Queer City is a non-fictional book by Peter Ackroyd and is an insight into the queer history of London. The author splits and divides the history into specific parts of queer London up to the modern day, and starts with the language. During the course of the book, Ackroyd explores the origin of words like “gay” and “lesbian,” the author goes on an exploration of words associated with homosexuality.
I was excited to read this publication, especially since I enjoyed my history GCSE – plus I wanted to find out more about queer history, because unfortunately I wasn’t taught about any LGBTQ+ history during my education. So I was excited to delve deep into an aspect of history that I didn’t have any knowledge and experience with. Though what I like about Ackroyds book is that is an educational book, but it doesn’t focus to much on the academic side (unlike Queer: A Graphic History) – it is also quite short (it has 232 pages + bibliography and index) – I also liked this because then I would feel as though it would go on and on, so I liked the fact that it was quite slim. It also made the book more readable, which is another added bonus.
In addition, I also love Ackroyds final statement in the book, ‘“This book is a celebration, as well as a history, of the continual and various human world maintained in its diversity despite persecution, condemnation and affliction. It represents the ultimate triumph of London.’ These words at the back of the book is inspiring, and makes me proud of an aspect of queer history – plus its nice to learn about a part of history that isn’t Stonewall or the AIDS crisis (though the book does briefly touch on these two events later in the book).
Furthermore, I also like the chronological order of the book – . Obviously the nature of using existing evidence means that Ackroyd’s research will tend to be on incidents which moved over into public knowledge and these will most likely be court cases when something has gone wrong. There’s the odd surprising fact, however. He states that in terms of population, there were probably as many “gay bars” in 17th Century as in 21st Century London. It also just makes sense that you would go in chronological order for a majority of the book (though the evidence may vary).
Though I do understand why people would understand why people wouldn’t be thrilled by the title, especially since the word ‘queer’ has been used in a derogatory way in the past, but it has been reclaimed by some. Ackroyd also defends the use of the term queer as the word now commonly used by academics and “Queer Studies” appears in academia. I personally don’t mind the title, as well as the word ‘queer‘ because it is a part of our history – so I think it’s important to reclaim it. Again, I can understand why some may have a gripe with the term.
This an academic look at the history of ‘queer theory’ and queer thought throughout history – something that I was introduced whilst studying for my Media A Level. This book explores identity politics and gender roles, as well as a number of other topics such as exclusion and privilege. It also explains how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these binary ideas are challenged by theories such as Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’ (1990).
Though I will say that though the illustrations were enjoyable and added some much needed visuals to the book (much likeAsh Hardell did for their book), I did find this book a bit boring to read – but don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate the information this book holds, and it is nice to go more in depth with a theory that I always liked – but damn, this book felt like a chore to get through. Maybe it’s because I haven’t studied in a while, and I have gotten out of the habit, but I did find myself getting bored in places.
That’s not to say I didn’t learn quite a bit from this book (e.g. I wasn’t aware of critical sexology), and I do appreciate it being written – I just aware that it could of been written better. This is because for a graphic novel, it didn’t exactly feel like one – I was kind of expecting it to be told in a more comic book like way, rather than like a standard textbook with illustrations with no colours. That didn’t mean I put the book down completely though, it simply meant that it took me longer to read.
It also would of been nice to get some personal accounts, or at least some discussions about the word queer and its connotations. I for one personally don’t mind the word queer, and though it’s not a word I identify with, it’s not something I find offensive (providing you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and I know and trust you of course). So it would of been nice to see some differing opinions / thoughts on the word ‘queer’ and / or queer theory, Ash Hardell did in their book. This was a nice added touch because it added a personal touch to the book, and is the biggest reason why I like the book.
Furthermore, I would of liked to see more discussions about the word queer (or maybe labels in general?) There is also no discussion of these words with open arms, because it’s always interesting to have different perspectives. A solution to this would be to have a few questions about what you think about the word ‘queer’, and what you feel about certain topics within a chapter.
In addition, I would of like to see a quiz / check up page between each chapter. This would of made the book easier to understand, especially if you are just starting out with queer theory. Furthermore, and speaking of illustrations, I did appreciate the fact that illustrations were in the book – it would of been a lot more dull if it didn’t have any. But I’m going to compare it to Ash again – the illustrations has no colour. What I mean by this is that what I liked so much about Hardells book is the fact that each page / chapter had illustrated pictures with colours, as well as having a photograph.
