Writing the Self

I went to a fascinating exhibition at the Morgan Library last weekend, on the subject of the Diary. The curators of the exhibition have pulled together a selection of diaries, spanning three centuries, mostly of famous literary and artistic individuals, but also of unknown people, inviting the viewer to consider the purpose of diaries. They raise the questions of how and why we write about ourselves, and who we are writing for, when we are writing a seemingly ‘private’ document. Diaries are written for a number of purposes; for posterity, for clarity, for organisation, for discipline, for emotional release, for self expression, to name a few. However, the question of whether we really consider them private is a matter for discussion; some of the diaries on display were collaborative, such as the Hawthorne family’s, and others were written by literary heavyweights who knew their diaries would one day be of public interest. Some were published during their author’s lifetimes, such as Anais Nin’s candid writings, and Thoreau’s reflections on his life at Walden Pond, and others, long after their deaths, such as Samuel Pepys’. The most interesting thing for me was how blogs were raised in the exhibition as a new form of diary for the modern age, and that the willingness of people to publish their innermost thoughts for the world to see, rather than keeping it private within the pages of a notebook, demonstrates a societal change in our notions of what is private and what is public.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t think for a minute that anyone would ever read it apart from me and a few friends. I started it for two reasons – to get back into the swing of writing semi- creatively, and to keep a track of the books I was reading and what I thought of them. I didn’t intend it to be personal, and I didn’t particularly want it to be. I’m naturally a rather private person, and while I am very open with those who are closest to me, the thought of baring my soul online never appealed. However, I noticed that as I wrote my reviews of books, more and more of the real life me I never intended to reveal was becoming evident through the views I expressed and the things I picked out as having meaning to me within the pages of the books I was reading. Looking back over nearly two years’ worth of book reviews, I can understand exactly what I was going through in my personal life through the way I have written about certain books. The things that struck me, the memories they evoked, the emotions they brought forth, all give a rounded picture of me and my life, frozen in time, if you look hard enough. I discovered that I can’t write dispassionately, or impersonally, as much as I originally thought I was going to.

As such, I don’t think it’s possible to be impersonal; everything we express, whether vocally or on paper, is a reflection of our mind and hearts at a particular moment in time, and how we react and what we find significance in speaks volumes about our personalities and opinions and state of mind, whether we’re writing about books or politics or cooking or crafts. And really, do we want to live in an impersonal world, anyway? By depersonalising life, by saying things such as ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’, by spouting vitriol at strangers on the internet, by stereotyping and reducing people to statistics,ย  we dehumanise and we make it acceptable to treat others with disrespect and callousness and violence. That’s why I have grown to enjoy making my blog more personal, by letting people see the person behind the words on the screen. The world isn’t made of machines, it’s made of people. A chance to glimpse inside minds, and hearts, and souls, to learn more about other people’s ways of life, their passions, their interests, their beliefs, and so on, helps us all to become better, and more considerate people, I think. It’s inspiring.

That’s exactly what the exhibition at the Morgan was; inspiring. Reading the hopes and dreams and loves and losses and just plain everyday details of everyday lives of anonymous strangers and famous faces alike made me realise that underneath it all, we are all the same, and our lives have infinite possibilities. No matter where we are from, what age we are, what religious beliefs we hold, what morals we have, we are all, fundamentally, people. If blogs are the new way for us to chronicle our thoughts, then I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be personal in a public sphere. By blogging, we are helping to re-personalise a world that is rapidly becoming impersonal, and that can surely only be a positive development. I think, obviously, you can be too personal, and you have to be mindful of personal safety, but within these boundaries, a lot of good can come from sharing your life with other people; understanding and appreciating the lives and views of those who are different from ourselves is vital if we are to solve the myriad of problems our world is currently facing. My ‘book blog’ has evolved from that impersonal chronicle of book reviews I started many months ago and has become a diary of sorts, chronicling my adventures around the world alongside the books that I read, and laying bare my musings on life and the universe. I still keep a paper diary that is highly personal and is for my eyes only – primarily because I find it useful to have an emotional outlet, as writing things down helps me to rationalise and work through problems I am facing, and to be able to look back and see how far I have come over the years- but my electronic blog is just as important to me. By publishing what I write, it forces me to think more carefully about who I am and why I am who I am, and through that process, I think it is even helping me to become a better person, in many ways.

