is letting us see of himself, and with that making it possible to find pieces of ourselves in it.

Each chapter of this book has a central theme or event of Joel's life, and wi
Aug 17, 2008 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I hadn't already trapped a man I think I would totally stalk this guy! This book was sweet, sad, refreshing, hopeful and at times made me extremely uncomfortable. It is crazy to me when I read a book and I think something along the lines of, "This guy gets it. And we have so much in common, most of it not falling under the category of good! I totally want to hang out with him", but when this happens I feel connected and that makes me feel a bit more peaceful. Not a small thing.
Ulysses Dietz
Sep 29, 2014 Ulysses Dietz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

By Joel Derfner

Four stars

This is not a funny book.

Oh, yeah, I laughed. There is much that is amusing in Joel Derfner’s wry memoir about being gay today in America.

But really, this book is heartbreaking. This is a look into a gay man’s soul. Some of what he shows us is not pretty, Some of it is, on the other hand, beautiful.

I spent a third of my time reading this book wanting to take Derfner in my arms to comfort him. Another third was wanting to take him by the shoulders and shake some se
Jan 23, 2009 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was so much I liked about this book. I think Joel Derfner is one of the most endearing, relatable autobiographical writers I've ever read. I loved his blend of humor, neuroticism and insecurity. He's very smart, accomplished, and witty and yet also self-deprecating, and he draws some interesting connections between seemingly seperate aspects of his life.
I chuckled LOTS while reading this, but it's not all fun and games- there's a lot of seriousness, a little self-pity, and even melancholy.
Christopher Giroir
Homophobes... stay away. Otherwise this book is extremely fun and a very interesting read for someone who is very far away from "the lifestyle". If you like documentaries that look into people's lives that are very different from yours, you're probably the type of person that would enjoy reading this.
Mar 23, 2009 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, lgbt
He's funny, he's smart, he's talented and he's adorable/gorgeous. And he's an incredible writer with a gift for taking his intriguing life and making it seem as interesting on the page. You'll laugh one minute and dissolve into tears the next.
Jul 28, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one really surprised me. I was looking for light and funny and ended up with a sweet, very introspective well thought out book.
Sep 24, 2013 Scott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book put me on a bit of a roller coaster. I was definitely rolling my eyes (why did I get on this crappy ride), giggling along with the humor (oohhh, this is better than I thought it would be), and then ready to get off (the ending was just that up-down-up-down to finish it off).

The start of the book was annoying - too much bitchy queen, too much cover-my-insecurity-with-funny(hateful) remarks. The worthwhile part of the book is the middle when the author opens up and comes off with more ho
Mar 08, 2010 Alice rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with very high tolerances for cutesy wordsmithing and look-at-me whining
Sigh. I really wanted to like this book, because I am a lady who appreciates high camp, Ru Paul's Drag Race, Charles Busch films and other super gay pursuits. But this narrator was SO ANNOYING. He is super insecure, and is constantly talking about how he feels like everyone hates him, people think he's ugly, he hates anyone who he feels is smarter or cuter than him, etc. I get that social anxiety is a serious problem, but when I'm reading a book about super gay things, I do not want to read abou ...more
Oct 07, 2009 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I was really surprised by this book. Derfner did a great job weaving seamingly shallow things together with much deeper views on life. He did a great job of setting up a low expectation with the self-deprecating talk in the introduction, making the reader think he was just cranking something out for egotistic reasons, but he is a much better writer than he let on.

