New York Diaries: 1609-2009, ed. Teresa Carpenter/Reflections

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I should be writing up my study guide for The Duke of Deception, the Geoffrey Wolff memoir my Penn students are reading.  And I will.  I should be going past paragraph three of the annual report I started writing at 4 AM this morning.  And I'll get there, too.

But right now, right before I leave for church, I want to share these few words from New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, edited by Teresa Carpenter, a book Dwight Garner heralded a few days ago in The New York Times.  I went off to buy Diaries just hours after reading the review, picking up American Gods and The Fault in Our Stars in the process.  I started reading it before I got home.  We're working on journals in class, among other things.  I felt the book could be significant.  It is.

Garner describes the book as "the most convivial and unorthodox history of New York City one is likely to come across."  Garner continues, "This book's editor, Teresa Carpenter, a longtime Village Voice writer, has had the ingenious idea to comb through hundreds of diaries, written by the famous and the unknown in New York, and to liberate these chronicles of their crunchiest and most humane bits."

The book is thick but doesn't feel that way. Voices appear again and again—enchanting refrains.  Dawn Powell, Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, Simone de Beauvoir.  Andy Warhol.  Small bits.  Big bits.  Love reached for.  Love cast off.  The dying of a cat.  9/11.

What makes a good journal entry?  It's a question we'll be asking and answering on Tuesday, after we discuss Joan Didion's "On Keeping a Notebook."

What made me love many of these passages in Diaries, and skip over others?

It's this:  I want to believe and trust that someone took the time to make a sentence new and fresh, which is to say:  I lean toward those who approach this life with their senses wide open.

Here's Dawn Powell in a room in 1942.  It is September 28:

Old battered furniture looks very startled and terrible here but I will not give in to this place and pleasure it with that white decoration sort of thing—the bare tasteful simplicity of the places meant for the bare, tastefully bleak personalities.
If you can see a room this way, you are one step closer toward becoming a writer.

And if you can trust language to move like Chad the Minx trusts language, shortly after the twin towers fell, well, then: There's room for you here.
this evening (downtown): still bright, still barely cloudy, still moving, still whispering my name with a look.


Serena said...

wow, this sounds so interesting...I like that it mixes the famous with the unknown New York residents. LOVE IT...I'll have to put this on the to read list.

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