How to Read a Diary is an expansive and accessible guidebook that introduces readers to the past, present, and future of diary writing. Grounded in examples from around the globe and from across history, this book explores the provocative questions diaries pose to readers: Are they private? Are they truthful? Why do some diarists employ codes? Do more women than men write diaries? How has the format changed in the digital age? In answering questions like these, How to Read a Diary offers a new critical vocabulary for interpreting diaries. Readers learn how to analyze diary manuscripts, identify the conventions of diary writing, examine the impact of technology on the genre, and appreciate the myriad personal and political motives that drive diary writing. Henderson also presents the diary’s extensive influence upon literary history, ranging from masterpieces of world literature to young adult novels, graphic novels, and comics. How to Read a Diary invites readers to discover the rich and compelling stories that individuals tell about themselves within the pages of their diaries.
'This may not be a guide on how to write one’s diary – each person does as he or she pleases – but it is a marvelous guide on how to read other’s diaries! Desirée Henderson explores this immense continent of diary writing, which is as well traveled as it is secret. She dispels prejudices, misunderstandings, and ignorance. With a lucid and attentive eye, she discerns, explains, and classifies. This work is at once an ethnographic analysis of a practice (to keep a diary is above all a way of living) and the poetics of what has become a literary genre. Based on broad knowledge of the subject, the argument is remarkably clear. Henderson’s analysis does not lead to conclusions, but rather opens up a whole array of questions. Let us pick up the challenge and respond.'
'Diaries are among the most common and least understood genres of writing in the world. How can we read what was not written with us in mind? Why keep diaries at all? Desirée Henderson's concise and well-researched introduction to the study of diaries lets us in on their secrets, and asks us to treat diaries, and their writers, with the respect and care they truly deserve.'
Julie Rak, University of Alberta
'Not since Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson’s Reading Autobiography has a book so articulately and intelligently examined the interpretive strategies and stances needed for reading the life writing of others. Desiree Henderson’s captivating and illuminating study, How to Read a Diary, is for both the student new to diary scholarship as well as the seasoned reader. Under her keen and caring eye, the diary is afforded a complexity, rigor, and attentiveness that is all too often reserved for more "literary" genres. She challenges readers of diaries to see both the texts—whether manuscript, digital, or published—and the authors writing them as complex and multifaceted subjects that emerge out of a matrix of cultural, historical, and rhetorical forces. How to Read a Diary constitutes essential reading for anyone interested in how writers inscribe themselves on the page, literally or digitally. Students and scholars conducting archival research, working with primary materials, or invested in questions of self-representation will also find Henderson’s deep and vast exploration of the genre thought provoking and smart. In How to Read a Diary,Henderson has given the field of life writing an invaluable tool, a wise companion, and a trove of resources. A touchstone.'
Jennifer Sinor, Utah State University
Chapter 1: The Diary as Archival Document
Chapter 2: The Diary as Literature
Chapter 3: The Fictional Diary
Chapter 4: The Digital Diary
Chapter 5: How (and Why) to Write a Diary