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One of These Things First

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  511 ratings  ·  85 reviews
The author of New York Times bestseller Philistines at the Hedgerow, Steven Gaines, has written a funny and touching memoir of a young boy's coming of age in a Manhattan psychiatric clinic, described as a hybrid of Running with Scissors and Girl Interrupted.

In March of 1962, the author, who was fifteen-years old, managed to "escape the hawk-eyed scrutiny" of three saleswom
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 9th 2016 by Delphinium
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This memoir is the dark, yet funny account of the author's suicide attempt and subsequent stay at a psychiatric hospital in 1962 when he was fifteen years old.

This was a good book, just not what I would consider a great book. As he recounts his time in the hospital and even growing up, he seems to focus more on stories about the people around him, rather than himself. This book is about a very deep subject matter (suicide attempt, coming to terms with the author's homosexuality) but the book ne
Jennifer Blankfein
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Follow my blog for recommended reads.

In the memoir, One of These Things First, Steven Gaines, a gay, 15 year old boy from a conservative Jewish family in the 1960s, humorously shares a bizarre account of his teenage years in Brooklyn and a stint at Payne Whitney, a private mental institution in NYC.

Steven recalls a multitude of childhood memories, some disturbing, many sexually charged (think Augusten Burroughs and Running With Scissors); lawnmower guy, a na
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of These Things First: A Memoir-- is a richly detailed and delightful coming-of-age story that begins in 1962 of the writer as a gay youth. Steven Gaines (1946-) is the author of 12 books, that include the Beatles, Beach Boys, Calvin Klein, and others. As a journalist and radio broadcaster, other topics Gaines wrote about was the NYC scene and celebrity culture.

Today it seems rather unusual that Gaines spent such a large part of his boyhood under the supervision of three salesladies or “harp
Sep 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, memoir
Steven Gaines is 15-years old when he sneaks into a back room in his grandparent's small clothing store, breaks the glass of the room's one small window, and then calmly and firmly saws his wrists over the jagged shards still stuck in the frame. With his last bit of strength, he walks out into the snowy yard, gently lowers himself to the ground, and waits to die.

But, amazingly, he doesn't die. His grandfather finds him and is able to call an ambulance in time to save Steven's life. Once Steven h
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I started my own coming-out process at around 19, though nothing is ever sharply or simply delineated that way. Maybe it began when it dawned on me that "gay" applied to me, or when I stopped telling myself that maybe there was a girl out there who would make me certain I was bisexual (never happened). Or maybe it was in younger childhood, when I had crushes on boys but didn't have the conception that such a thing was possible.

Is this a coming-out memoir? Basically, though more in its coming-out
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Steven Gaines'(nee Goldberg) darkly comic and often poignant memoir 'had me' from the first page. He opens with a cast of eccentric relatives and neighbors in his Brooklyn neighborhood, with the dawning realization that he is gay and his attempted suicide at age 15. Things really get interesting once he enters Payne Whitney (the" Ivy League of mental hospitals"), begins therapy to "cure" his homosexuality (you can imagine how well THAT turns out) and goes on to present us with
a group of famous a
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes memoirs and loves great writing.
Recommended to Paul by: stolen from Lorilin's reading list.
This has some parallels with David Sedaris's life and character: young gay boy with extreme OCD who likes to hide out and observe what's going on around him without anybody knowing. Like Sedaris hiding in his mother's closet and listening to her antic statements to herself in front of the mirror, Gaines climbs into large boxes at his mother's lingerie store and listens to and watches what's going on.

