Monday, June 16, 2014

Journaling Week Ten

I have a theme for this week on PBW, and it's all about journals -- types, how to make them, starting one, where to buy them, software, what to put in them, why they're important, etc. You're already riveted, I can tell. Stick with me anyway; I think you'll enjoy it. Meanwhile, let's start off with

Ten Things about Diaries and Journals

Largest? The record for keeping the world's longest (or largest) personal diary might belong to Reverend Robert Shields, who on a whim began one in 1972 and wrote in detail about himself and every day of his life until 1997, when a stroke disabled him. He then turned his opus, which had to be packed up in 91 boxes, over to a university. Exactly how long is it, and is it a good read? Actually it'll be a while before we know. Rev. Shields donated it to the university in 1999 with the stipulation that no words would be counted and it would not be read until 50 years after his death.

Longest Run: Not all journals are personal; some are medical or even scientific, like The Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which has been published continuously since the first issue came out in 1665. Contributors to the journal include some guys who went on to become pretty famous, like Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday and Isaac Newton.

Edited: Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Dodgson, kept diairies for most of his life. However, since his death some of them have disappeared, and others show signs that pages were deliberately removed. No one knows what happened or who was responsible for this, but scholars think his family should be blamed in what was likely an effort to remove controversial content, possibly relating to his fascination with Alice Liddell, the eleven-year-old inspiration for his famous character. Or maybe Dodgson arranged to have it done for the same reasons? We'll probably never know.

Everyone Has a Copy: With 31 million copies sold in 67 languages, The Diary of a Young Girl, aka The Diary of Anne Frank is often said to be the second-most widely read book in the world (Number one? The Bible.)

Nothing Personal: Artist and all-around Renaissance dude Leonardo da Vinci kept notebook-style journals all his life, and may have produced as much as 80,000 pages of notes, sketches and ideas on art, architecture, anatomy, botany, engineering, inventions, landscapes, mathematics, painting, perspective, philosophy, physiology, proportion, warfare and zoology. Basically Leonardo never met an idea he didn't put in his journal. Yet in all of those that survived, he wrote only two things in them about his personal life -- and both related to the death of his father.

Oldest: Since a number of ancient journals have survived there's a great deal of debate on what is the oldest still in existance. I vote for the diaries that were kept by the Babylonians; they date back to 652 BCE.

Pricey: Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Hammer journal was sold at auction in 1994 for $30,802,500. Who was the buyer? Microsoft's multigazillionaire Bill Gates, who three years later released a digitally scanned version to share it with the rest of the world. Nice going, Bill.

Strangest: In addition to penning and illustrating a 15,145-page single-spaced fantasy fiction manuscript (which was pretty disturbing on its own), reclusive outside artist and author Henry Darger also wrote an eight-volume autobiography entitled The History of My Life. For the first 206 pages Darger actually did write about his childhood before he fell off the wagon, slipped back into his fantasy world and wrote another 4,672 pages of fiction about a tornado he witnessed in 1908, which he called "Sweetie Pie."

The Pepys Code: No doubt you've heard that one of the most historically important diaries ever written belonged to 17th century English businessman Samuel Pepys, who used it to chronicle ten years of his life. The reason this diary is so important is that it provides a first-hand account of what life was like in London during the 1660's. What most people don't know is that Pepys wrote the diary in a type of shorthand of his era called tachygraphy, and before anyone could read what he wrote it had to first be translated into readable English.

Writerly Habit: Many other authors have been devoted journalers; among the more notable are Ray Bradbury, Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, C.S. Lewis, Ana├»s Nin, Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf. Why do authors journal? Maybe Jonathan Franzen, another journal addict, explained it with this quote: I had started keeping a journal, and I was discovering that I didn’t need school in order to experience the misery of appearances.

Image credit: Sergey Nivens/


  1. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I agree, good stuff! And very timely, I just received a fresh new journal as a gift this weekend.

  3. I agree, it is interesting. I have always tried to keep a journal/diary since I was 11 years old. It is an on & off thing. My mother has kept the same journal for over 10 years. She writes in it may once or twice a year.

  4. I'm looking forward to this week. I love journals for my list making.

  5. You know, my initial thought was "I wonder what the Rev got up to if he didn't want it read for 50 years", then I checked out the article you highlighted and now? Well, now I feel sorry for the poor person who's going to eventually have to read it all - no wonder his wife got bored! When I was 16 I got one of those sweet lockable diaries and wrote in it for, oh all of a week then got bored and it got shoved in the back of a cupboard. Now that I'm much older maybe I'll try again. I love that picture.