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My Father and Myself

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  261 ratings  ·  39 reviews
When his father died, J. R. Ackerley was shocked to discover that he had led a secret life. And after Ackerley himself died, he left a surprise of his own: this coolly considered, unsparingly honest account of his quest to find out the whole truth about the man who had always eluded him in life. But Ackerley's pursuit of his father is also an exploration of the self, makin ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 27th 1992 by Pimlico (first published 1968)
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David
What a book! Father and son are a fascinating pair.

Ackerley's rather famous for his numerous and unsatisfying raids on the rough trade and excursions amongst the Guardsmen in and around Victoria and Knightsbridge. We know that he eventually finds happiness with an Alsation (and "Alsation" isn't polari for something more interesting). The focus here is his father. We learn that he was known as "the Banana King" (which also isn't polari for something more interesting); he was, in fact, an early d
...more
Merilee
This beautifully written memoir by the former literary editor of the BBC magazine was published in 1968, with an intro by W.H. Auden, but mostly written 20 or more years earlier. Ackerley depicts his homosexual feelings and experiences in a manner which was fairly shocking for its time. He also tries to understand his relationship with his father (as well as his mother, siblings, and other family members) during a time when family members were not terribly open with each other - sometimes they s ...more
Raül De Tena
Puede que vaya al infierno de los periodistas por abrir una reseña de esta forma, pero el párrafo final de “Mi Hermana y Yo” (publicado en nuestro país por Sexto Piso) es, simple y llanamente, una barbaridad: “Los simbiontes son criaturas (¿de distintos tipos?) que viven unidas por mutuo beneficio. Los comensales son criaturas que viven juntas sin perjudicarse y que pueden salir beneficiadas (o no) de su asociación. (Mensa = Mesa). Los inquilinos son criaturas que viven en el terreno de otro y n ...more
Ivan
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I've only just finished reading it for the second time. I'm still in shock and awe. Such a story. Such a candid and engaging chronicle of one man's life and also the life of his father.

Ackerley was a pioneer of "gay" literature. This is his masterpiece (without question). A more open and honest depiction of a gay man's sexual life (his likes and dislikes, his promiscuity, sexual incontinence, and his endless search for "the ideal friend")hadn't yet
...more
David
A frank book of the author's sexual maturity, as well as finding out about his father. Our Book Discussion Group voted to choose this in its list of 2014 books as a biography well worth reading and discussing. Surely it was a subject which many here did not want to read about or discuss. However, for me the quality of the writing and Ackerley's openness in following his trail of feelings and pain make it a very impressive book. I was the one to submitted it for Group voting, after I had found th ...more
Pascale
This memoir is unusually candid, and at the same time unusually forthright and effective in its debunking of the myth that memoirs can be candid. From the foreword where he explains that the revelations in his story were spaced "for maximum individual effect", Ackerley never lets us forget that the family saga he presents to us, although as accurate in its details as he could possibly make it, is above all a confection governed by narrative principles. So while telling us the real story of how h ...more
Richard Jespers
In a separate review I profile Ackerley’s novel, We Think the World of You, should you wish to see my rationale for reading this man in the first place. My Father and Myself is a memoir published posthumously. In its pages Ackerley outlines his suspicions about his father’s life before marrying his mother.