Writing the self is always going to be a topic fraught with difficulty, with conflicting agendas and questions of authenticity. Even when we write for our eyes only, are we truly as honest as we can possibly be, or is there always an element of presenting the best version of ourselves, the version that we wouldn’t mind others reading about, if our words get caught in the wrong hands? Online this becomes an even more important issue; we can easily suppress those less than sanitary parts of our lives, gloss over the difficulties, and only write about the good things, only post those photographs that show us from our best angles. There is always, I think, a certain element of fiction, or performance, even in a diary, and this was evident in some of the diaries that were on display at the Morgan; events exaggerated, conversations elaborated, impressions coloured in a little more extravagantly than the sepia tones of real life. This is the same on our blogs; who posts about the cake that didn’t rise, the stomach upsets suffered on the perfect holiday, the colossal amount of debt they have taken on in order to buy that picture perfect house? As much as we do say, there is also a lot that we don’t, and idealising our lives is something that certainly isn’t new; it’s been going on since writing about the self began.

Even so, writing about our innermost lives seems to be an enduring and essential part of the human experience, as we all strive to make sense of what goes on inside of us, and to find inspiration in the lives and thoughts of others. As the world is changing and technology advances, access to people’s private thoughts is becoming ever easier. Do we want to embrace this, or run from it? Are there some things we should keep private? Does too much disclosure turn you off? I’d love to read your thoughts.

48 comments

  1. Rachel, this is a beautiful post. I think you have revealed some of yourself in your blog and I feel as if I know you. At least I feel like you have shared some of yourself with those of us out here in cyber-space. I have never had the discipline to do a daily diary but I do journal sometimes. I write random thoughts and quotes from books and names and places that I want to remember. I don’t share it unless I post on facebook or write in a letter or email. Most of it is just for me, though. I don’t want to share everything. I wish all of my thoughts were grand and inspiring but they aren’t. Even though I may need to express some unpleasant thoughts to myself, the world does not need to hear them. Again, thanks for sharing a thoughtful post.

    1. Thank you Janet, what a kind and thoughtful comment! I think sometimes there is a definite need to just keep things to yourself, and keeping a diary of thoughts that are hidden away is essential, I think – how else can we chart our personal growth over the years? I’m glad you have such a wonderful journal. And I’m sure most of your thoughts are perfectly grand and inspiring!! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I could have written a lot of this post — I started my own book blog for just the same reasons, and have found myself being far more self-revealing on it than I intended to be. If I’d known I would have, you know, readers, I would have intended to be even less self-revealing.

    The culture of nonstop full disclosure all the time by everyone can be maddening sometimes, because a lot of people say all boring things all the time, but sometimes they have something really great to say. Like a while ago I read this blog post where a guy had been on a criminal jury and he told the whole story of what they talked about on the jury and why everyone thought the things they thought and voted the way they voted. I love it that so many people have online “diaries” now — I can find long, insightful discussions on a trillion topics. I am an unabashed internet apologist.๐Ÿ˜€

    I have to ask: Aren’t you afraid someone will find and read your paper diary? I haven’t kept a paper diary since I was a kid, because I couldn’t stop fretting over how embarrassing it would be to have it found and read.

    1. Ha! It happens too easily, doesn’t it?

      That story sounds really interesting – send it to me! I know what you mean – nonstop disclosure can be really dull and sometimes quite depressing – such as these reality ‘fly on the wall’ tv shows that follow non entities living their ‘celebrity’ lifestyles – I’m thinking the Kardashians, The Hills, etc – living your life in a way where everything is public makes me feel quite uncomfortable and I don’t understand why you’d want to do that. But, thoughtful and intelligent blog posts on personal issues are a different kettle of fish.

      No! I keep it hidden away. Though I don’t write anything that dangerous – I write mainly about what’s going on in my head and not about anyone else, so if anyone did find it they wouldn’t be upset, and I wouldn’t be that embarrassed – I hope!

  3. You have written such a thoughtful and insightful post, Rachel, and touched upon so many things I feel about my own musings. I, too, found I was writing in a more personal way, though it wasn’t my initial intention. Unlike a diary or journal, however, I knew when I hit the publish button, whatever I said would be there for anyone and everyone to read. That was a little scary for me at first. Actually, it still is sometimes, but, I think that is okay for I think it makes me more purposeful in my writings.

