One-of-a-kind books, part II: Journals

While I like the idea of scrapbooks as one-of-a-kind legacies for coming generations, my very favourite one-of a kind book is the journal or diary. My grandmother has a weather journal my great-grandfather wrote over a period of several years, and my parents have been keeping their own weather journal for the past 7 years. No doubt both may he useful for future research by meteorologists. While these journals, much like scrapbooks, are meant to be seen and read by others than their creators, other journals are never read by anoyne except the person who kept them. There are exceptions of course – I am pretty certain that some people, especially famous ones, keep diaries that are ostensibly private but in reality meant for publication or at least for use by the writers' biographers.

I do not keep a daily journal myself, because I tend to write about events rather than thoughts and feelings, and my daily life is pretty much in a routine which would make the journal rather monotonous after a while. However, when I break the routine to travel, that's when I dust off my journal and start writing. While most of my travel journals have been private, I did keep one that was meant to be read – the report of my four-month overland journey across Europe and SW-Asia to India and then around India and Nepal. It was a long journey and I knew my parents would want to know about it and although I do like to talk about my travels, it is sometimes more convenient to be able to hand someone a written account they can peruse at their leisure.

I think the process of keeping a journal for others is not unlike that of writing a novel. You tend to think much more about what you say and how you say it when you know other eyes will peruse what you have written. People who have shown little interest in hearing about my journey have shown great interest in that journal and expressed a pleasure of having read it that they certainly would not have felt had I simply told them about the journey.

While it may feel like snooping when you read someone's diary, old diaries can and have given historians and biographers an insight into daily life, social mores and historical events of a given era, and they are valued by them as such. While I don't think my journals will ever reach the fame of Pepys' diary, I do think they may in the future give historians an insight into the mores and attitudes of my generation.


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