He begins by examining some photographs that document his father’s friendship with a number of other handsome young men back at the turn of the twentieth century. As one who embraces his homose
...more
Kevin Lawrence
What a warm and easy-going memoir. Both Ackerley and his father are incredibly charming men though, of course, not without their "human frailties." In the end, I think they both regret not being more friendly confidants with one another and that determines the very compassionate even filial tone of the book. Hard not to develop a bit of a crush on both Ackerley and his father by the time you finish the book. Especially recommended to see how open and unabashed Ackerley wrote as a gay man.
Matthew Gallaway
Reading this book feels like sitting down with an old (and older) friend who tells you the story of his own family's past (with a focus on his father, no surprise) in a manner that manages to keep you consistently entertained and interested. Full of wit and insights -- not all of them happy, particularly in his obsessive search for an "ideal friend" or boyfriend/partner -- the book has an effortless prose that is neither too simple nor too ornate; it's difficult to think of a more "natural" writ ...more
Philip Lane
A book about a relationship between father and son - although in reality it is about the lack of a relationship as seems to be the case in so many fathers/sons. I feel that I want to edit this so that it takes on a more exciting form - as Ackerley junior only found out about his father's secret life very late on it would have been better to have kept it secret from the reader until much later in the book. However it seems that J.R.Ackerley felt so very guilty and ashamed of his own sexual procli ...more
Anne
Every NYRB Classic I've read up 'til this one has been a stunner--so it was with disappointment that I felt my attention slipping away from "My Father and Myself" fairly early on. Twice recently, though, I've soldiered on through initially slow-moving books only to be delighted that I had. The premise of this memoir beguiled me, and I'd read that it unfolds as a hereditary mystery with Ackerley as sleuth. Many of the book's surprises, however, were spoiled by W. H. Auden's introduction, which ex ...more
Evan
It must have seemed to me at the time that life was once again making upon me one of those monstrous and unfair demands with which I could not cope, that I was being put to another unwelcome test.

But how could a company commander abandon his command on the very eve of battle? That would have been seen as plain cowardice, and cowardice should never be plain.

Psychology, I believe, has abandoned a theory it once held that bed-wetting is a kind of unconscious revenge mechanism; I am sorry if that is
...more
Elizabeth
When his father died, J. R. Ackerley was shocked to discover that he had led a secret life. And after Ackerley himself died, he left a surprise of his own--this coolly considered, unsparingly honest account of his quest to find out the whole truth about the man who had always eluded him in life. But Ackerley's pursuit of his father is also an exploration of the self, making "My Father and Myself "a pioneering record, at once sexually explicit and emotionally charged, of life as a gay man. This w ...more
Sara R. Gallardo
Le hubiera puesto cinco estrellas si no fuera por el capítulo 12, que relata su vida sexual bastante pormenorizadamente y que bien podía haberla resumido, como le criticó un amigo suyo al que alude en el epílogo, porque le resta fuerza narrativa al resto del relato y coloca al lector en medio de unas vivencias sin saber muy bien a qué vienen. Por lo demás, totalmente recomendable. Certero y tierno, para nada sentimentaloide.
Bob
Ackerley remains a bit obscure, despite his brilliance as a writer. His entire output is half a dozen works, mostly memoirs, two of them about his dog, his relationship with whom he freely describes as the most emotionally fulfilling of his life (like Gore Vidal, he liked to keep the sex mostly superficial and uncomplicated by romance).
He worked for the BBC for 30 years, mostly editing their literary magazine The Listener which put him in the thick of the mid-20th century English literary world
...more
Lee Anne
This is one of the early entries in the New York Review of Books series (many of which I own; I am usually sucked in by the design, and they pick interesting ones). J.R. Ackerley, once literary editor of BBC's The Listener magazine, discovers his father had a secret mistress/second family, that his (J.R.'s) parents hadn't been married until he (J.R.) was 13, and that his father, in his younger years, may have had a gay relationship with a wealthy Count. All this while telling the tale of his own ...more
Pewterbreath
Wowzers! The reason this book is so shocking is mostly because of when it was written and the times it describes more than what is actually in the book. Ackerley is unflinching in his descriptions of his life with his father---it certainly is a "warts and all" sort of book-