    One thing I have found that I miss now that I do a fairly regular blog is that I don’t journal as I used to. Nary a day went by that I didn’t put pen to paper. I do miss that and don’t have time to do both. I do, however, find that I need the discipline of daily writing and that doing so makes me a better person.

    The blogs I read are not only fun, but, I learn things and stretch my mind and have met some pretty remarkable people from all over the globe. People I would not have otherwise come to know of. I think it will be interesting in time to see where this idea of blogs leads us as a civilization. There is, to me, an obvious need for it, or we wouldn’t all be doing it.

    Wow! I love these conversations that come out blogs – especially yours. The exhibit sounds phenomenal.

    1. Thank you, Penny – thank you for YOUR thoughtful and insightful comment! There is definitely something scary about pressing that ‘publish’ button, and the first time I wrote a more personal post I did feel nervous about doing it. However, the fact that most people enjoy that sort of post means that we’re all reaching out to other people, wanting to read about other lives, and find people we identify with. It’s good to read about normal people – which has made me less worried about coming across as ‘perfect’ in some way.

      That’s a shame that you’ve found it difficult to paper journal now you keep your online one – perhaps you could copy the blog entries down on paper for posterity?

      I completely agree – blogs have really widened my horizons and enabled me to learn about so many more things – the majority of the books I’ve read in the last two or three years, I’ve only read because of book blogs, for example.

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the post, and yes indeed, the exhibit was wonderful! I think the website is very good and gives you the chance to see a lot of the material – you should check it out.

  4. I read (and have read) dozens of book-related blogs and over time I develop an “idea” of the person who is writing the blog based on reading their reviews, learning about the books they like or dislike, and the occasional post about something specific or personal. I don’t like bloggers who share everything–and my pet peeve is when every third entry seems to be “I have the flu” or “I’m under the weather today.”

    I think it’s important to separate what I think of an “on-line acquaintances” from real-life, physical friendships. Technology today makes it easy to blur the line, but it’s important to have someone who can physically bring you a bowl of chicken soup when you have the flu and not just someone who can leave a “I hope you feel better” comment.

    Over the years, I have kept diaries and journals sporatically. In 2004, I came across my teenage journals (starting exactly 30 years before in 1974). I thought it would be fun to re-read my teenage writing and then write something about it. That lasted three days…I couldn’t believe how self-indulgent and boy-crazy I was. But every once in a while I would jot down something worthwhile–like when Nixon resigned–but that was an afterthought while mooning about the boy who sat across from me in Science class. I think about all those poor adolescent girls who are putting their whole heart out there on Facebook or other forums…and it never goes away. At least my teenage journals can only be read by me (and my husband when I really want to give him a laugh).

    1. Hi Deb – you raise some interesting points! I don’t like overly personal blogs, either – I love reading about literary and artistic related things, and travel, but blogs where every other post is a whine or embarrassing personal details are shared, I am turned off. It’s like blogs with incessant ‘memes’ – if you haven’t got anything important to say, don’t write a post that day!

      Oh yes, absolutely – there is definitely a danger of people becoming too dependent on online relationships and never developing real life friendships, and I do sometimes worry that younger generations than mine struggle with interpersonal skills because so much of their interaction with others is done online instead of face to face. However, I think having online friends is wonderful, and isn’t much different from a pen pal. As long as you’ve got one foot firmly in the physical world and don’t neglect those relationships, you’re fine.

      Yes – facebook is a cringe fest a lot of the time and I do worry about the people who feel the need to broadcast every intimate detail of their lives on it – I’m glad facebook wasn’t invented until I was past that stage – I just have my cringeworthy teenage diaries to remind me, too!

