New York Diaries is edited by Teresa Carpenter who has done an excellent, sensitive job. The form is mathematically elegant and, I would think, an editor’s dream. TC presents the reader with a daily calendar of the year beginning with January 1st. Each day has one or several entries spanning a Verrazano of a time arc from 1609 until 2009. You can smell Teresa’s editorial panache.
Take September 15th, for example. The years of the entries for 9/15 are 1609, 1776, 1832, 1832 again – two diarists writing on the same day – and 2001 twice. For 1609 entries you sense the primitiveness of NY with Broadway as an Indian trail and Dutchmen living in forts and beginning their hapless destruction of the Native Americans. The 2001 entries are just several days after 9/11. It’s an extraordinary mind game all on one or two pages of the text.
Don’t make any lame resolutions for the New Year. Instead read New York Diaries from cover to cover of its 500 odd pages and plunge into the plushest of guilty pleasures, that of snooping into other people’s lives. Learn who couldn’t sleep at 3 AM in, say, 1832 or what a great party of the coolest young crowd you missed on the banks of a Manhattan river in 1848. Have these events presented to you with full freshness because it’s always present-time whenever you have lived. Diaries are present tense forms.
Resolutions are such empty things, worthy of being thrown out with the January 1st trash. Reading this diary anthology, you can learn what people really committed their lives to on any particular day. What they fought or played through in the dark, because we’re all in the dark about any particular day we’re living. 1923 may be past, but turn to the page of someone who is still living it in their diary entry. I counted over 170 diarists in this book. That’s 170+ lives. The late diarists sometimes give website addresses. They’re bloggers!
After the date, the year of the entry is given. At the end of the passage, the writer’s name is given. One of the pleasures of reading this book is deciding if you want to peek at the attribution before reading the entry. TC dances through these entries, the names of the writers recurring in an intuitive pattern that I think formed in TC’s mind. After a while, you look forward to old favorites. After a further while, you start to recognize a style and identify the author of an entry before reading their name.
Some diarists seem to appear only once. Others appear many times and you start to pick favorites like you are assembling a social circle across generations. I’m wishing these diarists could talk to each other through the pages and give each other advice. I’m thinking that Andy Warhol would like George Templeton Strong. I think they would hit it off. Maybe they would go to church together. Oh, the friends you could have had if only they didn’t live a hundred years ago!
Some of my favorites:
Franklin P. Adams 1911-1925 journalist and compulsive diarist
Philip Vickers Fithian 1776 a chaplain with the Continental Army
Philip Hone 1825-1851 was a partner in an auction house but won posthumous fame for his knack of diary writing. I like the plain level humility of his style.
Winifred Wallace 1923-1924 she was an aspiring playwright and novelist but she might be surprised to learn that her lasting fame was for writing a diary. I took to her immediately from her first entry where she worries about her future.
David Wojnarowicz 1977-1991 painter, photographer and filmmaker who died of AIDs.
Gosh, the pathos and sympathy we can feel for people who are struggling through their lives, still, in these diary entries. There are brief bios of the diarists at the end of the text.
I love what they said about Jack Kerouac at a party in the Village. That he could never do anything but display his talent.
New York Diaries from Modern Library, edited by Teresa Carpenter, with its fine cover of shredded diary entries shaped into a paper Manhattan, is available now. Great job, TC!