The Red Leather Diary

Monday, January 12, 2009

When I was a child I loved the scenes from Little House where Laura or Mary were studying for a big test. There would always be a montage, set to prairie-style music, where they would be reading while doing their various chores: Mary reading while stirring the stew or dusting the house, or Laura reading while feeding the chickens or serving dinner - dinner that always bore a striking resemblance to Hamburger Helper.

I tried to do the same thing - reading while cleaning, playing, even making my bed. Although it's rather hard to pretend to be on the prairie while making a water bed, and I don't have any chickens to feed, and my mother wouldn't let me use the stove until I was 12 - but still, I persisted. I practiced making the bed while reading, walking up and down stairs while reading, feeding the dog while reading (which I tried to tell myself wasn't all that different from feeding chickens) - I even considered attempting to ride my bike while reading, but I knew that I'd never make it past my mother with that one. My family would look at me while I was doing this, shake their heads, and say, "You are so weird." But I always knew that one day the practice would pay off. And today I was vindicated. This morning I decided that I need to stop waiting until I've completely finished reading the book before getting household stuff done, so I tried doing both at the same time. I wasn't sure if I would still be good at both - but as it turns out, it's just like riding a bike (provided you're not trying to read while riding).

Today's book description was a refreshing break from the over-the-top descriptions from the last few days - no dramatic promises that we'll be changed forever by reading the book - just a simple description of the story:
"For more than half a century, the red leather diary lay silent, languishing inside a steamer trunk, it's worn cover crumbling into little flakes. When a cleaning sweep of a New York City apartment building brings the lost treasures to light, both the diary and it's owner are given a second life. Recovered by Lily Koppel, a young writer working at the New York Times, the journal paints a vivid picture of 1930's New York - horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills, and an obsession with a famous avant-garde actress. From 1929 to 1934, not a single day's entry is skipped." - The description goes on for about 4 more paragraphs, so I'll just sum the rest of it up for you: The author goes to look for the woman who wrote the journal and discovers it was written by a woman named Florence Wolfson who starting writing the journal on her 14th birthday and ending right before she turned 19.

Here are my shallow thoughts for the day:

  • The five year journal that Florence wrote in contained only 4 lines per day. So right off the bat I was astounded that anyone could reduce a description of their day down to 4 lines, especially during the teenage years when everything feels more dramatic than it really is. I have journal entries from when I was a teenager that were 20-30 pages long - and I wrote that long of entries almost every day. There was no part of my life that I didn't bleed dry and try to use for creative purposes. But I do find myself cringing when I read a lot of the entries, and getting bored mid-way through, so maybe brevity would have been best.

  • Throughout this book I was trying to imagine what it would be like for someone to stumble across one of my journals when I'm old and actually read it. The thought really bothers me - so I'm very impressed with Florences' willingness to let her journal be published - it's kind of brave to put her younger self out there on display for everyone to see. I don't think I would have done the same in her shoes. But then I don't think I have to worry about that since I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to wade through my 106 journal volumes to prepare them for publication. And by the time I'm old there will be even more volumes for someone to have to deal with. I figured out once that if I live to be in my 70's, and I keep writing at this rate, I'll have over 700 volumes by then. Don't you feel sorry for whoever has to go through my stuff after I'm dead? I have a mental image of my grandchildren playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets stuck with having to sort through the journals. I think it'll go a little something like this, "That's not fair, I had to deal with her cookbooks and her apron collection, you're dealing with the journals. "

  • There was a point in the book when the author was discussing some of the most popular names from the year Florence was born (Alice, Lillian, Evelyn, Rose, Frances, and Florence) - so I decided to look for one of those websites that lists that most popular baby names for the last 100 years or so, and here's the most interesting one I found: It's really quite fascinating. It also made me think about how odd it's going to be in 60 or 70 years when every one's grandparents are named Addison and Cayden. But I'm sure there was a time when no one could imagine any one's grandmother being named Evelyn - so maybe it'll seem normal by then.