Diaries Into Books

                                     

Ninety-five years ago today, on June 12th, 1929, Anne Frank was born.  Almost everyone is familiar with her book, The Diary of a Young Girl, which is usually referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank. Her intimate account of hiding from the Nazis was published after her death in 1947 through the efforts of her father, the only family member to survive the holocaust.

Diaries offer us glimpses into the past. They can provide us with unique, eye-witness accounts of major historical events, and they can give us insights into worlds or cultures we may not be familiar with or be able to visit. Though Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most famous diaries to be published, it’s not the only one. There are many others. Here are just a few to consider:

The Diary of Frida Kahlo by Frida Kahlo. A meticulous record of Kahlo’s thoughts, inspirations and artistic experiments, the diary provides a unique perspective on her position as a female artist in a predominantly male art world. It also shines a light on her identity as a Mexican woman, details her struggle with the expectations of society, and highlights her determination to challenge the boundaries of traditional art.

Captain Scott’s Last Expedition by Robert Falcon Scott. Scott’s diaries were originally published in 1913 and paint a harrowing account of his expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912. The diary was discovered with Scott’s body and the final entries were written in his last days while he was hopelessly trapped in a tiny tent on the Great Ice Barrier. Considered to be as gripping and inspiring as any fiction.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys is considered one of the most important diaries in the English language. Pepys’ diary, which spans January 1660 to May 1669, offers a firsthand look into daily life in 17th century London. It also provides a detailed account of several critical historical events including the Great Fire of London, the bubonic plague, and the coronation of Charles 11.  

A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. Along with providing insights into her life and mind, Woolf’s diary transports readers to the early 20th century literary scene in England and offers up perspectives on literature, feminism and mental health. It also details her observations and encounters with other writers including T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster.

The Diary of a Young Man by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s diary, which was later published as The Voyage of the Beagle, documents Darwin’s experiences and observations during his five years aboard the HMS Beagle, his hazardous travels off the beaten track in South America and his dramatic encounters with other cultures and ways of life. On his return, Darwin joined the world of natural history experts and declared his time on the Beagle to be the most important event of his life.

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela is a moving collection of Mandela’s letters, diary entries and various writings encompassing his anti-apartheid struggles of the early 1960s as well as his twenty-seven years of imprisonment. This diary humanizes a heroic figure who fought hard for freedom and justice, and a man who considered his years in prison to be the most meaningful ones of his life.

My May Reads

The consistently warm weather isn’t here quite yet, but my overwintered gerberas and geraniums are slowly migrating out of the greenhouse to take up their positions on the patio. Taking their place are flats of tomato, pepper, eggplant and melon seedlings. They got a late start because we were away for a week in April (primary seeding time) so I’m hoping they catch up. Speaking of catch up, that seems to be the theme in the garden lately, partly because of the weather but also because my back is dictating a slower pace. I’m okay with that; it means more time for a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Homecoming by Kate Morton

Ikaria by Diane Kochilas

Books read to date in 2024: 28

My April Reads

A change is as good as a rest, or at least that’s how the saying goes. I hope there’s some truth to it! We’re on the mainland babysitting our four-year-old grandson and rest is hard to come by. He’s not one for sleeping, and his inquisitive nature is in gear before dawn. That first morning, when he nudged me awake at 5:30 am and I replied that it was ‘too early,’ he snuggled in beside me and tried to engage. “What does too early even mean?” That led to a discussion (one sided) about how I squish my eyes tight in the morning “even like Mama.” So, there’s very little rest to be had, but there’s lots time for laughs and cuddles, crazy bath time routines and books. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Abroad in Japan by Chris Broad

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Books read to date in 2024: 22

My March Reads

Today is the spring equinox, that point in time when day and night are the same length all around the world. As we in the north tilt more towards the sun, our days get longer and our nights get shorter. Warmer weather is coming and so is spring. Speaking of spring, our clocks ‘sprang’ forward an hour last weekend, marking a return to daylight saving time. Regardless of whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, this time of year definitely calls on us to get out of the house and be more active. For me, that means more time in the garden and the occasional bike ride after dinner. For now, though, the evenings are still cool, so I’m quite happy to curl up with a book after dinner. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Happy Life of Isadora Bentley by Courtney Walsh

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Books read to date in 2024: 16

Kindness Goes a Long Way

                                       

Today is Pink Shirt Day, an annual event against bullying that’s held in Canada and New Zealand to raise awareness about bullying, especially in schools. It started in 2007 in Canada, and it’s held here on the last Wednesday of February each year.

