Recommend some good published diaries
October 28, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Help me indulge my voyeuristic streak with some good published diaries.

I have a thing about diaries. Reading them, and writing them. I am looking for some really engaging, thought-provoking or simply scandalous real-life published diaries. It helps if the person is somewhat famous for something, but I'm also willing to read an everyman account so long as it's fascinating.

I've read Anais Nin and thought it was too dry. I read Andy Warhol and thought it was boring. I'm interested in Courtney Love and Kenneth Williams but haven't read either one of those yet. What do you recommend?
posted by Brittanie to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I think you would really like the Diaries of Alan Clark.
posted by parmanparman at 8:24 PM on October 28, 2007

I enjoyed A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece by Jane Jacobs who was her great niece or something. It's abotu a woman who goes to Alaska to teach school back when Alaska was nearly total wilderness. Really inteersting travelogue and sort of roughing it tale well put together with some decent photos and good "the making of..." intro.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 PM on October 28, 2007

Franz Kafka’s diaries (also available in part here for free) are interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. They’re a mix of personal accounts and pieces of fiction.

And I can’t remember the specific name of the diarist, but some guy kept a diary that is, if not the longest diary ever kept, definitely near the top. He would place ads in newspapers for people to come to his house and tell him personal stories, which he would then write about. Does anyone know who that was?
posted by tepidmonkey at 9:09 PM on October 28, 2007

Here's a random one for ya: Mortified, which is a collection of peoples diaries and unsent letters from children up to teenagers. They are not famous, nor are they complete; just excerpts from a time where little things mattered a whole lot more.
posted by nursegracer at 9:21 PM on October 28, 2007

How do you feel about an anthology of diarists? If you like the idea, I can recommend both The Assassin's Cloak and The Secret Annexe. The former is an anthology of great diarists, the latter of war diarists. They're both absolutely wonderful.
posted by andraste at 10:14 PM on October 28, 2007

Samuel Pepys maintained an extensive account of his life in the 1600s.

From Wikipedia: Pepys recorded his daily life for almost ten years in breathtaking honesty; the women he pursued, his friends, his dealings, are all laid out. His diary reveals his jealousies, insecurities, trivial concerns, and his fractious relationship with his wife. It is an important account of London in the 1660s.

The diary is here
posted by special-k at 10:27 PM on October 28, 2007

Virginia Woolf's. (Warhol's "diary" is actually comprised of his phone calls transcribed, which likely has a great deal to do with how dull it is. I've never been able to make it through that hefty compilation.) Agree, read Kafka's.
posted by midwesttransplant at 10:36 PM on October 28, 2007

Two favorites that strike a balance between self revelation and historical accuracy while avoiding the boring:

Sei Shonagon's blog-style Pillow Book reveals the high school drama beneath the almost unimaginably aestheticized world of Japanese court protocol 1000 years ago. She's matter of fact about the rampant promiscuity in a place where women were supposed to hide behind screens at all times, and, in the snow mountain bet scene, shows how silliness got around the constraints of style and religious taboos. (Lady Murasaki's Diary covers the same era more conventionally, with bonus sniping about that show-off Sei Shonagon.)

From "be sure to leave incense for the Con-Ed man" to a feminist academic's complaint, "I thought I had to sleep with him - he made risotto!", Nancy Weber's diary-esque The Life Swap goes from two women's self definitions via favorite things to their shock as the unseen facets of their lives are revealed, all the while being so New York-in-the-seventies you can almost feel the shag carpet.
posted by ellanea at 10:56 PM on October 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blue Steel is a blog I discovered during it's first week via a ticker; it started off as the mildly titillating diary of a guy starting an office affair, but the author gets caught up in a situation that's totally other and the whole thing is quite thought-provoking and perhaps startling. So dramatic it could be fake, so odd it could be real. Last post is a few years old, and there were only a few dozen - start at the beginning.
posted by chudmonkey at 11:14 PM on October 28, 2007

Google for the Porn Clerk Diaries.
posted by polyglot at 11:30 PM on October 28, 2007

Another vote for the Alan Clark diaries - a great account of Margaret Thatcher's rise and fall from one on the fringes of her court, plus a great insight into the world of a landed Tory. He was an obnoxious, quite right-wing, sexist, philandering little shit who still managed to write wonderfully and have a wicked sense of humour. Much as I would have loathed the man, I still love the diaries.