I also had problems with specific pages within the book – for example, nn page 83, which talks about disrupting binary / sexuality / gender norms, there are three celebrities pictures (Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose and Kristen Stewart). I have nothing against these specific celebrities, but I believe that all of these women do identify as cisgender women (but please politely correct / inform me if I’m wrong). But there are no trans / nonbinary people involved – and non-binary people are mentioned until page 160+. I have a problem with this because it doesn’t allow for nonbinary individuals, for example, to talk about how they may disrupt the gender binary.
Overall, I felt as though the book was to broad, and this could of been solved by possibly making it a series of books. But I did learn a lot from this book, but it was a chore to get through.
Ash is pronoun-indifferent, meaning that they use any / all pronouns.
I know that the book has Ashs old name on it – but I will referring to her as Ash.
I’m so happy and proud that this book exists – I remember watching all of Ashs ABCs of LGBT+ videos on YouTube when I was a questioning bean, so I remember watching the first LGBT+ video around 2015 / 2016 – and instantly falling in love with Ashs personality and editing – so I felt that his personality really came across in her book. The book deals with identity, because the book has a number of voices – so I feel as though this is the perfect resource for anyone who wants to have a clearer understanding of gender, sexuality, and the terminology that helps individuals clarify those parts of themselves. This book is definitely a textbook, but a manageable one, and I did read it cover to cover, and absolutely loved it.
Now, as someone who is a massive fan of labels due to the fact that I like having a label which accurately describes how I’m feeling, I was a fan of all the lesser known labels that exist within the LGBTQ+ community (e.g. diamoric, nomsexual, novosexual) – this is a great idea because I consider myself an LGBTQ+ label expert, but I had never heard of most of the labels in this book – and this is a massive strength of the book because simply because I got to know more I got to know about LGBTQ+ labels that I previously didn’t know about or understand to due to how easily Ash puts forward this information. Like I mentioned, I loved how Ash’s way of educating from their youtube videos translated into his writing.
Furthermore, Hardell does this by listing and educating the reader the reader about terms within the LGBTQ+ community, but they also include personal accounts from people (who are from YouTube – which as a huge youtube fan was great) who describe what the labels they claim mean to them – this gives the book a personal feel, which is something I love about the book because people discovering their gender and / or sexuality a lot easier – so the fact you’re not alone is a great subtext to have throughout. This makes the LGBTQ+ representation, this book felt completely natural and whole because these personal accounts because the book helps the world hopefully understand LGBTQIA+ people a little better.
However, a gripe I have with this book is that if you read the cheat sheet at the beginning of the book, you’ve essentially read the book – the remaining 170 pages don’t elaborate enough on the terminology to warrant 170 more pages – but, I do understand that Ash wanted to get personal experiences for their book, so this gripe is somewhat minor.
In addition, half the book explores gender, and the other half explores sexuality by giving overviews of both a – this gives you the ability to learn from scratch, or to bulk up on terms that you’ve already encountered. I definitely felt as though I was exploring different parts of my identity when reading this book – as I came across the terms ‘diamoric‘ and ‘transmasculine‘ because of this book.
I also love all of the illustrations this book has – like I mentioned, this is a textbook book, but with the addition of illustrations and photograph which makes the book visually nice to look at. Despite the fact that this is a convention of many textbook, the illustrations give the book so much added charm to the book.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you want to learn more about LGBTQ+ identities, or just just want to brush up your terminology knowledge – and I especially liked the personal accounts this book has, and the illustrations were also nice.
“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green has to be one of my favourite books of all time because of two very distinct memories – the first being reading it for a large majority of the time on the way to London to see “Hamilton: An American Musical” on my 19th birthday – and the second one is finishing it on New Years Eve / the early morning of New Year’s Day. When I did finish this book, I remember feeling a surge of positive energy, and this was the book that made me want to read more.
