Thursday, 22 July 2010

Other people's thoughts

Once upon a time, people blogged in an entirely different format. This was called 'writing a diary' and is a custom that seems to have, almost entirely, died out.

Unlike those of us who choose to expose our thoughts to the censure of the world almost immediately after they have popped into our heads, these diarists wrote (mostly) for themselves and to remind themselves of their daily lives. Only occasionally did they have an eye on posterity.

So, with my interest in blogs, it is fairly safe to assume that I like diaries too - yet I very rarely read them. There's so many mundane musings to trawl through until you get to the entries that really capture the interest. What's needed is an anthology of the creme de la creme. And, thankfully, someone at Canongate books has obliged.

'The Assassin's Cloak' is an anthology of the world's greatest diarists. Split out into the days of year, each date has a handful of entries from writers that range from the likes of Peyps and Alan Bennett, to Peter Hall and Fanny Kemble. It is a rich store of life and offers some very different perspectives on the passing years.

Take today's date, for instance - July 22nd. Nestled amongst musings on the weather in 1873 and the roads in 1990, are these two interesting entries.

William L. Shirer (author of 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich') wrote in 1940 'Hitler has given Mussolini a birthday present. It's an anti-aircraft armoured train.'

In stark contrast, we find Andy Warhol commenting in 1986 'I've been watching this stuff on Fergie [Duchess of York] and I wonder why doesn't the Queen Mother get married again.'

It's a wonderful book to dip into now and again, when you're not quite sure what book to throw yourself into next, but are in need of a little literary sustenance. Why not try it here - comment with a date (birthday, or just something at random) and I'll pick out an entry that intrigues and enthralls!


harriet said...

I like these kind of books too. Check out my birthday -- 18 September?

StuckInABook said...

I read this a while ago - started off eagerly, reading each day on the right day, but stopped about March and then read it in chunks every now and then.

I almost always have diaries or letters on the go (in the littlest room of the house!)

If you've not read Nella Last's War, check that one out. I think some of hers are in The Assassin's Cloak?

Hannah Stoneham said...

I have had my eye on that anthology for ages - and I also predictably love memoirs and diaries and letters. Picking up on Simon's point about Nella Last - there are a clutch of books that have come out of the Mass Observation project and they are all interesting voices from the past.

Great post thanks for sharing


sunflowerinrain said...

Marvellous idea!

What do you suggest for 13 June?

oxford-reader said...

Harriet: Hmm - everything is very lengthy on that day, but here is the first two sentences from H.D. Thoreau in 1859: 'Dr Bartlett handed me a paper to-day, desiring me to subscribe for a statue of Horace Mann. I declined, and said that I thought a man ought not any more to take up room in the world after he was dead.'

Simon: I've not read anything by Nella Last, but there are entries from her in the anthology.

Eli: Here's something from Barbara Pym in 1932: 'I had a note from Rupert and Miles asking me to go to the flicks. I dashed to Carfax at 7.30 and we went to 'Goodnight Vienna' at the Queener. It was lovely, and somehow appropriate. We sat at the back in the corner and I had two arms around me for the first time in my history. The flick was over at 10, so we stopped at the coffee stall by Cowley Place on our way backk. We drank to each other in chocolate Horlicks.'

I chose that last, because Miss Pym is describing Oxford ... I wish I knew where the Queener cinema is now. I suspect it's the Ultimate picture palace, which is on Cowley road and therefore very near St Hilda's, which is where she studied.

Monnie said...

The'Queener' cinema mentioned in Barbara Pym's diaries, was almost certainly the Electra Palace in Queen Street. The PPP was not operating as a cinema in the 1930s.