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How I Learned to Snap paperback
How I Learned to Snap
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • Oct.01.2001
  • 9780142002995
  • Penguin

Kirk gives an overview of the book:

Kirk Read's youth in the Shenandoah Valley had the outward signs of a comfortable adolescence in the Reagan-era South. Dad: career military. Mom: a homemaker. Son: Little League/soccer player, Baptist youth group member, a straight-jawed boy from a long line of VMI men. One would expect that a young gay man growing up in such a way would lead a tortured teen life. But early on, Read began to show the surety and openness that has marked his later life and career as a young, queer journalist. Passing through the tough terrain of Bible Belt guilt and culturally ingrained sexual hypocrisy, Read acknowledged his difference first to those closest to him—with expected doses of fag-baiting—and with acceptance from surprising corners. Read's skewed and skewered version of the holy trinity of American adolescence—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—is described in...
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Kirk Read's youth in the Shenandoah Valley had the outward signs of a comfortable adolescence in the Reagan-era South. Dad: career military. Mom: a homemaker. Son: Little League/soccer player, Baptist youth group member, a straight-jawed boy from a long line of VMI men. One would expect that a young gay man growing up in such a way would lead a tortured teen life. But early on, Read began to show the surety and openness that has marked his later life and career as a young, queer journalist.

Passing through the tough terrain of Bible Belt guilt and culturally ingrained sexual hypocrisy, Read acknowledged his difference first to those closest to him—with expected doses of fag-baiting—and with acceptance from surprising corners. Read's skewed and skewered version of the holy trinity of American adolescence—sex, drugs, and rock and roll—is described in his unique voice: he became sexually active at a time when we were only just learning that sex can kill, began saying yes to drugs when Nancy Reagan was just saying no; and when underground music was still buried. It is a story of bold strokes (premiering a play about coming-out in high school while still in high school) and ironic misfires (he expected to ignite a firestorm by demanding that he take his same-sex date to the senior prom; instead his request was calmly okayed). Read's story is neither victim-based nor intended as a survival guide. It is not a radical call to action but a call to acceptance, with a Southern accent: "So much of gay Southern memoir has been so veiled in the shroud of first fiction that it's lost its sense of urgency. Or it's been so literary that the queer content has been erased or relegated to the back in service to Gothic, poetically indirect costuming of hard realities," Read says. Ultimately, Read's is finally the story of every coming-of-age—heartbreaking, comic, tragic, and redemptive—and will be appreciated by everyone who, to quote Paul Goodman, grew up absurd in the 1980s.

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Surrender

Valerie was my emotional girlfriend. That's how she signed the notes she'd pass me in eleventh grade English, right under the nose of Ms. Coffey. Luckily, if Ms. Coffey really liked a student, they were beyond reproach. I can't count the hours I spent after school, confessing to Ms. Coffey my every conceivable intimacy. When I came out to her in a fourteen-page essay on Kate Chopin's The Awakening, she wrote a response in red ink that filled almost as many pages. She gave me an A and let me get away with murder for the rest of the year. God bless Ms. Coffey.

I think the major reason that she didn't intercept our notes was that she could see that Valerie was a dyke in progress. Valerie was loud. I mean, Valerie was really loud. She'd moved to Lexington the year before, during our sophomore year.

Valerie had come to us from Mississippi, where she'd apparently had a lot of religion in her life. She was Baptist and heavily involved with Young Life, a Christian organization that takes kids on camping trips for fireside indoctrination. Valerie actually lured me to one of their events, which was replete with earnest teenagers singing Michael W. Smith songs and professing their love for Jesus. During the campfire circle everyone started witnessing about Christ and testifying about how they'd found their faith. These children were like fifteen. When they got around to me, I said, "I'm not really into the God thing. I came because Valerie told me we'd play lots of games." Valerie turned as white as the turtleneck she wore almost daily, with a gold cross that dangled between her not-there-yet breasts.

I left the circle shortly after several college students, in front of everyone, tried to save me with their dramatic tales of conversion. One young woman worked up tears as she recounted how she'd been brought to her knees by the Lord, whereupon I went back to my cabin. If God had to go to such lengths to invite people to his birthday party, I reasoned, He probably wasn't serving very good cake.

Valerie knew early on that I was gay and never tried to talk me out of it. She never even tried very hard to convert me. This was not the case with all of her friends. Once, she caused a major scene during Christmas at her best friend Kate's house. The Crenshaw family was not much for organized religion, good hippies that they were. Valerie pointed at their baby Jesus ornament and demanded that they take it down. Valerie said that unless they were Christian, they had no business putting the baby Jesus on their three. A long discussion ensued, followed by Valerie spinning their driveway's gravel with the tires of the car which had come to be known as the "Blue Blur." Valerie was known as the fastest Christian in Rockbridge County.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Valerie sat me down for her lesbian confession. We were at our friend Gresham's house, where all of us hung out compulsively, watching the same movies repeatedly. She said my play had made her question her own sexuality.

I mean, there were signs, but her Baptist shit had me confused. Valerie had yet to teach me the remarkable similarity between a born-again Christian and a militant lesbian. She was always the first to instigate fights with the West Virginia soccer teams we played, which were often composed of massive, violent boys who'd been rejected by their football teams. It would have behooved Valerie to be more afraid of these boys. Valerie rarely did what was in her best interest.

That weekend, we drove to Roanoke, an hour south, to see Philip Kaufman's Henry and June in a tiny armpit of a theater. The movie is about the lives of Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and a gaggle of French writers and bohemians. Many cigarettes are smoked, much nookie occurs. I knew seeing that the film would be a different kind of conversion experience for her. When we arrived, there were maybe six people in the entire theater. Because I'd already seen the movie, I got to watch Valerie lay eyes on Uma Thurman for the first time, and I got to see her eyes utterly cross as she saw two women make love. I whispered in her ear that I was going to check her seat cushion after the movie.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Kirk

Kirk Read is the author of "How I Learned to Snap," a memoir that was named an Honor Book by the American Library Assocation. His forthcoming second book is a collection of essays called "This is the Thing." He cohosts two open mic events called K'vetsh...

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