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review 2018-01-21 00:29
Out in May
Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day - Peter Ackroyd

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                One of my closest friends is a gay man who is twenty plus years older than me.  Most days, we take a walk though the local cemetery, The Woodlands (where Eakins and Stockton are buried among others).  Early on in our ritual, we noticed a headstone for a couple, but the couple in this case were both men.  Sadly, it was one of those couple headstones where one partner is still alive, and the other has died years ago.   My friend said that it was likely that the husband had died of AIDS.  When I asked him why, he pointed out the death date and the link to the AIDS epidemic.  Seriously, after a conversation like that, you never look at tombstones the same way.


                I found myself thinking about that as I read Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City.


                Queer City is another entry into what I call Ackroyd’s London History series (London, The Thames, London Under), and, as the title indicts, follows the history of London’s Queer residents and culture.  Queer here meaning homosexual and trans, which dates further back than you would think.  Ackroyd’s Queer City is a bit close to a chronical history, in a way that the other London books are not, though much of the flow and hither and there is still present.  You are either going to love this poetic style or hate it.


                There is a level of almost catty gossip and sly humor to Ackroyd’s non-fiction books.  Even a massive tome that is London doesn’t feel anyway near that long because of his tone.  It engages the reader, moving the book far past a simple history book.  So, we have observations like, “They were a tribe of Ganymedes and he was their Zeus”.


                Yet, the book covers so much.  Ackroyd starts during the Pre-Roman/Roman era, detailing even how gladiators weren’t perhaps quite the men we think they were (apparently, they really like perfume).  He then moves to the advent of Christianity and the Anglo -Saxons.  He does discuss not only homosexual men but women as well, noting that society’s view of women was also reflected in how society (not law, but society) viewed homosexual relationships.


                Being Ackroyd, he is particularly interesting when discussing literature.  There is a detailed look at Chaucer’s homosexual pilgrims as well as the view of the erotic theatre of Elizabeth’s time (“the codpieces were padded so the cods looked plumper”).


                But he also doesn’t hesitate to describe punishment dealt out to those who did not fit the norm.  We learn not only of whippings and beatings, but also of women slicing off a penis of an accused homosexual.  We hear of what happened to two women, one of whom had married the other while disguised as a man.  We learn more about those women who Waters wrote so well about in Tipping the Velvet.  As well as certain Mrs. Bradshaw, who will get approving looks from Disc fans.  We learn about the view of homosexuality and the arrival of AIDS in Britain.  This last section of the book is perhaps the quickest and almost glossed over.  I found myself wondering if this time period was too personal for Ackroyd to comfortably write about, at least in times of his story (Ackroyd’s long term partner Brian Kuhn died of AIDS in the 1990s).


                It is this last section of the book that is at once the most hopeful and most touching.  In the same chapter where he discusses the AIDS epidemic, he looks at the legislation of gay marriage as well as the phrase “check our privilege”, and this too made me think about the differences between then and now.  How some younger members of queer culture (or transgender culture) are somewhat dismissive of those that came before.   A trans person was dismissive of older homosexual because of lack of awareness of what that generation had endured.  He was not aware of men and women being unable and even forbidden to attend the sick and death beds of loved ones.  The word Stonewall to this young person meant little more than a Civil War Reference. The student lacked awareness and inability to see beyond or outside his own pain/frame of reference. It is also possible that this young man (his preferred description) had been condensed to by older homosexual/trans population.  One can sense a missed discussion between groups.  It is case like this that Ackroyd seems to be thinking about when he talks about checking privilege.  He doesn’t claim immunity, but he is pushing towards an ability to talk, to discuss, to learn, to be better.  Ackroyd is making a cause of understanding each other, in a way that the city he writes so passionately about seems to understand its residents.

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review 2017-01-09 00:00
Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock - Peter Ackroyd
After decades of numerous in-depth biographies, studies, analyses and memoirs of those who knew and worked with director Alfred Hitchcock, one question must spring to mind when considering any new bio of the esteemed director: what can any new book provide that hasn’t been covered before?

A few answers occur to me. While it’s difficult to imagine any full biography can ever supersede Donald Spoto’s 1983 The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock or Patrick Mcgilligan’s 2003 Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, I think there’s room for a “brief life” geared for the general reader without all the scholarly discussions appropriate for film students or serious movie aficionados. “Brief” implies there’s no attempt for Ackroyd’s biography to be exhaustive or authoritative but rather is a book for those who would like a history of how Hitchcock’s film canon came to be in a non-academic presentation.

It’s also fair to say any important artist should be viewed through new critical lenses anew from time to time as new generations will see creators of the past in very different ways from their predecessors. In addition, readers of books written in previous decades were far more likely to be familiar with many of the master’s films while new readers may have seen few of Hitchcock’s productions. This is most likely true of Hitchcock’s early silent films, his British efforts, or his final movies made after the success of The Birds.

Of course, most books of the past pay considerable homage to critic
François Truffaut due to the exhaustive interviews he conducted with Hitchcock in 1962 which probed the director’s artistic visions much deeper than anyone else was able to accomplish first-hand. Ackroyd too spends some time summarizing the highlights of Truffaut’s conversations with “Hitch” and Truffaut’s popularizing the notion that Hitchcock was an “auteur”—a director that was completely and individually responsible for his work. While not overtly saying it, Ackroyd signals that Hitch was far more collaborative then he’d publically admit, the director always downplaying the contributions of, in particular, script writers and actors.

Ackroyd’s book opens with a quick biography of Hitchcock’s childhood, pointing to the sorts of events that would influence the films to come, in particular the traumas that set the stage for the fears and anxieties present throughout Hitchcock’s life and canon. From that point forward, Ackroyd discusses each film in chronological order with brief overviews of how each came to be, some bits of production history, critical reaction to each film, and how each fit the development of the director’s cinematic trajectory. Along the way, Ackkroyd makes clear what he thinks of each movie and readers can match their own critical analyses with the author. For example, Ackroyd is far kinder to Torn Curtain than most reviewers would be, then or now.