The book is more poignant than funny, with Gaines finding himself isolated at school and laughed
Sep 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although most of this memoir about the author's attempted suicide at age 15, due to his unhappiness over his nascent homosexuality, and his subsequent stay at the Paine Whitney mental hospital moves quickly and is fairly interesting, it feels padded in some places and rushed in others. A lot of the 'backstory' seems extraneous, and the book really doesn't get going till the halfway point with his incarceration... and then the ending chapter glosses over the following 40 years in a daze. Also, I ...more
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
A wonderfully touching and witty memoir of a boy growing up in Brooklyn and gradually realising that he is gay – and this at a time when this would not have been acceptable. Although he endures some real suffering, eventually trying to commit suicide, this is essentially a life-affirming book and Gaines is so generous and open-hearted in his descriptions of the people around him, and so acute in his observations, that I found this a really enjoyable and compelling account.
Charlie Smith
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn't love this book, and here, in a nutshell, from author, Steven Gaines, himself, why:

"The gay world in the 1970s was shallow and unforgiving. Since we were outlaws, we had outlaw sex. Gay men were dissolute beyond belief. When I whined to my peers that liberation wasn’t the same thing as promiscuity, I was told that I was a “bad homosexual.” I was indeed. In any event, the intensely hedonistic world in New York had its appeal, and I tried to embrace that world, thinking it was all that was
Michael Campbell
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
A dark and often humorous look into how antiquated psychiatry was in recent memory. It's really a science that has fallen behind in the scientific boom of the past century or so. It's a touching and thoughtful memoir, written with a sense of honesty and realism.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I got an ARC in return for an honest review on NetGalley.

I want to start this by saying, I have never read anything by Steven Gaines or even heard of him before. I requested this book solely because I have a fascination with psychiatric hospitals. So I went into this blind. 

This is the memoir of Gaines coming to terms with being gay and what that meant. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital and in years of extensive therapy trying to become straight because that is what was the zeitgeist. Gaines
Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I tell my students that some books are mirrors and others are windows. Rare ones are both, like this memoir. No matter their orientation, readers will share in Gaines' fears, his shame, his delight, and his confusion, growing up gay in an era in which homosexuality was considered mental illness. But this book is so much more than that. It's about family, Brooklyn, Freudian psychiatry, being Jewish, real people, adolescence, celebrity, mental hospitals, books, and loving people who are fallible. ...more
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Same initial reaction as one other reviewer - do we need another gay coming of age story? Yes, if it's this one. For me the book started slowly and I put it down for a few days. Another depressed angry Jewish boy - but once we got to his stay in (a very prestigious and infamous to those in NYC and the psychotherapy profession) the psychiatric hospital as a teenager, I didn't put it down. This book is quietly and subtly thoughtful, brings back memories of not-so-good times and is VERY funny.
Oct 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Solid 3.5 for me. A dark and somewhat funny memoir about a young boy growing up Jewish and gay in Brooklyn in the 50s, stories about his family, and his brief stint in a psychiatric hospital. He suffered a lot of pain as a child, but found the strength to overcome and became a successful adult. A really good read.
Joe Kraus
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-american
Stephen Gaines has a remarkable story to tell, and he has an engaging voice to tell it with.

As a teenager growing up in early 1960s Jewish Brooklyn, he has no clear idea how to deal with being gay and, in despair, tries to kill himself. As a consequence, he winds up in an upscale psychiatric hospital, one where Marilyn Monroe was recently treated. He’s essentially a child among assorted minor celebrities, a Jew among mostly WASPs, and a Brooklynite among the Manhattan elite. It’s a great fish-ou
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay, memoir, teen
This is a great book about the author as a 15-year-old boy living in a mental hospital. It is extremely well written but far from perfect. One thing is the title--not only does it not make sense but it doesn't do a good job representing what this book is about.

The opening section is slow, leaving the reader to try to figure out where the story is going or what's so special about his life in his early years. He does have an odd family, with a grandfather that lives with a life and young mistress
Sep 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book is really a solid 3.5 stars for me. It isn't at all what you'd expect from the blurb. I was expecting more of the narrative to be about this young man's attempt to change his sexuality and overcoming the depression and disappointment he feels, prompting him to attempt suicide. While that was the main jumping off point of the book, it really turned into a sketch of the characters (well, actual real people) that he lived with and met in his stint at a psychiatric hospital, Payne
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
An often quirky, often sad coming of age memoir of a 15 year old jewish kid growing up in a New York conservative family who, after a fairly severe suicide attempt is committed to a psychiatric hospital for 6 months. Gaines realizes he is a "homosexual" and during his stay in the hospital his doctor attempts to cure him of this mental illness.

