Peter Ackroyd: A Boozer and an Eccentric
Maybe I ought to try reading Peter Ackroyd's books. Jody Rosen writes of "Peter Ackroyd's London Calling" (New York Times T Magazine, September 12, 2013) in a way that makes him appealing to me:
In person, Ackroyd can seem a bit like a statue . . . . He sits for an interview, barely stirring, answering questions in a deadpan tone, wearing a jowly frown that conceals occasional flashes of humor. He is a large, round, walrusine man; he has a bad leg and he moves uncomfortably, heaving himself up from chairs with great groans. He has always been a heavy drinker. "I used to drink spirits, but my liver said no," Ackroyd says. These days, he only drinks wine, but lots of it: a bottle with dinner at a restaurant (he always dines out), and another bottle when he gets home at night.Rather odd of Rosen to describe a man who dislikes the countryside and prefers London as a "provincial," but Ackroyd, anyway, seems my sort of eccentric, namely, a literate, literary boozer. He also reminds me, surprisingly, of a man I blogged on recently, Russell Shorto. Why? They each love their special city. Here's Shorto on Amsterdam:
He is, in other words, a boozer and an eccentric -- an old-fashioned, classically English type. He certainly stands apart from his contemporaries . . . . Ackroyd is a provincial and proud of it, with a hermetic lifestyle that supports his writing regimen. He hates to leave London, professing a strong dislike for the countryside ("It's too noisy, too dangerous, I don't trust their food") and no interest in traveling to other cities ("I don't understand their histories"). He avoids nearly all the rituals of literary celebrity, restricting his promotional efforts to the occasional interview and a single appearance per year at a literary festival. He lives alone, and reserves just two Sundays each month for socializing, taking day trips with a friend to visit historic English towns.
Having spent the past several years living in Amsterdam and researching a book about its history, I now find that virtually anywhere I walk in this city, whose center has been so tenderly and smartly maintained, I am jostled by ghosts. (Russell Shorto, "The Ghosts of Amsterdam," NYT, September 27, 2013)Shorto goes on to describe those jostling ghosts -- Churchill, Marx, van Os, van Gogh, and more -- and hhow he experiences history as nearly palpable memory. Similarly, Ackroyd, touching on an almost palpable past in the first chapter of London: The Biography, which Rosen quotes:
"If you were to touch the plinth upon which the equestrian statue of King Charles I is placed, at Charing Cross, your fingers might rest upon the projecting fossils of sea lilies, starfish or sea urchins. There is a photograph of that statue taken in 1839; with its images of hackney cabs and small boys in stove-pipe hats the scene already seems remote, and yet how unimaginably distant lies the life of those tiny marine creatures. In the beginning was the sea. There was once a music-hall song entitled 'Why Can't We Have the Sea in London?,' but the question is redundant; the site of the capital, 50 million years before, was covered by great waters."Well, perhaps Akroyd jostles up against a more distant past, but he and Shorto share with me a passion for what is not entirely gone . . .