February 13, 2004

Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks and Diaries
Edited by Daniel J. Halpern
The Slate Diaries
Edited by Michael Kinsley
Letters of the Century
Edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler

Self-Help -- These are the sorts of books you can pick-up and put down and return to again with renewed eagerness and expectation. They're also full of the remarkable revelations of other people -- the famous, the infamous, the so-called "ordinary" -- and I do so much prefer examining the lives of others to examining my own. (When you read the diaries of Gide, Chekov and Henry James, you find them contemplating The Great Questions of Life. When I re-read mine, I find I'm spending a lot of time drinking iced mochas at The Perfect Cup on Damen Avenue or Cafe Avanti on Southport. My own diaries, alas, could accurately be titled, "For Whom the Dinner Bell Tolls.") For the most part, these anthologies are filled with wonderful, unvarnished honesty: Dorothy Parker recognizing the racist residue that lives within her; Bill Gates sounding a bit full of himself as he tries so hard to sound humble; Robert Frost admonishing on Christmas 1921, "Give to the poor to make them happy but not to purchase happiness for yourself that night." These diaries, like all diaries I suppose, are the real self-help books.


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