  5. Rachel, I’ve just discovered your blog, and the experience has been electrifying. You’re a young woman (I’m growing to be an oldish one!) who is rapidly devouring the identical books that have been my friends for decades, and are having so many of the same thought trails about them, but with the fresh, new reflections of a thoughtful mind with an English perspective. It’s both rejuvenating and heartening to me to see that enjoyment of pioneer stories and Viragos will continue to be interesting to a bright later generation, and not die out with us Janeites nodding over the teacups. I do have a recommendation for you: have you isolated the piquant and fascinating phenomenon of English/American crossover books? The primary one would be Domestic Manners of the Americans, written by Frances Trollope (Anthony’s mother) in the 1820s. For me the amazing thing about it, in addition to her compelling journalistic prose, is the revelation that the “American character” was recognizably firmly in place that long ago! In that “crossover” vein are so many beloved and fascinating books…a great deal of the work of Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Shuttle, T. Tembarom), Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliant The Amateur Emigrant, across-the-Atlantic travel writing by Dickens, Trollope and Twain…etc. Another book I think you would like (if you haven’t read it already) is early Canadian emigrant Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush. Well I mustn’t blather; but do wish to add that I was in New York last week and also blogged about the Morgan exhibits, a high point of my trip.
    (lightbrightandsparkling.blogspot.com) I live in Los Angeles where I work for Warner Bros as the “book person” story analyst and have written a few books too (the biography of my grandmother , who was the first Asian American novelist, and was, incidentally, close friends with Jean Webster; and some Jane Austen related novels). Please excuse the intrusion, but I am a new and sincere great admirer; Laura Ingalls Wilder has been part of my life since I was three and your fresh, non-saccharine, historically searching thoughts about her utterly delighted me. Do read Ghost in the Little House, about her relationship with her daughter Rose – not to mention Rose’s own novels. And Cather – Death Comes to the Archbishop is a stupendous novel, isn’t it. Do you like Colette? Ah, must stop, or you will think Miss Bates has come to perch on your blog! Hm – guess I answered your question about disclosure!

    1. Diana, how lovely to meet you, and what a wonderful and kind comment! I’m so delighted to hear how much you enjoy my blog and also that we share so many similar tastes!

      The Frances Trollope and Susanna Moodie books you mention are on my radar and I hope to get to them soon – they sound absolutely fascinating and right up my current streets of interest! And I adore Frances Hodgson Burnett and have nearly all of her books – I just need to read them!

      How wonderful that you were in New York last week and saw the exhibition! I will pop over to you and see what you made of it!

      What a fascinating life you have and what ancestry! I can’t wait to go over to your blog now and learn more! I’m so glad you liked my Little House reviews (there are more to come!) and I will be sure to check out the Rose biography. Yes, ALL of Cather’s novels are superb I think. I am yet to try Collette but I have copies waiting for me on my bookshelves!! Hahaha – you’re not a Miss Bates at all – you’re highly interesting and I loved your ‘blathering’!!! Thank you so much for coming over and I look forward to many more conversations!

  6. It is almost eerie that you wrote this post because I was thinking the other day just how much you have opened up since your first post! It’s a natural progression I suppose as we have to test the waters first, it’s such an unknown in the beginning.

    You are a wonderful writer, that’s why so many people follow your blog…well, we sort of like YOU as well! I try so hard not to be silly when I write but in the end my ridiculous nature usually comes shining through but I’m not about to give away ALL of my secrets.

    1. Great minds, Darlene, Great minds!! Yes exactly – you have to develop relationships with people before you feel ready to open up. The book blogging community is so warm and friendly though that it’s hard not to!

      Oh Darlene! I am blushing! You are so lovely!๐Ÿ™‚ I adore your blog because you are so much fun – you always make me laugh and that is what I mean about being personal – it makes the world a brighter place!

  7. I really love reading other people’s personal thoughts, as long as they’re interesting people. I think it’s really cool to be able to read about other people’s personal experiences online…Reading diaries (physical ones, on exhibit) sounds especially appealing to me though! The more sharing of information, the better, I think, in all cases. So I say let’s embrace it! On the other hand, I enjoy reading other people’s private thoughts and information much more than I like sharing mine, and am more comfortable doing so, too. So, I don’t know.

    1. I think wanting to read other people’s private thoughts is completely natural – we need to know we’re not alone in the way we think and act, and usually there will be someone who shares your opinions somewhere online! Peeking into someone’s written diary does have a thrill to it, doesn’t it?! It’s because you know it’s naughty!

      I think as much disclosure as you’re comfortable with is fine!

  8. Fascinating. I love diaries, I keep a paper one (and have stacks of old ones) and even a separate private blog just for myself (typing being faster than handwriting) and love peering into other people’s private lives by reading their diaries. Mostly dead people (Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, Thoreau), but occasionally years ago I used to peep into family or friends’ diaries… eep! (Strangely I’ve never cared if people found and read my diaries, I thought if they care that much to find out about me, then go to. Or just ask.) Which is why I’m fascinated by blogs and blogging. On a previous blog, I think I did share too much personal stuff (which led to a few awkward situations when friends read it), which is why book blogging is a good balance of mostly books with some personal colour.

