1st Edition

How to Read a Diary Critical Contexts and Interpretive Strategies for 21st-Century Readers

By Desirée Henderson Copyright 2019
    210 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    210 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.

    1. Introducing the Diary

    2. Reading Diary Manuscripts and Editions

    3. Reading the Diary as Literature

    4. Reading Diary Fiction

    5. Reading Digital Diaries

    6. Why Diarists Write

    Conclusion: How to Write a Diary


    Desirée Henderson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas Arlington, USA.

    "Writing Life Writing: Narrative, History, Autobiography shows how autobiographical narrative works as an essential aspect of humanity. In fresh, exciting ways, it melds literature with psychology, neurobiology, ethics and cultural anthropology, to argue that telling stories about ourselves is psychically and even biologically motivated. Eakin guides us through the fact-fiction tease of the form, its relevance to historians and its future in an age of social media. Eakin’s own experiment with writing autobiographically, which closes this beautifully written collection, will intrigue those who wonder what it is to find a vocation in writing about life writing, distilling with it a life time of thinking about this ever-interesting form and practice."

    -- Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex

    "What a pleasure--and convenience--to have these trenchant and timely essays of the last two decades gathered in one accessible volume! John Eakin is a distinguished American critic of autobiography studies with international reach and resonance, as well as an elegant, witty, and insightful writer. His work has long blazed a trail in theorizing the relationship of the autobiographical to diverse fields: the narrative identity system, where his probing interventions inform debates on it as cultural practice, cognitive process, and embodied representation; the history of autobiography as an evolving mode of representing subjectivity in dialogue with, but distinct from, related literary genres; and the stakes of life writing in emergent digital media and as a model of quantum cosmology. In two additional personal essays on his biological and intellectual fathers, Eakin traces how a lifelong engagement with the discipline has motivated and shaped his own processes of memory and reflection. These essays reward rereading and will enrich current debates."

    -- Julia Watson, Professor Emerita of Comparative Studies, The Ohio State University, Co-author with Sidonie Smith of Reading Autobiography: A Guide to Interpreting Life Narrative and Life Writing in the Long Run: A Smith & Watson Autobiography Studies Reader

    "Written with his characteristic lucidity, this selection of key pieces is a reminder, if we needed one, of why Eakin has been so indispensable to the study of life writing for so long: seeing autobiography as not only a textual product but a fundamental human activity, Eakin can appreciate it all its forms and dimensions. Understanding self-narrative as pre-textual, rooted in somatic homeostasis, Eakin is well equipped to surf the waves of change in the way humans produce it in post-print media. Tracing his critical trajectory, this book reveals a mind probing beyond the traditional boundaries of disciplines to illuminate his subject in new and fruitful ways."

    -- G Thomas Couser, Professor of English Emeritus, Hofstra University

    "For those interested in exploring the connection between somatic manifestations and autobiographical narratives, or the importance of self-narration to self and personal or narrative identity, then reading more of Paul John Eakin’s work is essential."

    -- Sergio da Silva Barcellos, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly

    "Henderson’s how-to text is a springboard for many kinds of discussions and projects, a useful starting point for researchers and students, effectively and wisely packaged but covering a wide array of topics that all fit in that elusive but intriguing category of the “diary.”"

    - Kathryn Carter, Wilfrid Laurier University