My Funny-Sad Diary of the ’70s & How to Keep a Book Journal

Long ago, in a parallel universe in the ’70s, I kept a  charming diary.  It is the only diary I wrote that is enjoyable reading, and I would gladly burn my later sad-sack diaries, except that burning one’s journals in a bonfire is banned by the EPA (air emissions).

My girly vinyl-and-silk '70s diary

My girly vinyl-and-silk ’70s diary

Much of this charming, funny, girly vinyl-and-silk diary is about my student days.  I described the politics of the classics department, flirtations and friendships, my charming soon-to-be-ex-husband’s extravagant dinner parties, a never-ending paper on Jane Eyre, and going to bars to listen to Greg Brown (good) or Chickie and the Dipsticks (not so good).

Here is my mocking inscription on the first page of the diary.


A Useful Document for Janitors
Aspiring to be Classicists.
One woman’s story.
Her trials and tribulations.
Outer struggles with
clogged toilets reflect
inner mental crises.

I had a satiric outlook, but also described the ups and downs of everyday life.  My ex- was the most charming person I knew, but he and his friends were hard drinkers. We once spent Thanksgiving with an alcoholic friend who had lost his English professor job and who became drunkenly abusive to his wife at dinner.  But my witty husband, who, even when drunk, brought out the best in everyone, managed to divert him by describing something on PBS as “the Stratford-on-Avon picture torture.”   We all laughed, and the friend calmed down.

Occasionally I wrote about books.  Well, I must admit, I wrote about books all the time.  I loved Anna Karenina, and wrote reams about Levin, who was my favorite character.  I wrote about all kinds of books:  Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, Dickens’s Hard Times, Cicero’s Pro Caelio (I was very indignant that Clodia Metelli, an older woman, was blamed for Caelius’s  problems), Euripides’s Medea, Colette’s Break of Day, and a trashy French romance series, the Angelique books.

Jane Austen’s Emma was my favorite book, but  I wrote disapprovingly of Pride and Prejudice.

Aug. 22

Am writing at the laundromat, drinking Pelican Punch tea from a defective Gunsmoke thermos purchased at a garage sale.  It leaked all over my purse.

I am reading Pride and Prejudice, and am astonished that I could ever have read Jane Austen as a satirist.  For the first half of the book Elizabeth Bennet looks critically at the world; in the second half she learns her mistake and accepts traditional propriety.


There you have it:  Gunsmoke and Pride and Prejudice.

Surprisingly, my views on P& P have not changed much. I enjoy Lizzie’s sharpness and wit, but the last part of P&P still annoys me.  Lizzie doesn’t fall in love with Darcy until she sees his property, and Darcy, like so many Austen heroes, is a stiff, even if he’s played by Colin Firth.  Could anyone really fall in love with Darcy/Knightley/etc.?

But I’m really here to talk about:


I no longer keep a personal diary, but I love my book journal.   I recently filled a book journal of five years of my reading.  I need to pick a new notebook for my book journal.

Big or little?

So far the format has been easy.  It’s a list.  And if I want to keep this format, I have two small notebooks that will work.

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #1:  The novelty notebook


This small notebook looks like a Penguin edition of On the Road.  I’m not a big Kerouac fan, but I saw the exhibit of his typed scroll of the manuscript at the University of Iowa Art Museum.  A guard had to warn me not to lean on the glass case.  I was fascinated by the scroll.

All I can remember about On the Road is that “the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”  This struck me because I’m a Midwesterner.

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #2:  The Moleskine reporter’s notebook

IMG_2260I deliberately bought the reporter’s style notebook so I can flip it open and take notes.   You never know when Nick Hornby, Michael Stipe, or Dovegreyreader might walk down the street.  Of course I’d flip open my notebook and  ask them a few questions.

“Sir? Ma’am?”

NOTEBOOK CHOICE #3:  If I want to change the format to an actual journal with brief critiques of each book, this irresistible Miquerlius softbound journal might do.

IMG_2256No idea how many pages, but at least two-to-three hundred.

I bought most of my notebooks for occasional teaching, but as you know who know me from my previous blog, I have no students at the moment.  No one to study Wheelock or Catullus?  Dear me!

Do let me know what kind of notebook you use for your book journal.  And whether you list books or “journal.”

11 thoughts on “My Funny-Sad Diary of the ’70s & How to Keep a Book Journal

  1. I enjoyed reading this. Recently — last month probably — I threw out such a huge pile of folders stuffed with paper I had written emails or diary entries on, they took up an enormously amount of floor-space in my attic. While I inveigh against great writers burning or other people burning great writers’ diaries and letters, I got rid of mine. I am not a great writer. I was attached to some of it, and saw it recorded my life during the 1980s and before I got onto the Internet, but some of it I did not want anyone to read lest it hurt others. My first entry of all was about my daughter, Laura, and a rocking horse I had gotten her. They were not book journal entries but autobiographical strictly.



  2. Ellen, this is how I feel about my stuff. After my happy student days I tended to write of angst. Many people use journals in this way. They’re hardback journals, and I need to find out how to destroy them without hurting the environment. Do I tear off the covers and recycle the paper?