My advice---ignore the introduction by Auden---what he says is a pseudo-psychological spiel that I have problems with because it seems to indicate that gays cannot have real relationships and also because it kind of ruins any
...more
Becca
Dec 06, 2009 Becca rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dog lovers, Brit lovers
Recommended to Becca by: Francine Prose!, books about writing
The first time I heard about J.R. Ackerley was in Francine Prose's The Blue Angel, which I read in my mid-teens, because the narrator sought out particularly perverted literature, namely Ackerley's My Dog Tulip, which is about his (real, hand to God) affair with his gorgeous, sexy German effing Shepherd. I thought this book was entirely the invention of Prose's sick mind--untrue, it turns out! Thus, J.R. Ackerley's name has remained burned in the "Wrong" file of my mind, and the first sentence o ...more
David
Beautiful and sad. But really amazingly honest -- the author is quite self-critical, in ways it is easy for me to understand, having the same sort of regrets about not trying to know my father better. He also reveals things that I find astounding for a British man of his class and era, even if we might not find them so shocking in these days of reality TV, etc. Presumably because the point of this memoir is to examine the secrets his father kept from him, the author clearly decides there is no s ...more
Craig
Tough read - lacked an energy/emotional connection between author and his father
Kenneth
Very interesting observations of a gay man living in England in the first half of the 20th century.
Michael Soros
Even if you know nothing of the man and his work this book is well worth a read for an insight into the life of a gay man in the beginning of the 20th century which breaks the stereotype of men in similar situations.It is also a very frank exposition of his relationship - or lack of it - with his father who comes across, despite his son's prejudices as a very 21st century man. Fundamentally they had little middle ground on which to establish any other sort of relationship except based on blood. ...more
Branden
the love i wound up having for this book really took me by surprise. i dont know what i was expecting, but what i was rewarded with was a bizarrely moving, inventively structured, shockingly candid memoir about fatherhood, sonhood, history, and, um, sex. the prose style is really lucid but also quite piercing. it's witty. it's rather dark at times, especially for the period in which it was written. i now have an urge to go out and read everything else Ackerley's written.
Jane Mcneil


This book is well written, provocative and insightful. I found his lament of his lifelong quest for an an "Ideal Friend" at times relentless. The candid view into the world of English men who were homosexual during a war torn era it was considered illegal is interesting. He was also a bit of a tortured soul from being openly gay, and I'm not sure if a reader would walk away from it being inspired or depressed. Read it for the writing style alone.
Andrew Stansbury-Cecil
very appropriate title, stays focussed on the topic yet reads like a victorian mystery. lots of sex and intrigue. a perspective on early twentieth century London you will not find anywhere else. Ackerley is a skilled writer who can evoke the frustration he feels through a simple paragraph. he is honest and forthcoming and easy to relate to. it's strange how little the world has changed in 100 years.
Dvora
This is an excellent memoir/book. Ackerley writes beautifully, he's open and honest (amazingly so for a Brit!) and joy to read. This could well be fiction, but it's not, or only so far as everything written has a trace of fiction. If you find, late in your life, that you didn't ask enough questions of your parents while they were still alive, you'll find you're not alone and in fact, in good company.
Joan Winnek
Jan 08, 2011 Joan Winnek rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joan by: Stanford Book Salon
This is a wonderfully readable and fascinating memoir, and gives one slant into male homosexuality. Unfortunately my copy from the public library does not include the Auden introduction. So far the Stanford Book Salon has given nothing beyond Prof. Terry Castle's questions. About which I have little to say, alas.
Larissa
Good experience reading a memoir where the author has a lot of holes in his memory and the information he's sharing. I didn't love the book and probably wouldn't tell you to read it...but there were a few moments of incredibly subtle hilarity, should you decide to read it.
Silvia
A fascinating travel into years that were 'absolutely modern' and yet, with that flavour of things gone by. A story of love and hate, about 'hating' your parents, just when you realize you are what 'they' are, too.
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NYRB Classics: My Father and Myself, by J.R. Ackerley 1 2 Oct 29, 2013 09:56AM  
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Joe Randolph "J. R." Ackerley (4 November 1896 – 4 June 1967) was a British writer and editor. Starting with the BBC the year after its founding in 1927, he was promoted to literary editor of The Listener, its weekly magazine, where he served for more than two decades.

He published many emerging poets and writers who became influential in Great Britain. He was openly gay, a rarity in his time when
...more
More about J.R. Ackerley...
My Dog Tulip We Think the World of You Hindoo Holiday My Sister And Myself: The Diaries Of J. R. Ackerley The Letters Of J. R. Ackerley

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