Each chapter was an essay focussed around a theme, such as knitting, go-go dancing, and teaching aerobics. It is not a chronology of h
Emma  Kaufmann
Dec 09, 2008 Emma Kaufmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable book written by a gay guy who is so honest it hurts - but in a good way. Derfner is a very likeable guy who anyone would like to have as a friend. He is especially endearing because his attempts to be liked (working as a Go-Go boy and allowing his penis to be fondled, being a professional cheerleader etc.) are very touching. The chapter on him infiltrating the Exodus conference, where gays go to try and turn straight was very illuminating and showed one thing: it is practically impo ...more
Oct 06, 2009 Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, queer
Swish is a delightful little romp, advertised as a man's quest to become the gayest person ever, and packaged as such, with chapters on knitting, aerobics instruction, and go-go dancing. But instead of being a shallow, if funny, look into sterotypical homosexuality, it is a much more nuanced memoir, tackling issues like the early death of Derfner's mother and his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. That isn't to say it isn't funny, because it is very, very funny. But instead of being a ...more
Lee Wind
Jan 05, 2009 Lee Wind rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I laughed out loud a LOT reading this collection of essays - Joel's very brave to reveal so much about himself and his somewhat seedy and very swishy journey. A lot of the things he put himself through reminded me of Michael Moore's documentary filmmaking style - like, hey, I'm writing a book about trying to be really gay, so I'll join a cheerleading squad, and I'll become a go-go dancer... As I read it, though, cracks in the humor let me see the deep sadness and depression this guy went through ...more
Aug 04, 2008 Vance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title makes this book seem like something that just escaped from the "Humor" shelf but the book itself -- save the final chapter -- is a brutal but always intelligent self-examination of one gay man's life, which -- like all good autobiography -- expands the humanity of all people who read it. In many ways, it's a book I wish I had written, which is something I **rarely** say. The last chapter, though, is about trying to capture an experience versus analyzing an experience in retrospect , wh ...more
Dec 18, 2008 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I really liked it. I went into reading Swish with thought it would be a purely comical collection of essays. Instead, what I discovered is that Joel Derfner has written a thoughtful book in which I could indentify with. While there were plenty of times I laughed out loud reading Swish, there were times when I found myself relating to Joel and the way he experienced life. I am looking forward to reading more from him in the future.
Aug 09, 2009 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was pleasantly surprised by this. I thought I was going to read some airplane fluff about some gay guys thoughts on stereotypically shallow gay subjects. Although each piece started out that way, he always went deeper into the subject, sometimes on a personal level and other times on why those subjects are so prevalent in gay society. The chapter on going under cover at an Exodus retreat was especially thought provoking.
Unexpectedly fantastic read. Funny where appropriate, but Derfner takes the reader on a sentimental and thoughtful journey. The final chapter on his experience with Exodus is very insightful and gives the reader plenty to think about -- gay or not. Derfner knows how to make himself and his stories relatable, by exposing flaws and vulnerabilities. Highly recommended.
This book is so freaking good and absolutely nothing like the fairy princess adventure I expected it to be. I held my hand to my mouth and cried silent, unbreathing tears more than once. I felt a dancing joy at asah and bara. And while I can't be gay, I can love and loathe myself as much as the next guy; as much as Joel Derfner.
Jul 19, 2008 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly well-written, funny book! Derfner does seem rather shallow at times, but he's also aware of it, and comes from such a self-loathing backround (not specifically about sexuality) that I was able to get past that. Certainly recommended, and here's hoping he has a contract for another book in the works!
Sep 03, 2008 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
What a fun book! Written in the style of David Sedaris, this book is equally hysterically funny, and profoundly insightful. His chapter on music composition was particularly thought-provoking. Read this!
Mar 19, 2010 Kit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, queer
Very good. The author (although not the gayest person ever) is hilarious and extremely intelligent. Also, he went to graduate school to study musical theatre composition. Awesome!
Jenn Jett-elton
Oct 12, 2009 Jenn Jett-elton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book did what I always wanted David Sedaris to do, but he never did. If anyone ever summarized my gender, it is this author: working out, knitting, cheerleading, social anxiet;, it's all there.
Aug 13, 2014 Jennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was slightly confused by the shortened title of the Kindle edition, Swish: A Quest, but after reading Joel Derfner's explanation I think he made the right choice in paring it down. I absolutely love the original title, but it sounds a bit like a joke. In fact when I told my husband what I was reading he laughed hysterically because he thought I was kidding, "No, that's really the title!" I explained, which inspired more laughter.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this book, it's lovely. I thought it s
Aug 26, 2008 Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Leslie gave me this over the weekend, and I took it with me to PTown Sunday night... It's gay alright, but also really a well done biography of a person's understanding of who he is and why. He has chapters on Dating and Step Aerobics and Musical Theater and Knitting, but when he is writing about how he likes to knit, he actually gets pretty deep into his relationship with his mother. When he writes about going to adult gay camp, he gets into how it felt to be an adolescent and the las ...more
Jun 20, 2008 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies-etc
Derfner has a very strong writing voice, and is extremely witty and unapologetic about being an intellectual (albeit one who is a qualified step-aerobics instructor); all of these facts are to be commended. The first chapters of the book did occasionally rely a bit too much on using the phrase "no one loves me" or some such variation. Additionally, there are sections taken directly from his blog, but hey, we live in a greener age (supposedly) so literary recycling can't be all that bad. There ar ...more
May 19, 2008 Cameron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those delighted by Sedaris
Shelves: queer
Though I knew I would have to bow to Joel Derfner's assertion that he himself is the gayest person ever, and that I could not claim that title for myself or risk being labeled a mimetic fraud, I was quickly mollified by his absolutely charming prose and deft wit with words. I about orgasmed when he inserted adroitly my absolute favorite signifier of logophilia: the word "shibboleths." Transcending catty and tawdry avowals of boys past and socks knit, Derfner explores many subjects that seem on t ...more
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“It is easy to see in retrospect that what I longed for was not a boyfriend but a version of me without my defects --- a man in whom I could see myself as flawless, a man whose jokes always caused riotous laughter instead of sometimes falling flat, whose German was fluent instead of passable, who actually knew everything instead of pretending to and then Googling it when he got home.” 7 likes
“Yes, being gay is just one of a thousand traits that make up my character, no more remarkable than my love of M&M's or my ability to mess up a room in fifteen seconds flat or my failure to understand the appeal of Luke and Owen Wilson.

But I believe that the desire to love and be loved is the strongest force on earth. And in that way, being gay affects every interaction in which straight people take part. Every human motive is in the end a yearning for companionship, and every act of every person on this planet is an effort not to be alone. ”
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