    I’ve been thinking lately how blogging can provide an overly edited view of ourselves too, wanting pretty pictures especially and not showing what things are really like. I’ve loved coming to know you and other bloggers online, but there is a level of unreality to it, reading someone’s thoughts on a screen instead of being able to share them face to face.

    1. I love keeping diaries too, though I think I would mind if someone had read mine. I think I peeked into my sister’s a few times as a child – there’s something so tempting about a diary, isn’t there?! But I think it reveals our desire to know more about people and to delve deeper, and that’s why blogs have become so successful as they allow you to be a legitimate voyeur!

      Yes exactly – you never know who the REAL person is, as things are always left unsaid. I think you can get a good idea of a person’s heart and character though, and that’s the most important thing. I’ve loved getting to know other bloggers too and you can build real friendships through it – one of my best friends was originally introduced to me through blogging even though we worked together – it took another blogger to point out we were two offices away from each other the whole time!

  9. Love this post!
    In the middle of the text you formulate a question, you ask: “And really, do we want to live in an impersonal world, anyway?” The answer is, as you point out: NO, because making it personal is also to make life worth while.
    The great thing about going digital, as I see it, is that we can connect in such wide circles. Sitting in my study in a little town in a small country, I can read engaging texts from all over the world (fresh produce). I believe it widens my horizon and also my understanding both of others and of myself.

    1. Hi Sigrun! Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Exactly – being personal is living life, and I think especially when you live somewhere outside of large cities and don’t have opportunities to meet lots of people or go to museums or get to libraries and things, blogs can be a real source of delight and knowledge and inspiration.

  10. Interesting post – my blog started out as being about my thoughts on books and me relating to books but has since morphed into something quite different. I personally prefer blogs which are more personal, I think that is more what I enjoy reading that straightforward book reviews, but it is weird the sharing of details with absolute strangers sometimes! Having said that, if they weren’t personal then I doubt that I would have made some really good friends through the blogging community.

    1. Thanks Verity! I like the mixture of books and personal life too, and that’s why I allowed my blog to morph more into the personal side of things too. It does make it a much more interactive and exciting experience when you can develop relationships with people rather than just being clinical – I know sometimes I think twice about sharing some things, but then I think why not?! And like you, I have made great friends through blogging and I wouldn’t be without them!

  11. Really interesting, Rachel, and I think from many of the comments – and certainly my own experience – is that most of us bloggers go on the same journey: we think we’ll be all impersonal and anonymous hiding behind the internets, but quickly come to realise that like most writing, you have to build a connection with the writer otherwise it’s deathly dull and lifeless. I would say that yes, too much disclosure does turn me off – people who use their blogs to constantly vent and spout bitterness are pretty tedious – though we are all entitled to be grumpy once in a while! The diary exhibit sounds amazing. There’s a well known comedy night now, called Cringe, where people read out their teenage diaries and it is absolutely hilarious.

    1. Thanks teadevotee! Yes, I quite agree – if I can’t get a sense of a person’s personality when I’m reading something, it soon becomes boring and I switch off. Too much disclosure is definitely a big no for me as well – I don’t need to hear all that! I go to blogs to find inspiration and not be dragged into the pits of misery!

      Oh goodness, that sounds hilarious! I reread my teenage diaries sometimes and I just can’t BELIEVE I was that ridiculous and self obsessed!!

  12. That sounds like a fascinating exhibit. I love reading journals, all published of course, apart from my sister’s in school (sorry!). I keep a journal of my own more for the sake of memory than anything else because I find if I don’t write about it, it becomes sort of a vague and hazy memory if the memory remains at all. Never could quite compel myself to start a blog though. Not that I would have trouble sharing my personal thoughts (I used to write regular updates while living in England for friends and family) but more so because I would come to dread having to post something on a regular basis, it would begin to feel like a job. I used to write for a website and when the day was done, it was very difficult to have the energy for any personal creative pursuits like writing for myself. Book reviews, blogs, etc take time away from other things like reading and writing, and I do try to be conscious of my time and where it’s going. I enjoy reading a few blogs, I just make sure the blog in question is an excellent one, like yours my dear!

