Johnson (The Hidden Writer, 1997) has compiled dozens of intriguing anecdotes related to journal-writing. We discover, for example, that Truman Capote preferred writing in other people’s homes, while John Updike delegated four rooms in his house to a different genre of writing. The author also reveals here the great lengths to which diarists have gone to ensure their privacy: women dwelling in China’s Hunan province write in a secret diary language known only to them, while da Vinci wrote his journals in mirror-writing and Samuel Pepys kept his in code. Johnson’s enthusiasm for diaries is infectious, and she urges the reader to view the journal as “the one friend you’d never betray.” She sees journals as a means of preserving family history—even traditional recipes—for the next generation, and as a cathartic way to cope with critical illness, divorce, and the passing of loved ones. In addition, keeping a journal can help us find hidden patterns in life’s seemingly random events and prod us to make suitable decisions. And, yes, the author sees the journal as raw material for publishable memoirs, and offers advice on how to cull such material.
An elegantly written study of an increasingly popular genre.