Dear Diary: Glimpses into (Extra) ordinary lives

By Janet Clapp

Each of us has a unique perspective on the life and times in which we live. Readers can gain a greater understanding of a person, place, and culture through the words of a diary writer. A diary can be a behind-the-scenes sneak peek. According to the fictional author in William Boyd’s novel, “Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary—it is the respective proportions of those two categories that make that life appear interesting or humdrum.”

0302-rhv-booksberlin_diarieBerlin Diaries, 1940-1945

by Marie Vassiltchikov

In 1940, White Russian princess Marie Vassiltchikov is desperate for work so she accepts a secretarial job with the German Foreign Office in Berlin. Her diary describes life in World War II Germany. “My free day. Shopped. ‘Shopping’ these days means essentially shopping for food. Everything is rationed and it takes time, as most shops have long queues.” Through her many social and work connections, she is close to some of those involved in the July 20 attempt to kill Hitler. “Waiting for my bus back to town, I sat on the curb, too tired and discouraged even to stand. Wherever I turn, everybody is disappearing one by one; there is nobody left whom one can ask for help. They are now arresting people who were mere acquaintances or who happened to work in the same office.”

0302-rhv-booksanyhumanheartAny Human Heart

by William Boyd

This novel in diary form begins at a boys’ boarding school in 1923 England. “So, this is how myths and legends are born. I realize now, with a small sense of absolute revelation, what the way ahead involves…I have to play with reckless, careless stupidity, the grossest foolhardiness. The more senseless I am, the more I risk life and limb, the more I will be recognized—and hailed. All I have to do is play rugby like a suicidal maniac.” Sharing the ups and downs of his career and love life, Logan Montstuart’s diary continues into his elderly years. “That’s all your life amounts to in the end: the aggregate of all the good luck and the bad luck you experience. Everything is explained by that simple formula. Tot it up—look at the respective piles. There’s nothing you can do about it: nobody shares it out, allocates it to this one or that, it just happens.”

0302_RHV_BooksJournalsJournals, 1952-2000

by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr

As a historian and prominent figure in American life, Schlesinger has an insider’s connection to presidents, writers, and celebrities. These journals begin in 1952 when President Truman announced he would not seek reelection: “He hurriedly finished the speech and disappeared, leaving the audience still stunned. Half the people did not seem to know what had happened.” In 1961 Schlesinger takes a job with President Kennedy. “I settled down in an office in the East Wing of the White House and tried to find out what I was supposed to do. I had the impression that JFK was equally baffled, and he had somewhat more weighty matters on his mind.” Throughout the decades Schlesinger records his life, concluding in 2000 with the election and publication of his book “A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950”.

0302-rhv-booksafterthestrokAfter the Stroke: A Journal

by May Sarton

Poet and author Sarton’s journal opens as she recovers from a stroke. “It may prove impossible because my head feels so queer and the smallest effort, mental or physical, exhausts, but I feel so deprived of my self being unable to write, cut off since early January from all that I mean about my life, that I think I must try to write a few lines every day.” Her writing reveals her discouragement and progress, as well as her appreciation for friends, flowers, pets, and books.

0302-rhv-booksdiarychristiaDiary of a Christian Soldier: Rufus Kinsley and the Civil War

by David C. Rankin

Vermonter Rufus Kinsley is a fervent abolitionist who joins the Union army November 29, 1861. “Enlisted at St. Albans, for the 8th Vermont Regt., for service in Butler’s Brigade, designed to operate in the Gulf of Mexico, against New Orleans, Mobile, and other rebellious cities of the South. Enlisted for three years, from first day of June, 1861.” His diary entries are short but capture his war experience. “June 19, 1862. Received two months pay: $26. Hid a negro from his master.” While Kinsley is stationed in Louisiana he becomes an officer in a black regiment. “Thank God I enlisted when I did, and where I did! Thank God for the opportunity of preaching Abolitionism to slaveholders, and to slaves: of making men dissatisfied with the condition they are in; because, until dissatisfied with their present state, they can never be led to a better.”

0302-rhv-booksbridgetjonesdBridget Jones’s Diary

by Helen Fielding

British young woman Bridget begins her fictional diary on January 1 listing the food and alcohol she consumed. “Cannot quite believe I am once again starting the year in a single bed in my parents’ house. It is too humiliating at my age. I wonder if they’ll smell it if I have a fag out of the window.” During the year she tries to improve herself. “Determined, now, to tackle constant lateness for work and failure to address in-tray bulging with threats from bailiffs, etc. Resolve to begin self-improvement program with time-and-motion study.”

The Rutland Free Library has the books above and many other published diaries.

Happy reading!

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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