    1. I have kept a really strict journal since I arrived in New York to remember exactly what I have done every day, otherwise life goes by so quickly you just don’t remember anything.

      I know what you mean about blogging taking up time and feeling like a pressure – it does feel like that sometimes but most of the time I enjoy it, and the benefits I get far outweigh the time it takes to maintain it all. You just have to make sure you strike a healthy balance I think! Oh you are so lovely – I’m so glad I’m one of the people you make time for – what a compliment!๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Hy, I have recently starting to read your blog and I’m loving it. I have ordered two of the books you have reviewed recently and await my delivery from Amazon with great excitement. I was really intereseted in your thoughts and diaries.I have been fascinated by diaries/letters all my life. All of us in our family kept and still keep diaries/journals ever since we were little and our mother encouraged us to do so. I have stacks of them . Some are day to day diaries of the normal run of the mill stuff. Some are my personal journals that are very private and some are holiday journals. Its a wonderful outlet and form of therapy and recording of my life. The day to day and holiday ones, anyone can read. The others I wll probably burn at some stage as they would be emotions that I had been feeling ‘at the time of writing’. One of my sons keeps a few blogs and I used to think, my goodness, nothing is sacred anymore but now after reading your piece I think I agree that blogging is the new diary format of the next generation and I find I am hooked on reading them. I absoloutley love it and even though this is the first one I have ever commented on, it makes the world a smaller place and brings another world into your home. I live is a small rural area of the west of Ireland so its wonderufl for me to have access to reading blogs such as yours and others, be it art, cookery, writing whatever, so I say embrace it. Most of the bogs Ive looked at dont tend to go too personal unless they are blogs of people who are ill and that in itself is theraputic for those suffering so I think its great. Keep them coming.
    I am enjoying your blog and ideas and thoughts very much.
    Nora
    Ireland

    1. Hi Nora! I’m so glad you found me and welcome! I’m sorry I have caused you to spend lots of money on amazon – I do seem to have that effect on people!!

      I think it’s wonderful that you and your family have always kept diaries – what a rich history you will be able to pass on. I think it’s a natural progression for our increasingly technology savvy younger generations to move from paper journals to blogs, and as everything on the internet seems to stick around forever, blogs will arguably be just as available for future generations to read as old journals will be.

      I am so glad you are enjoying blogs so much and that you have found mine – I hope to see you around often – don’t be afraid to comment! I know I was at first!

  14. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful post, and long to be in NYC to see that exhibition – I adore diaries – both keeping them and reading them and that exhibition sounds right up my alley.

    A couple of diary books you might be interested in:
    * The Assassin’s Cloak edited by Alan Taylor and Irene Taylor — a brick of an anthology containing excerpts from over 170 diaries (mostly dead white males…) but interesting all the same. Range from Samuel Pepys to Andy Warhol and Alan Bennett. Each day has a selection of different diary entries from different people so there are many different perspectives.

    * The Hidden Writer by Alexandra Johnson, who teaches memoir at Harvard and places – I own it but haven’t read it, but according to amazon, it blends journal entries with true biography of seven female writers from both 19th and 20th century. Supposed to be good with both a writing and a psychology twist.

    Oh, and I wish we had a comedy club where people could stand up and read their teenaged diary entries like one of yr posters writes about. Sounds hilarious…!

    1. Hi Liz, thank you – I’m so pleased.๐Ÿ™‚ You must look at the website for the exhibition – it’s got some good info on there. Not the same as being there but not bad for second best!

      Thanks so much for those recommendations – they both sound absolutely fantastic and are going on my wishlist!!

      Wouldn’t that be too funny?! I wrote some incredibly cringeworthy, self indulgent things as a teenager…the shame when I look back over them!!

  15. Very interesting post, and the exhibit sounds fascinating! I think you’re right that we can’t help but express ourselves when reviewing books, especially because what we choose to read can reflect so much of our moods and ourselves.

    1. Thank you! Yes, it really is – I’d like to go back and see it again actually. Being impersonal is actually quite hard when you really sit and think about it and I’m glad that people’s personalities shine through their book reviews – it makes them so much more enjoyable to read!

