Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries

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9780679725329: Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries
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Gathers selections from the journals of Annie Dillard, M.F.K. Fisher, Robert Frost, Norman Mailer, Thomas Merton, V.S. Naipaul, Joyce Carol Oates, Mordecai Richler, and Stephen Spender

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Caveat emptor: if readers of Our Private Lives are hoping for the unexpurgated musings of famous people they might be disappointed. As Daniel Halpern explains in his preface, "We will never know which of these come to us as they were written, in the heat of the daily moment; which appeared here after some sprucing up; and which were written as if they had been part of a pre-existing journal." Some of the contributors to this book really are inveterate journal keepers; others agreed to keep one as a specific assignment. Perhaps half the fun in reading these entries is trying to guess which are which. Excerpts from Roy Blount Jr., for example, really do seem like the extemporaneous jottings of an active mind: character quirks ("Vereen speculates that the reason for men's generalized consternation about women is that women are the only people men get to know that well"); story possibilities ("Reagan accession shocks man into realization life is not real. He stops keeping up with the news. Hence diminished role of government in his life. Paradoxically life becomes more real); and snippets from the headlines ("Hogs Loosed after Collision: Create Havoc on a Highway) nestle cheek by jowl on the page. Gail Godwin's piece, "A Diarist on Diarists," on the other hand, seems to have been custom-ordered just for this volume.

But what counts in the end is the quality of the lives being chronicled, and what's here is stellar. There's a remarkable range of personalities on display: Bill Clinton's speeches, Paul Bowles's ascerbic Tangier journal, poet Donald Hall's working journal, and much, much more from the likes of Oliver Sacks, V.S. Naipaul, Ursula Le Guin, and Dimitri Nabokov, to name just a few. These journals may (or may not) be sanitized for the reading public, but one has to admit, they sure cleaned up pretty. --Margaret Prior

About the Author:

Daniel Halpern is the author of eight collections of poetry and editor of numerous anthologies, most recently The Art of the Story. He has received numerous grants and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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