The Red Leather Diary by Lilly Koppel is a gem and if you have not read it, you need to drop everything and go pick it up. Koppel, a journalist for the New York Times moves into a new apartment on the west side and in a garbage dumpster she finds a red leather diary belonging to Florence. Koppel eventually finds Florence, who is now in her 90s,alive and well and living in Florida. Through the rendez-vous, Florence finds a new lease on life as she reminisces about the diary given to her at the age of 14 in the 1930s.
I did my own share of reminiscing while reading the diary, thinking about writing my own book, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and what a treasure it was finding my grandmother’s journal and studying her life growing up as an orphan during World War I in Poland.
These two books are inspiring enough to make it worthwhile to rummage around old closets and dumpsters—you just never know what you might come up with!
Let me hear your stories!
Last weekend I read three stellar reviews of my friend Phillip Lopate’s new book, Two Marriages. and I am so proud! Even though us literary friends relish reading our own favorable book reviews, it is equally spectacular to read those of others who we admire. In the same way, there is a certain adrenaline rush and silent camaraderie when wandering through bookstores and spotting our friends’ books on the shelves.
Lopate, who has been primarily known as the ‘guru of the personal essay,’ after a 21-year hiatus has ventured back to fiction. I greatly admire how he can successfully maneuver between fiction and nonfiction. His new book, of two novellas, is not only next on my reading list because I love reading the works of my favorite colleagues, but also, I try to read any memoir or novel which incorporates the diary or journal form in its prose. In Two Marriages, the lead character (in one of the two novellas) is an academic who begins a diary to record his magical new marriage to the nurse who looked after his dying mother. Naturally, that bubble is burst and I look forward to finding out how.
Next time I will comment on the Red Leather Diary by Lilly Koppel, but in the meantime, if you know of any other books which fall into this category, please do tell!
Sometimes when prowling through old journals I feel like a scavenger looking for dead meat. Rummaging around your old journals can be an interesting and useful exercise for writers, non-writers and ‘wannabe’ writers. It’s fun to examine our past obsessions, loves and dislikes. Often these don’t change over the years as mine have been writing about losses and fantasies—quite a spectrum!
The best time to reread old journals is when we need nourishment for writing ideas. Our old journals are gems packed with little darlings. On rainy days, for example, try highlighting sections which still spark your interest. Then, pick one and free-write for 10-20 minutes. In other words, write nonstop without making corrections and without paying attention to grammar. Don’t judge and certainly don’t edit. This practice helps bypass the inner critic and also releases tension, plus it might end up being a bigger seed which could actually blossom into a published piece, whether it’s a poem or story.
Many people are advocates of spring cleaning, but over the years, I’ve become an advocate of fall cleaning. I think it all began when my kids were young and September meant shipping them off to school. I love all three of my kids, but after a summer of activities with little or no time to write, I craved my time alone.
Now that my kids are grown I continue my ritual of fall cleaning. You may think this involves emptying out closets of unused items, but, in actuality, it is about thumbing through old notebooks for writing ideas.
For example, yesterday I pulled out a red journal with unlined parchment paper, used in a poetry workshop with Sharon Olds. I reread my comments about women’s purses and my observations about their relationships with them—their sacredness, clutched close, jammed with receipts, business cards, scribbled notes and unsent letters. I thought about my new purple purse (I adore purple) and my vow to keep it clean. I thought about other women and their sentiments about their own purses. All these are wonderful seeds for today’s poem.
I just love the thoughts and surprises hidden inside the covers of old journals. Don’t you?
Unfortunately, I can no longer locate my favorite Kahlil Gibran journal used in the 1970s, but that’s okay, I’ve developed a love affair with Moleskins. After all, they fit all the criteria of a perfect notebook—they lie completely flat, the lines are well-spaced, the gel pen glides smoothly along the page, they have pockets for memorabilia and they were used by famous artists and authors such as Hemingway, Chatwin and Picasso.
I got really excited after attending this year’s Book Expo Association (BEA) in Los Angeles and visiting the Moleskin Booth. I learned that before the end of 2008, the company will release an entire new collection of Moleskins in every color of the rainbow. My appetite is already wet. Today, I wandered into Barnes & Noble and noticed the red notebooks are already on the shelves. I must admit, I do occasionally yearn for those Kahlil Gibran’s journals with sayings on top of each page, but these are almost as enticing.
PS. If you know where I can get my hands on old Kahlil Gibran journals, please write me, ASAP !!