A Brief Life, it seems to me, shouldn’t be dismissed by serious Hitchcock fans, no matter how many previous books they may have already read. Ackroyd does give us fresh perspectives and doesn’t shy away from being controversial. For example, he largely dismisses Tippi Hedron’s tails of near rape by Hitchcock during the making of The Birds and Marni. While Ackroyd is usually balanced in his appreciations and critiques of Hitchcock as a man, this was one instance I found the author a tad unkind.

If you’ve never read a Hitchcock bio, A Brief Life is a good place to start. If you haven’t seen many of the master’s films, A Brief Life should give you a list of films you’ll want to check out. If you’re a Hitch expert, perhaps you will think about movies or personal incidents in new ways. In other words, A Brief Life is well worth exploring by scholars or general film buffs alike.

This review first appeared Jan. 8, 2016 at:

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review 2016-10-30 00:01
oved it, if you love his movies then you need to read this
Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd (2-Apr-2015) Hardcover - Peter Ackroyd

Alfred Hitchcock was a strange child. Fat, lonely, burning with fear and ambition, his childhood was an isolated one, scented with fish from his father's shop. Afraid to leave his bedroom, he would plan great voyages, using railway timetables to plot an exact imaginary route across Europe. So how did this fearful figure become the one of the most respected film directors of the twentieth century?

As an adult, Hitch rigorously controlled the press's portrait of himself, drawing certain carefully selected childhood anecdotes into full focus and blurring all others out. In this quick-witted portrait, Ackroyd reveals something more: a lugubriously jolly man fond of practical jokes, who smashes a once-used tea cup every morning to remind himself of the frailty of life. Iconic film stars make cameo appearances, just as Hitch did in his own films. Grace Kelly, Carey Grant and James Stewart despair of his detached directing style, and, perhaps most famously of all, Tippi Hedren endures cuts and bruises from a real-life fearsome flock of birds.

What did I think of it:
5 stars
I loved it, loved reading about his life , the movies he made, and the people that played in them, there's so much information about him in this book that I didn't even know, and movies that he made that I didn't even know about, and I thought I had seen most of them, ok so I'm only 39 years old but I grew up watching his movies with my Dad, my all time 2 favorites are The Birds and To to catch a thief 1955, so if your a big fan of his movies or know some one how is then you need to check the book out, plus I love the black and white photos that's in it, With that said I would also love to say that I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review and that these are 100 % my own thoughts to what is truly a great book

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review 2016-10-14 20:40
Baixo Contínuo Music: "A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits" by Peter Ackroyd
A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare: Without the Boring Bits - Peter Ackroyd

People live their lives at such a faster pace these days, and all multi-threading, that it takes a real effort to consciously slow down and listen and watch to something. It's part of the joy, I suppose, at least for me. I think this problem of attention (or lack thereof) has as much to do with cultural expectations regarding how Shakespeare should be read, watched, you name it. I can listen to some “Baixo Contínuo” from the baroque period lasting for a couple of hours, but some people come and go, fall asleep, eat dinner, etc. At theatres and opera houses, boring opera or play can be wonderful to watch the world go by with. At least that’s what I hear. I quite understand that attention is context-dependent - maybe 'Baixo Contínuo music' was intended to be not listened to. Bach pieces composed for flute and harpsichord are a good example.


Read on, if you feel so inclined.




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text 2016-06-11 17:00
London the Biography: The chapter on Waste Matter - Shit Paintings?!
London: The Biography - Peter Ackroyd

It's a giggleworthy subject if you're in elementary school, but it's one that social historians find lots of er, material in - how people dealt with waste. And when you have a city the size of London that's a vast issue.


I'm afraid this will end up more than one post because wow, such material.


p 333

"...London memoranda in Samuel Pepys's words from Seething Lane: "Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar."


Londoners are fascinated by excrement. ...in English of the same century [of Thomas More] homage was paid to human excrement with the nickname of "Sir-reverence." In the late twentieth century those quintessentially London artists, "Gilbert and George" of Spitalfields, arranged large exhibitions of their Shit Paintings."


And for more on those artists: 


Gilbert and George: Everyone Said We Wouldn't Last

Telegraph, 7 Jul 2014

"...Although Gilbert and George may be very clean, their art is not clean at all. Over the years they have made pictures featuring sperm; urine; penises – their own; faeces – again, their own; and pubic lice. It’s odd to think of their collectors – who often pay in excess of £1 million for one of their pictures – sitting in some chichi Manhattan apartment with one of their enormous turd pictures on the wall."


Oh and the toilet WAS the trash can for everything - ponder your own trash use with that in mind, especially thinking about what throwing out the weekly trash would mean.


p 334

"In the period when Pepys was complaining about the substances in his cellar, the privy was being used in most households for kitchen and domestic as well as human refuse."


I always love how this is rarely if ever covered in romance or history novels - the people wearing lovely satins and silks at diner would retire to the next room and pee in a corner. Hopefully in a container - but not always, sometimes literally on the floor in a corner, or in the fireplace. All male groups at dinner would often just use a pot brought in a room while the rest continued to eat and talk. And of course public lavatories were long board benches with holes where you'd sit right next to someone and do what you needed to. It wasn't just a rich/poor thing - the rich weren't really more hygenic or careful.


Now that last bit I didn't get just from this book at all - but annoyingly I can't remember which couple of books I culled it from. Sadly there's no big book of poo in history I can recommend - and er, I think I'll wait til after lunch to google...

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