His story was interesting, told from the point of a 15 year old, but I found it a bit shallow. The story ends when Gaines is in his early 20s and the AMA
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-version, memoir
This book was an interesting self portrait of a man growing up under some unique circumstances. I was definitely captivated by the beginning. Gaines's descriptions of mid-century Brooklyn are a delight; it's grimy, and odd, and insular, but undoubtedly HIS during his youth.

The middle to the ending slowed down a bit too much for me to truly love it. Gaines turns his lyrical pen to descriptions of people he encountered in his mid to late teens, and for whatever reason, I found those sketches much
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read by the author, this memoir invites us into the strange world of a Jewish gay teen, whose attempted suicide at the beginning spurs the action. He is sent to a mental hospital for six months, where he is surrounded by adults. Adults with mental and emotional issues serious enough to have them committed. His sharp sense of story and character enrich this strange memoir, where peers almost never appear. It's the other inmates, including Mary Martin's husband. Steven tells us the stories of his ...more
Susan Johnson
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, audioboook
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer
Dark, witty, endearing, and emotional. It's hard to even imagine the effects of such self hatred for years. Not many books shake me so hard, especially comparing it to my own experiences of internalized homophobia in modern day without being around nearly as much stigma. I wouldn't have minded this book to be a thousand pages long honestly, the lack of resolve you can only expect from a memoir is hard to accept. A truly important book, it taught me just how necessary it is to embrace your identi ...more
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Very good coming of age book. I really enjoyed reading this book. Well written and some of the scenarios were very funny, some are sad. I thought he would go more into his sexuality but he did not. I think this would have made a good book even better.Good read, one that makes you want to be reading when you are doing other things and cannot read at the time. I looked forward to picking up and reading from where I left off. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this boo ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful story, for the place and time that it vividly evokes. Set in 1950s & 1960s Manhattan the author retells the story of his teenage years and struggling to understand and accept his sexuality. After a suicide attempt, he is sent to Payne Whitney psychactric clinic where Steven encounters the famous and well to do. The author has a great way of telling a story including details that make his memories come to life. I especially found touching the end of the book when he revisits his childho ...more
Allan van der Heiden
The author rumbles on and as a grown gay man can relate a lot to some of the memories and feelings the author expresses but this is not a great read nor is it inspirational to any other 15yo boy who may be considering his sexuality.

This is only the author putting his life to words and not passing any message on. I feel although he implies the message that all gay teens should hear he doesn’t say “It gets better” like it does.

The author also says he holds no real gay traits but gossips like a c
Mary Montgomery hornback
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book and the quirky cast of nonfiction characters that Steven Gaines introduces. While the narrative was heartbreaking at times, most of the time I smiled as I accompanied young Steven through the halls of Payne Whitney hospital. And there were other great moments when I laughed out loud as a result of his brilliant story telling. I would definitely recommend this journey
Cynthia Wilson
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A compelling read, hard to put down

I am always searching for a good memoir, and this one was excellent from beginning to end. The author’s relationships with family members and with the friends he made at the Payne Whitney Hospital were intriguing. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good life story.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The first of a series of Steven Gaines pieces I’m in the middle of—loved it! It’s the story of his childhood in Brooklyn, struggling with self hatred bc he was gay, ultimately suicidal, and his memories of his experience in Payne Whitney, a psychiatric hospital where he spent several months.

Gaines’ mix of intimacy, humor, and honesty makes for some stellar writing. Highly recommend.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure how to describe this book other than it can be triggering. This poor dude as a kid was gay and having to deal with his family and society. Listening to his thoughts and thinking process was a bit rough but i think it's because it was set in a different time so that thinking is foreign to me. It's an interesting listen, but i did get mad. And that's ok.
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