  16. This is such an interesting topic. I liked the comparison you made between diaries and blogs – very apt. I am so grateful for bloggers who take the time to post regularly and reply to their readers. It feels like a special kind of camaraderie.
    Sue

  17. I have only ever kept two diaries/journals, one for 1962 (that certainly dates me!) and one for 1970. I didn’t know it at the time, but both these years would be significant for me. But I love to read published diaries and even better I love to read published letters, and my favourites might surprise you, for they are the letters of two erudite Englishmen: The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, all 6 volumes of them. They are the letters of Rupert Hart-Davis, publisher, and George Lyttelton, father of the late Humphrey Lyttelton, jazz player and host of the BBC radio programme, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.
    George was Rupert’s house master at his public school and the story goes that they met at a dinner party many years later when Rupert was middle-aged and George an old man. George complained bitterly that no one ever wrote to him (no email in the 1950s) so Rupert took up the challenge and from then until George died 6 years later, they engaged in a weekly correspondence. Whether they wrote with publication in mind is anyone’s guess, but the letters are a joy, even if a lot of it is about cricket and Rupert’s precarious financial state. Rupert, was of course, the father of historian and TV personality, Adam Hart-Davis. But – along with 84 Charing Cross Road – they are my favourite letters.

    1. Hi Margaret! Yes, I love letters too – there is something about letters that I find endlessly fascinating. I particularly enjoy letters of people whose public personalities are very different to their private ones – seeing them as their friends saw them is lovely. I’ve heard of those letters – and that they are wonderful – you have made them sound irresistible! I’ll have to get hold of them one of these days!

  18. The downside of a personal blog is that it is open to negative, sometimes spiteful, comments as well as the friendly, complimentary sort. However, going public, the blogger must accept that. Personally, I love reading about other people’s lives, perhaps because we are fairly isolated here in the middle of a forested area. I have a friend who cannot understand how I can be interested in the lives of people I have never met.
    But I’ve learned so much and been directed towards books that I might never have discovered otherwise. Your own blog, Rachel, has inspired me in so many ways. One is to make my own into a reading blog – I just have to work out how to add the cover of the current volume on my side bar so don’t hold your breath!
    As you’ve found, a blog serves as a journal with the added value of photographs. Your own ‘secret’ written journal will give you such pleasure when you’re much older. Be warned though that you may hardly recognise yourself – rather as we were saying the other day (by ‘we’ I mean you and your readers) that we find ourselves changed when we take up a book we haven’t read for years. This happened to me when I acquired a packet of my letters I hadn’t seen for the whole of my adult life. Oh dear – was this really me?

    1. Yes – I’ve only received a couple of nasty comments in all my time blogging and I could tell they were cranky, petty people from what they’d said, so I didn’t let them bother me anyway! But I do think you need to be prepared to get some criticism and not be too thin skinned!

      You are so lovely! How wonderful to be an inspiration! I am glad you’re making your blog more into what you want it to be – good for you!

      I already hardly recognise the person I was a few years ago – some of the stuff I was concerned with doesn’t interest or bother me in the slightest now. It’s so funny how we grow and change, and without a written record, we’d never really know it!

  19. Loved this post. You do write so beautifully, Rachel. It really is a pleasure reading your blog. And though I have neither the words nor the ability to articulate as well as I would like to on the subject matter, suffice to say that I do share your sentiments. Especially this : “Even when we write for our eyes only, are we truly as honest as we can possibly be, or is there always an element of presenting the best version of ourselves, the version that we wouldnโ€™t mind others reading about, if our words get caught in the wrong hands? ” I find that to be such an honest observation. It has been said that “the heart is above all, deceitful…” Not that we do it intentionally, but it’s just so subtle and hard to draw the lines clearly, I guess.
    By the way, I love reading diaries & letters too.๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you Michelle, you are so kind! I’m glad we think the same. I don’t think we’re intentionally deceitful either, but somehow, a veil always seems to come down between our true selves and the people we would like to be perceived as. It’s fascinating, the psyche.

      Good! We are all, at heart, voyeurs, I think!๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Something else that I was thinking about was something someone famous (who? When? Who knows? I have slept since then.๐Ÿ™‚ ) said about keeping a diary — that people are not always truthful and honest to themselves in their entries… I thought this was interesting because I think it’s a mostly true statement – there are some things that even you/I won’t write in the diaries as then it, perhaps, means it’s true? That you are admitting something to yourself (and through the diary, to others)?

    Just a thought on a Thursday afternoon.