    Yes, the internet is a more public way of expressing ourselves. It’s not too personal most of the time.


  3. What kind of book diary, you ask. Since Jan 2010 I’ve kept track of each book read, or even NOT read beyond the first chapter (and why) in a notebook someone gave me called “A Book Lover’s Diary” It’s filled with all sorts of sections clearly set out by someone who Hasn’t a Clue. Books to Read, Books Read, Books I Want to Own, Sharing Books…. etc. And little labels on the lines: Title, Author, Publisher/Pub Date, Library/Bookstore, Date Borrowed/Bought/Read, Recommended By/To, and, generously, TWO lines for the Review/Notes.

    Fortunately, I can ignore all this nonsense and just write all over all the pages. A paragraph or two on each book, as well as (at the back) a strict list of books read (actually finished or got at least halfway through before throwing it across the room).

    Because, frankly, I can’t seem to recall everything I’ve read any more.


  4. Susan, I love the idea of keeping track of books you don’t finish. I do sometimes read quite a bit of a book, and then put it away. I’m going to add that to my new notebook

    Two lines for review notes! Ha! It is nice that a real “book journal” is out there in a store waiting to be bought, but “Date borrowed/bought/read”? Never would have thought of that one.

    “Recommended by” sounds like a nice feature, but it’s probably just about as much as I can do to list my books!


  5. First, thanks for visiting me. It’s a pleasure to come here and read your thoughts. Don’t get me started on journaling. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of journals, all shapes and sizes, from the seventies until now. Don’t ask me what good I think they’ll do to anyone, they’re mostly cathartic for me. As to keeping a record of one’s reading, I agree that the list is the most effective wy. I use a horribly expensive, butquite thick, Italian leather book. It’s kept my log for five years and keeps on “giving”.


  6. Well, Kat, I have a cabinet full of those black and white composition books that I used for woe-is-me journaling for years. I stopped that nonsense about five years ago.

    Upon reading this post, I pulled out an old book journal – a lovely cloth-covered book in the French toile de jouy style. I began keeping a list of books read in 2000 and continued through 2005. I was surprised to see how many books I read in those six years – about 65 a year. For some reason I stopped and then started keeping track again in 2011 in the back of my calendar. This year, I started my blog and have kept the book list there.

    I know I was reading during those years I wasn’t keeping a list, but no idea what books there may have been.

    I have all sorts of empty journals around the house. One can never have too many in my opinion. I do keep a bullet-point sort of journal of what I have done each day. Not very interesting – read, blog, nap, etc. – but I at least will know I was alive and did something in 2012!


  7. Belezza, I’m fascinated by everybody’s journals! I could use an Italian leather notebook… I have so many notebooks. It is nice to write in special notebook. Even at B&N I browse in the notebook section. I have a hard time leaving any store without a notebook, in fact. The other day I almost bought a Taylor Swift notebook for the novelty. Then I realized I’m not quite sure who Taylor Swift is, though I’m sure I heard her on the grammys.

    Belle, I like your idea of the bullet diary. That way I can keep track of my bicycling without attempting to differentiate it from the bicycle ride I took the day before. I’ll try it. And composition notebooks are always nice.


  8. An interesting and amusing tale. I don’t keep a journal, I rely on my memory, which could be a mistake. And please, what is the Stratford on Avon picture torture???


    • “The Stratford on Avon picture torture” was a reference to PBS, our version of the BBC. And the programming included a LOT of BBC (sometimes Shakespeare).


  9. My journalling – book notes and the tiniest bit of personal stuff – is strictly on the computer now. Which is rather odd, because I am a bit of a Luddite at heart. Somewhere tucked away there is a box full of old daybooks; last time I looked through them I found myself in tears. So many of the people I wrote about are gone now. Most too damn soon.

    Every year my husband would buy me a blank journal, specific to the year, with a page for each day. A lot of what I wrote was strictly practical – farm related stuff (the date the ram was put in with ewes, when the farrier visited, pounds of potatoes harvested, the first killing frost) and appointments and such. Notes on books I read – just a sentence or two, notes on movies. Big things happening in the world, that kind of thing.

    When we started homeschooling we were with a school district program which asked us to journal our weeks, portfolio style, so that became my record of what was going on in the rest of my life. Now that that part of life is over – students are all grown up! – and after I discovered bloggers and blogging, this is it. If WordPress ever vanishes it’ll all be gone! Which honestly I guess I am okay with, or I wouldn’t put all my writing eggs in that basket.

    I still look at paper journals all the time, touching their covers in bookstores, opening them, mulling them over, and a few years ago I even bought mysef one, one of those lovely Moleskines, but it never took. It ended up being used for grocery lists. And then I lost it, probably left it in a shopping cart. So I’m no help whatsoever!


    • WordPress is great for keeping track of books, and I do write about many of the books I read here. The notebooks mean nothing to anyone but me: they are just lists!
      I love the sound of your diaries. Important stuff. I did keep diaries for years, but wrote in them when I was unhappy!

      I love notebooks, but, like you, I don’t use them often. I rescued my latest book journal notebook from a box where it’s been since 2008.
      Anyway, this topic is fascinating.


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