Books can’t eliminate bullying, but a good story may help people recognize and call it out in their own lives. Most of all, though, a good story often provides victims with insights, coping strategies and much-needed comfort and support. Here are some books on bullying for young and not-so-young readers.

For the picture book crowd:

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; illustrated by David Catrow

Lunch Box Bully by Hans Wilhelm

I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone; illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon

What If Bunny’s Not a Bully by Lana Button; illustrated by Christine Battuz

Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess; illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Fraser; illustrated by Cody McGrath and Sean McGrath

For older readers:

Camp Disaster by Frieda Wishinsky

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Jennifer Chan is Not So Alone by Tae Keller

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bullies Rule by Monique Polak

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Blubber by Judy Blume

Some Girls Are by Courtenay Summers

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

Dear Bully – Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

My February Reads

The snowdrops are blooming, the hyacinths are poking up out of the soil and the buds on the trees are starting to swell. We still have another month of winter before the official start of spring in March. But spring is coming, and that means a much busier time for me as I juggle writing and reading with garden activities. Right now, though, I still have lots of time to curl up with a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell by Pico Iyer

Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs

Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan by Alex Kerr

Books read to date in 2024: 10

The Unnecessary Freezing of Water

I agree with Carl Reiner who once said he found snow to be an unnecessary freezing of water. Nevertheless, when last week’s storm dumped a foot and a half of snow on our lawn, I tried to embrace it. And embrace it I did, for about two days. Just long enough to wrap up a deadline, read a book, clean the house and surf warm vacation spots. Then I was ready to get outside and walk. To get outside, period. But, alas, the snow kept falling.

So, I did what any writer worth her sand and salt would do in my position – I googled snow references in literature. It helped. For one thing, it kept me from looking outside and shivering. For another, it reminded me that some people do find snow beautiful.

In case you’re in the midst of a hellsnowscape, here are some lovely passages to help you see the beauty.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

The snow did not even whisper its way to earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.”  Dean Koontz, Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel

“The old curly birches of the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” Truman Capote, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940’s Until Now

“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day I made the snowman.” Raymond Briggs, The Snowman

“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.”  Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen

A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
 Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special, even though you know you’re not.” Carol Ritka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

And finally, to end on a hopeful note, here’s my (current) favorite passage about snow: “The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.” Orhan Pamuk, Snow

There’s Something About November . . .

When I began planning my November blogs, I did a quick search, as I always do, to check literary events and birthdays for the month. I was struck by the number of literary types who were born in November.

In fact, a number of well-known authors were born today, November 8th. Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula was born. So was Julian of Norwich whose Revelations of Divine Love became the first book written in English by a woman; Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind; and Kazo Ishiguro who wrote The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Writers born on other days in November include Neil Gaiman, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Isaac Singer, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Margaret Atwood. Whew, that’s quite the list.

November feels like a bookish kind of month. It has, as someone once said, a poetic soul. The days are often foggy and moody, we’re surrounded by brilliant color from the changing leaves,  the crisp air is scented with cedar and pine, and there are many book-related events and activities happening this month too (it’s Picture Book Month and National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to name just two).

Here’s to all the writers born in the month of November, and to the longer nights that give us more time to read the wonderful books they’ve written.

My October Reads

                                    

The world outside my window is misty today. The rain is falling, the wind is up, and the autumn leaves are swirling. The garden is nearly put to bed for the winter, though the hardier leeks and chard and kale are still in the ground promising us some good eating ahead. Inside, the fire kicks on more often in the mornings now, the manuscript revision calls, and there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:

The Starfish Sisters by Barbara O’Neal

Greenfeast: Autumn & Winter by Nigel Slater

The Little Book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi

Books read to date in 2023:  53

My September Reads

Today is the autumn equinox, that point of the year when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. From here, as the calendar marches us towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Trees lose their leaves; plants go dormant or die; and animals begin to hibernate. Humans tend to draw inward at this time of year too, and since I have books to write and books to read, I’m fine with that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:  

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Prom Mom by Laura Lippman

Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes) by Laura Calder

Books read to date in 2023: 47