December Prompt: Dear Diary/Dear Friend

Inspired by A Work in Progress, the wonderful blog that ALL readers should follow slavishly, I have decided to tackle a little pile of books around the theme of diaries and letters. In my case I am taking t quite literally. You can read A Work in Progress' selection here

I have ALWAYS adored reading diaries and letters, and even when I was 12 or 1 years old I remember checking out volumes like The Letters of Oscar Wilde from my small-town library, much to the bewilderment of my local librarian and parents. For some reason the challenge of piecing together a person's life from these random documents, often preserved purely by chance and without reference to any kind of an externally-imposed sense of order or importance, has always appealed to me. They are also the best way of discovering other fabulous people, especially through footnotes, that most treasured addition to many volumes of letters or diaries. A brief anecdote and the mention of a name previously only vaguely recognised can set you off on a whole new mania for discovering everything about them. 

So here are the little (and one big) treasures I have selected to enjoy this December (I am travelling, too, and there is nothing better to take on a holiday than someone else's diaries to inspire you to be more careful about keeping your own):



A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs by Alexandra Johnson -- I bought this one a couple of years ago when I taught a study day on 'The Great Diarists'. It was extremely useful then, but I still haven't read it cover-to-cover. Since it is so slim it won't take me very long at all, and will serve as a wonderful refresher.

The Bookshop at Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952 - 73 edited by John Saumarez Smith -- Nancy Mitford never seems very far away from any reading list I compile, and these funny, chatty and extremely gossipy letters between friends represent Mitfordiana at its best. 


Prayer's Apprentice: A Year with the Great Spiritual Mentors by Timothy Jones -- "Timothy Jones collected 52 rich and meaningful prayers and committed himself  to pray these prayers regularly." The book is a week-by-week record of his prayer experiences, and is the kind of book I generally love.


The Noel Coward Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley -- Though by far the largest book on my pile, it is not daunting because I have been dipping in and out of it over the past two or three years as I have written things about Coward and his circle pretty constantly. Dear old Noel was rather inclined to over-exaggeration, and that is something I can totally relate to. 


Ustinov at Large by Peter Ustinov -- A collection of weekly diary pieces Ustinov published in the European. Ustinov was a ubiquitous figure in my childhood, and a real Renaissance man. He seems to be largely forgotten now, but he was a terrific writer and I still think the very best Inspector Poirot.   


Back Drops: Pages from a Private Diary by Kenneth Williams -- An extremely sanitised selection from Williams' voluminous diaries published while he was still alive. This was published after Williams had read a selection from his diaries on the BBC. There is, of course, a larger and more complete selection from his diaries published long after his death (and it is one of my favourite books), but this small collection is a lovely read and offers an insight into how he wanted to be seen.  


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