Wednesday reading experience #38

Read a published diary/journal or a collection of excerpts from diaries/journals.

Diaries can be an excellent way of seeing into someone’s mind and also to find out little things about daily life in the past that can hardly be found anywhere else. For this reason historians find diaries to be an excellent source of research material. They also make good material for biographers.

While the diaries and journals of famous people may be most interesting to the general public in the authors’ life time or recently after their death, in the long run it is often the diaries of ordinary people like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys that end up being much more fascinating. While parts of Frank’s diary were written with the view of later publication, Pepys probably never intended his diaries for publication and so he is more candid and outspoken than he might otherwise have been.

I am currently reading The Faber Book of Diaries, a collection of interesting diary entries chosen and edited by Simon Brett. The book is organised like a diary, i.e. by date, and within the date by year, so the oldest entries come first. I am reading it day by day, so that it will take me a year to finish.

Diarists whose writings you may find interesting:
20th century: Anne Frank; Virginia Woolf; Anais Nin; Sylvia Plath; Joe Orton; Victor Klemperer; Kenneth Williams; Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Earlier: Samuel Pepys; James Boswell; James Woodforde; John Evelyn

If you read an anthology like the one I mentioned above, you can find many more diarists you might want to give a try. Here are a few titles:

  • Revelations: Diaries of Women, edited by Mary Jane Moffat & Charlotte Painter
  • The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists edited by Alan Taylor
  • Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey edited by Lillian Schlissel
  • A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries edited by Thomas Mallon


Gallimaufry said…
I really love this genre, even though it's made me feel mildly voyeuristic at times. Che Guevara's diaries were a revelation because his descriptions were uncharacteristically lyrical. Anne Frank is like a rite of passage for everyone, isn't it? Wonder if there's anyone who hasn't read it on their teenage years and not wept a bit. Sylvia Plath's journals were, to be honest, disturbing in their intensity and in the honesty with which she spoke of her inner demons.

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