01 July 2008

Swish: Better Than Sedaris! (Balls, This Post Is Long.) (That's What She Said!) (Or He. After All, This Post Is About Gay Men And Their Books.)

Last night on the train I confessed to Isaac something that took me a surprisingly long time to discover: I don't like David Sedaris. (His books, that is. I'm sure he's a lovely person. Even though that story of his - about an alcoholic cat? - I just listened to on my This American Life podcast really kinda sucked, and his voice grates.)

Of course, this information, and the rant about my belated discovery of my own literary taste, followed Isaac's answer to my "What are you reading?" Which, of course, was the new David Sedaris. I am a paragon of niceness.

The thing I've realized, after reading three of his bloody books, is that, a, I don't find them particularly funny, and, b, I forget his stories the second I finish them. If not before. Give me Sarah Vowell any day.

Or, I can now say, Joel Derfner.

I finished his book, Swish, last week. (You may remember I wrote about it mid-read here. If not, I just linked to it, so you can refresh your memory.) The comparisons to Sedaris are obvious on the surface - funny, gay, nonfiction essays. But with more emphasis on Gay and less on French. The subtitle for Swish, after all, is My Quest To Become the Gayest Person Ever. But each step on that path - cheerleading, knitting, gay camp, um, buttsex or something - is just an excuse for a funny and sweet essay on something like loneliness or insecurity or Joel's mom. So, more universal! Less obnoxiously bound to stereotypes that limit our idea of what a gay person is! But still funny! Wins all around.

I really loved reading this book. I mean, yes, I'm the sort of neurotic insecure person who loves discovering other people who share her neurotic insecurities (and gosh does he have lots of them), especially when those people write about them eloquently and interestingly, making them seem amusing and deeply reflective of universal human truth, rather than annoying shallow tics that must be gotten over. (Do all neurotic insecure people enjoy that sort of long-distance kinship? Are there folks out there who want to be unique in their social angst? How lonely. Isn't our thing that we're lonely people who don't want to be?) Oh, aside from both being neurotic, socially insecure messes, Joel and I share a passion for fanatical grammar nazism. He actually trumps me on both counts. I am shamed.

But beyond my "Oh my god, me too! And it's fodder for a book?! We're amazing and special and connected!" reaction, these are just really wonderful essays. Yes, okay, there's an occasionally repetitive tendency to here's-what-I-learned moral-of-the-story deeper-meaningness in some of the concluding paragraphs, but I'll take that any day if it comes with stuff this funny and engaging and true. (And besides, it's so heartfelt and honest that I can't really fault it. And the ending of the last essay was really beautiful.) Aside from enjoyable, funny stories (and they all are), there's a sense of going along with Joel on a journey - there's an aspect of triumph in naming your demons, in identifying their roots and connections to your knitting and cheerleading and casual sex (or whatever), so while I read there was my enjoyment, but also being happy for Joel as he realized where a fear came from, or took the terrifying step of painful honesty that, okay, conveniently, led to some wonderful true love. (Otherwise I would totally be trying to set him up with someone. Probably Isaac, but that might be because their writing is similar. Not just in gayness, but in general style and voice and sense of humor. I also have had the impulse to set Isaac up with also-taken Adam the Amateur Gourmet. All these playwrights-turned-bloggers-and-writers. Hm.)

The book isn't (to use a term I brilliantly coined in my last post about it) a queeny queenathon, which is good for those of us who get frustrated by constantly connecting sexual preference with adopted gender norms. (I like boys and I don't knit! Though I do want to learn to sew my own clothes. But I also want to learn to play accordion, so make of that what you will. What you make probably being an understanding of why I'm single.) But yeah, I mean, obvs, the book's pretty gay. There is candid discussion of buttsex. (And also elegantly euphamistic discussion of buttsex.) The gayest thing about the book, though, is probs the GAY font on the cover.)

I don't know if the import of this will come across, but this is the first book in ages that I've read in bed before going to sleep. (Heh.) (Or something.) I read on the subway, I read on line at Whole Foods, but when I go to bed I go to sleep. I also don't have a bedside lamp (Get here fast, stimulus check! Mama's going to Ikea.), so it's especially difficult. But Swish was sort of always on my mind, I was always wondering How does this story end? and What's next? So, with the snazzy little booklight I got from some booth at NPAC, I read for a while before going to sleep.

Let me repeat that: I read this book rather than sleeping. That's a big deal. Trust me.

Basically, long story short (too late!), I really enjoyed this book, and think you will, too, and David Sedaris is highly overrated (though Sarah Vowell is not).

[Whoa, I just got some intense deja vu. When I get deja vu I also have the sensation that last time whatever-it-is happened, I also had deja vu then. So if I had deja vu while blogging, I should've blogged that, so, quick archives check... nope. Fail. Just a misfire of short/long term memory. Anyway.]

Swish is wonderful. Go read it. It'll take less than a week, and it's totally delightful.

Oh, there's also a chapter on go-go dancing. That was actually one of my faves.


Freeman said...

Please return your NPR card. We're sending Sarah Vowell to get it. She understands why.

Let's not make this any harder than it is.

Aaron Riccio said...

Have you read David Rakoff? I found him more entertaining than Sedaris.