There is something irresistible about reading some else’s diary. I’m terrible at keeping one, always far too frightened to commit my terrible daily secrets (“and then I ate Ranch sauce straight out of the bottle”) to paper for fear of later humiliation, but I love seeing those same mundane details when they come from someone else’s brain. I’m all for poetic and prophetic wonderings but what I really want is details. What did you have for supper that night? Did you sleep well? Was it raining?
I still remember, with a little shame, my first childhood reading of Anne Frank’s diary. Our teachers wanted us to focus on the injustices stomping their furious feet just outside Anne’s door, I was swept up in the minutiae of family life and squabbles, even if those squabbles happened in an attic.
“For a long time we ate nothing but endive. Endive with sand, endive without sand, endive with mashed potatoes, endive and mashed potato casserole. Then it was spinach, followed by kohlrabi, salsify, cucumbers, tomatoes, sauerkraut, etc.”
Of course, now I realize, with the sort of dread that skitters up your back, how the diary is all the more horrifying for those glimpses of a family trying their best to maintain some normality.
Suddenly diaries became something I was desperate to see more of. I searched the disinfectant-scented corners of the children’s section in the library for novels written in diary form (hello Adrian Mole) and developed a weird and early fascination with Samuel Pepys after an English lesson.
“I find my wife hath something in her gizzard, that only waits an opportunity of being provoked to bring up; but I will not, for my content-sake, give it.”
I hope one day, should my future husband make a remark about my gizzard in his diaries, it will be looked upon fondly by the children of 2109. Who will be reading it on their holobooks on their way to a vacation on Pluto. or something.
Of course, when I became a teenager and figured out to apply eyeliner without poking the point part directly into my retina it was all about Sylvia Plath’s diaries. She was a writer! She was tragic in a way my teenage brain couldn’t entirely grasp! Her sentences looked really good inked onto the front of my blue math notebook!
“I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.”
See? Perfect. The absolutely ideal sentence for summing up all my feelings about that boy who looked a little bit like Leonardo Di Caprio but who got mad when I smoked Marlboro Lights at the bus stop. Oh, the torment!
These days I’ve stopped smoking and I keep my angst to a minimum (though the eyeliner hasn’t gone away) and now I’m hungry for travel and historical diaries, with bonus points for those that feature some manner of doomed voyage. Even then, it’s not the adventure as much as the little details that I crave. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard is a personal favorite.
“The harnesses thawed in the tent, and froze back as hard as boards. Likewise our clothing was hard as boards and stuck out from our bodies in every imaginable fold and angle.”
Best read under a blanket with a nice hot tea ready for sipping. I’m not heartless, I just appreciate all the decisions that have led to a life free of the need to eat sled dogs.
If you want a taster of diaries then grab a copy of The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists . All human life is here, arranged by date for 365 days of chronological content.
This whole mess of words is basically a plea for more suggestions. Tell me your favorite diaries, fiction and non-fiction, the more mundane and detailed the better. And if you want to send me yours, I promise to keep your secrets.