I’m currently working on a critical essay on the development of a writerly voice through keeping a journal. (The seed of this essay was a previous post on this blog—thank you, daily writing habits.) I’ve been doing lots of reading on the topic, and I have a few recommendation if the subject interests you. I have read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” from Slouching Towards Bethlehem more times than I can remember. It has a bookmark in it from a job I had in 2007, and has clearly been read many times over. Didion’s notebooks are lists of details and overheard quotations that bring her back to the feel of a certain time of her life.
“So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess.”
I also just started reading Francine Prose’s Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife. In the opening pages, Prose tackles the labyrinthine debate on whether Frank’s book is “true” art of a “real” writer, or if we love it only because of its historic content. Prose examines Anne’s desire to be published and her own aggressive editing of her diary.
“On April 14, she had serious misgivings about her abilities. Even so, she was imagining the Dutch ministers as her potential audience, and her critics.”
I’m also revisiting my favorite journal of all time—The Journal of Jules Renard, an aphoristic record of individual moments in one French writer’s life. In the introduction, Louise Bogan says “Truth about life, in Renard’s view, has been distorted by literature.” The voice of these diary entries is so beautiful and literary that the context of the observations doesn’t matter—Renard sees the world in tiny, literary moments. I love this book so much that I keep giving it away and buying new copies, because I want other people to have it, but I also can’t stand to live without it.
“Be modest! It is the kind of pride least likely to offend.”
“Failure is not our only punishment for laziness: there is also the success of others.”
“Put a little moon into what you write.”
Do you all have any favorite journals, diaries, or notebooks I should know about? Any critical works on diaries that I should know about? I am a sponge for these right now.