If you like those, you could then try the diaries of James Lees-Milne.
posted by greycap at 12:14 AM on October 29, 2007

Response by poster: Already read True Porn Clerk Stories and agree that it's very interesting. I'm less interested in historical diaries unless there's something exceptionally compelling about them. Great suggestions so far.
posted by Brittanie at 12:18 AM on October 29, 2007

Joe Orton's diaries will provide plenty of scandal. Plus he was a friend of Williams'.
posted by poissonrouge at 1:28 AM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Assassin's Cloak is really a great book, even though it isn't exactly up your street.

Richard Grant has a couple of volumes of diaries, With Nails being the one about Withnail & I. It's good. I haven't read the others.
posted by OmieWise at 4:23 AM on October 29, 2007

Film maker Kevin Smith's diaries.
posted by DZ-015 at 5:05 AM on October 29, 2007

Not scandalous, but for a change of pace you might be interested in the journals of Thomas Merton. This is a good compilation.
posted by DarkForest at 5:06 AM on October 29, 2007

John Cheever's journals are a pretty good read from a voyeur's perspective. The one Amazon comment asks the money question:

Before buying this book, you should consider if you want to sit through 395 pages of drink, depression, marital strife, adultery, hypocrisy (Cheever's), and bisexuality; all set in a prose that is often beautiful and sometimes fragmentary.
posted by sagwalla at 5:21 AM on October 29, 2007

Get In The Van, by Henry Rollins, is the penultimate Rock and Roll journal, documenting his days touring with Black Flag in the early 80s. It's funny, sad, scary and inspirational, all at once. You don't even have to be a fan of Black Flag, or even punkrock in general to appreciate this book (there's also a great audiobook version, read by Rollins himself), you just have the have an appreciation for eccentric personalities, strange scenarios and interpersonal relationships. I can't recommend it more highly.
posted by melorama at 5:50 AM on October 29, 2007

Also in the same vein, Amped: Notes from a Go-Nowhere Punk Band, Jon Resh is a PHENOMENAL read, especially if you have a fondness for underground/punk/indie music. But like Get In the Van, it's still a fun read even if you aren't necessarily into that type of scene.

There's a great review of the book here. And hey, it's only 5 bucks at Amazon, so you might as well give it a shot!
posted by melorama at 5:59 AM on October 29, 2007

Lucy Maud Montegomery (writer of Anne of Green Gables) has had her diaries published posthumously in five large volumes spanning the years from 1889-1942. These are facinating writings from a woman stifled by her times, bitter over her choices and yet remarkably candid and open. The editors add context to her comments in a very subtle way. She lived through an amazing time period, from Victorian times, through the Depression, two world wars and the changing roles of women. Her writings on how "naked" she felt the first time she left the house without a collar up to her chin (but still covered in fabric from mid-neck to the floor) is amusingly contrasted with her photos dressed as a flapper thirty years later, showing her knees. Her declining mental condition (possibly hastened by her husband's struggles with mental illness) is sadly traced in her writing.

Ohh, that book jessamyn recommends look good for me!
posted by saucysault at 6:34 AM on October 29, 2007

Henry "Chips" Channon. The unexpurgated edition cannot be published until 2018, alas, but the current edition is entertaining.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:40 AM on October 29, 2007

From a Darkened Room is the very strange, very thorough, very uneasy-making diary of wealthy agoraphobe and sexual eccentric Arthur C. Inman. Highly recommended.
posted by escabeche at 8:28 AM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

If Courtney Love interests you, maybe you would like Kurt Cobain's Journals.

Wikipedia has a long list of diarists.
posted by mattbucher at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2007

If you want something explicitly sexual, My Secret Life is fascinating reading. It's an autobiographical novel of a gentleman's quite vigorous sexual life in Victorian London. Written mostly in a diary style.
posted by Nelson at 10:23 AM on October 29, 2007

the penultimate Rock and Roll journal
"Penultimate" does not mean "really ultimate."

posted by kirkaracha at 12:07 PM on October 29, 2007

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