    1. Liz, I think that’s very true. In the back of our minds, even to ourselves, we want to appear better people than we are. I am usually very honest in my diary, but there are some thoughts I don’t want to commit to paper. I suppose I don’t want to believe I am capable of thinking that way.

  21. Another brilliant and highly original post, Rachel. Book blogging is a wonderful, creative outlet and the community is so supportive. I agree that it’s impossible to keep book reviews impersonal, though. There is always some slippage and that’s a good thing.

    1. Thank you Nicola! How lovely of you. I am glad you have found such pleasure in relating to the book blogging community as well. Personalities shining through our words make all the difference!

  22. Hi Rachel, thanks for your thought provoking post. I love blog posts on blogging, – theres such a lot of potential PhD material on the whole sociology and psychology of blogging! I have also enjoyed all the comments on this post.

    Book bloggers and their commenters by definition seem to be deep thinkers and reflective souls who I feel are really good at getting the balance right with personal information – is usually always relevent, kind, good humoured and very human and generous. Very rarely, I have also been appalled. I think the anonymity of blogging and commenting, means occasionally people allow themselves to be more outspoken and angry than they would be in person. I also read a handful of ‘domestic’ blogs, and with these I have to remind myself at times that these are often very edited lives, otherwise I would begin to feel my house was so much less beautiful, my children so much scruffier, my family life so much less blissful! All in all I am most at home with kindred book blogging people – the community I have found there is precious. Perhaps especially so as loving books and reading is essentially a solitary passtime and it is not always easy to find people to have in depth book discussions with.

    1. Hi Merenia, it’s so lovely to hear from you!

      You are so right – a PhD in the psychology of blogging would be fascinating!

      I agree with everything you say, especially about the domestic bloggers. It’s easy to read blogs and feel inadequate next to some people’s seemingly perfect lives, but we do have to be mindful of what is not being said. So much of life can be edited and airbrushed and we can set up unrealistic expectations by attempting to emulate lives that are never real in the first place.

      I have found so many kindred spirits in the book blogging world. Contrary to what many people say, it’s not always easy to find people to discuss books with properly – book clubs always degenerate into personal chat and you never really get to dissect and discuss at the depth I like to. Long live blogs as far as I’m concerned! I’m so glad you have found us all to enjoy!

  23. I actually rather like seeing the person behind the blog. And, as you say, it reminds you that there are real people reading and writing and living their lives. And it’s also inspiring to see people take chances and try and live their dream. I do also think that even in private diaries it is actually quite hard to truly reveal yourself as it means confronting who you really are (which can sometimes be scary). But I think you’ve found a nice balance of personal/impersonal in your blog:)

    1. Thank you! I think we are very much of the same mindset. It’s great to find kindred spirits and to be inspired by the lives of people who are really quite ordinary and can show you don’t need to be extraordinary to have an extraordinary life!

  24. I find all of your blog posts so interesting! Unfortunately they also remind me of English class, which I would rather not think about (terrible teacher). I have not writtten in my journal in a while – I usually only write when something bad has happened and I need to sort out my emotions – but now I am inspired to start a blog. I agree that you have found a nice balance of personal and impersonal and I almost feel like I know you! It was funny to read the comments as well; sometimes I think I am the only one feels a certain way about a blogger, but all these people think they know you too๐Ÿ™‚. Thank you for your insightful reviews, many of which have helped me with my own writing structure for English essays (I always cite your blog.) Being part English (I live in Toronto) I also enjoy the connection I feel with my mother and grandmother when reading your blog, who are always encouraging me to read more Jane Austen!

    1. Oh Kate, you flatter me! Thank you for your lovely comment and for reading along. I’m sorry I remind you of your English class! Ha! English was always my favourite subject at school because I had fantastic teachers who inspired me – I’m sorry you haven’t had the same experience.

      I’m glad you feel like you know me – I think you can get a pretty good idea of a person’s personality from the way they write, and it’s nice to think that people reading like what they can garner about me from this blog!

      You are very kind – I’m very pleased to hear I’ve been able to help you with your essays. I actually plan on becoming a teacher at some point so it makes me happy that I have been of use to you with your schoolwork! And everyone needs a bit of Englishness in their lives – I very much agree with your mum and grandmother – get reading Austen! 16 is the perfect age to start – Sense and Sensibility first, then Emma…then you can move on to the more ‘mature’ ones as you start to get your heart broken! Though I hope that doesn’t happen!

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