To start with, the characterization in this book was very strong – mostly because April May made a great self absorb narrator, and it even got to the point where we knew very little about those who weren’t her – but here’s the thing, everyone’s personalities which conflicted with Aprils, could still be felt. This was effective because it felt as though they could be actual people – rather than just people on a page. April could be pretty awful at times, and this plays into the idea of fame; she is fame-hungry, and I am not, so I don’t identify or relate to her a single bit. But surprisingly, I did like how Hank dared to let her make the wrong choices, again and again and again, and then let her deal poorly with the consequences – this is effective because it made me feel bad for her in a way.
This idea of fame is the strongest subtext that this book has, and the only one I could find – after her friend Andy uploads the video of April and the Carl, April becomes an overnight celebrity, with her video gaining millions of views on YouTube. This causes her to develop a public persona due to the fact that that the video brings her the fame she never knew she needed.
Which leads me nicely to my next point – the two major themes. This is definitely an “ideas books,” as it deals with the internet age. Therefore, the first major theme of the novel is the theme of social media and internet fame, which is proactively explored in Greens book – this makes it a new age story, and involves a number of modern technologies (e.g. Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter). Combined with the sci-fi elements, it suggests that the internet has reached such a strong degree that communication with supposedly extra-terrestrial life only needs a slight extension of the internet. As with any large online presence, hate will arise, and one militant group, known as “The Defenders”, claim that the Carl statues represent something that is dangerous and are formidable intruders.
Which leads me nicely onto the second theme of this book is how our culture deals with the unknown and the uncertainty also plays a key role in this book – this is because of the attention that the Carls bring after the video was uploaded, and Miranda (a material scientist) theories that the Carls are structurally anomalous robots who want to collect materials from Earth for some unknown reason. This makes the novel dive deep into the science -fiction genre, and subsequently makes April May a public persona which interests the American government.
Speaking of how our culture deals with the unknown, the question of what the Carls are is not fully answered by the end of the book, which makes this book both a sci-fi novel and a mystery novel, which makes the plot that much more engaging – additionally, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing shows you how humans feel as though they are being “put to the test” by superior alien life forms, and that assumption changes humankind on a cultural level. Though admittedly I don’t have much experience of the sci-fi genre (and I must confess that I don’t like Star Wars simply because it isn’t my cup of tea).
Buuut, because this is an LGBTQ+ blog, I need to talk about the LGBTQ+ representation – because yes, it is explicitly mentioned that April May is in fact a bisexual woman, and this is my biggest gripe with the book. I found it slightly odd that although April receives online harassment, none of it is because of the intersection of her sexuality and gender – I find it odd because it defeats the point of having a conversation about internet fame through the lens of a bisexual woman at all. – but obviously I can’t speak for bi women because I myself am not a bisexual woman.
In addition, Hank does use the word bisexual to describe Aprils sexual orientation, and obvious biphobia does exist in this world – but there’s absolutely no background information on how April has navigated her bisexuality and her gender, which are two parts of her identity which intersects with each other. Furthermore, she is forced to lie about her sexuality – which is understandable because biphobia sucks. This results in her framing herself as a lesbian when she becomes famous because that’s easier for many people to understand. However, I would otherwise say that April is a well developed character, despite the fact that nothing about her felt queer to me.
When April, tries to unlock the mystery of the Carls, is challenged by a conservative older man who wants to attack the Carls, she fights back with a long, ranting video. Immediately after, she thinks, “I had no idea of this then, but by engaging with him, I was affirming him and his wackos. Their ideas were getting more exposure through my larger audience, and I (and, of course, every news channel out there) was confirming the idea that there were two sides you could be on, and also admits that, “it was a huge mistake, and also great for views.” This means that many of these arguments throughout the novel can be applied to current American politics – though my biggest criticism with idea is that it doesn’t actually take place in the actual, current American political system. This is because it is implied that Clinton won the election – I say implied because she is referred to only as “Madam President” throughout the novel.
I really enjoyed “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing”, and I would definitely recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the writing style and characters in the book, and though the LGBTQ+ representation wasn’t great, I greatly appropriate the ideas, themes and subtexts the book had to offer. This comes as a pleasant surprise as I would normally choose non-fictional books other fictional books if I read more – but as someone whose just starting to get back into reading again, this is a good book to start with.