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My Father and Myself

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  562 ratings  ·  76 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, 280 pages
Published September 30th 1999 by New York Review of Books (first published 1968)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  562 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: big-white-square
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
Nov 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Philip Lane
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, lgbtq
I have no idea how I came to hear about this title, I put it on my bookreads shelf a long time ago and by chance, trying to organize my shelves, decided to give this one a go, it was short, a memoir about a gay person in the early 20th century, seemed like a perfect antidote to the overlong and messy Moonglow by Michael Chabon which I was struggling with for almost 2 months. This one I devoured in a few days, I was reading it on the metro, in uber, going up and down the elevator, every chance I ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
R.A. Schneider
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Ackerley's work in "My Father and Myself" is deemed a masterpiece by reviewers. No doubt when released in the late 1960's it was scandalous, new and fresh. A homosexual man trying to explain or analyze (no pun intended) the reasons he could never establish any kind of intimate relationship with his father, while simultaneously detailing his own despondent search for the "Ideal Friend."

The book is very well written, but the story itself may seem less astonishing in this day and age of the recove
Ken Saunders
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I read it 20 years ago it blew me away with its revelations and family mechanics. I've read so many memoirs since then that I was not sure what I would think, but it still held up. However, toward the end I could relate to the policeman friend who sends a letter pleading for mercy after years of listening to Ackerley whine endlessly (but wittily, I'm sure) about his unidentified Ideal Friend. As painfully honest as the book is, one rather suspects he's concealing a few 'Secret Gardens' of h ...more
Richard Jespers
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 06, 2016 added it
Ackerley set out to write a book that somehow explained his distant relationship from his father, and along the way, wrote much about his (Ackerley's) own lonely brand of homosexuality. As with all Ackerley, the style is impeccable, really cannot do better; and the way in which Ackerley reveals his father's mysterious past, masterful. But there's a coldness at the core of the enterprise, which is (and Ackerley doesn't hide this) the absence of love for either his father or his mother, which seem ...more
Kevin Lawrence
Aug 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent memoir. British writer/editor, Joe Randolph "J. R." Ackerley (11/1896--6/1967) promoted to literary editor of 'The Listener' weekly magazine. I found the beginning strange because his parents, in younger days, hadn't been married, (WHY?) only when J.R. was thirteen years old. We learn about JR and his secretive, gay relationships. ...more
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and sad and fascinating and strange. What a lovely memoir.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Appreciate Ackerley's humility and candor. He is vulnerable in ways that Nabokov is not. Was compelled by the threads of guilt and regret woven throughout this book—overarching regret that he didn't establish greater level of intimacy with his father. The author is rather open about gay culture.

Immaculate description of the absurdity of war: "On August 7, 1918, just before the end of hostilities, as he was filling his pip in the trenches and turning round to hail a friend, a whizzbang decapitate
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, that was a convoluted family tree.

J.R. Ackerley's father left him letters to be opened after his death, telling his son that he had another family of three daughters that he'd kept secret from Mr. Ackerley and his mother. Mr. Ackerley keeps the secret from his mother. When Mr. Ackerley eventually looked into his father's earlier life, and the wealthy men he associated closely with in his late teens when he was a Guardsman, he wondered whether his father had been something of a kept boy at
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: glbt
J.R. Acklerley, a British writer and playwright, late in life discovers that his deceased father, whom he always had discounted as a dull businessman, actually led a roguish secret life in his 20s and 30s. Ackerley, himself a gay man, is intrigued by hints that his handsome father may have experimented with gay life for a few years as a young Horse Guardsman in London before settling into a fairly conventional relationship with a woman and became wealthy in the banana trade. Like father, like s ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
An astonishing memoir. Written by a man born in 1896 (either side of my two grandparents) and yet so modern that the author could have been sitting across the table talking to me today about unvarnished life and sex and in today's language! Even today, much of what is written would be considered "bracing", but it allows us to peek into the lives and mores of late Victorian and Edwardians that is probably unique. And yes, it is beautifully written as well. No wonder it was not published until aft ...more
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book a lot more touching that I thought I would. The author’s unflinching portrayal of his life, honest about his literary failures and even sexual problems, was completely disarming and provoked a sense of great trust being placed in the reader. It is in this atmosphere of confidence that Ackerley’s candid retelling of the difficult (non-existent?) relationship with his father seemed so sad. By lowering any guards towards his own pride Ackerley also allows the reader to take his co ...more
Feb 17, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: life-writing
'The discovery of my father's duplicity gave me, i suppose, something of a jolt, not severe to a mind as self-centred as mine, but a jolt which gradually intrigued and then engaged my though more and more as the years passed. It was the kind of shock that people must receive when some old friend, who has just spent with them an apparently normal evening, goes home and puts his head in the gas-oven. The shock, after the shock of death, is the shock to complacency, to self-confidence: the old frie ...more
While seemingly confounded and uneventful, this memoir grows on you as you progress and certainly after you put the book down. What would you write if you had few notes and little memories? J.R. Ackerley discovers and analyzes his sexuality and the behavior of his father through the prism of the variety of relationships both entertained throughout their lives.
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well ahead of it's time, this is a ground-breaking autobiography in there confessional mode. The author is open gay in the 1920s & 1930s and he uncovers family secrets concerning his father and the father's sexual adventures. The language is beautiful and the story is quite absorbing but it must have been a revelation to read in 1969 when it was first published ...more
Wolfram-Jaymes von Keesing
Jul 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
A one star review deserves an explanation, right? Well I don't know what to tell you. Gone is the age when old, rich dudes can sit down and write to me about how rubbish their life was. I need substance. I need something relatable. I need more than the tale of a life impeded primarily by the person living it. ...more
Si Meadows
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quite an interesting read. Probably wouldn't have bought it myself, but as it was a birthday present thought I'd give it a try and was pleasantly surprised. ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My favorite of Ackerley's books. The most personal, funny, touching and honest. ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Historically important and fascinating, a great model for how to construct an honest memoir without having all the facts, but structurally very outdated.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: six-stars
Almost certainly the best book I'll read this year. ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Really 3.5 stars. Odd little book but his family history explains why he is odd. Slightly uncomfortable making much like My Dog Tulip
Garret Cahill
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Splendidly clear prose, though the book slightly loses focus towards the end.
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wonderful book but pass over the idiotic introduction by Auden.
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NYRB Classics: My Father and Myself, by J.R. Ackerley 1 6 Oct 29, 2013 09:56AM  

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Joe Randolph "J. R." Ackerley 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 homosexuality was forbidden by

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