Favorite Published Diary: A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis

I would like to begin talking about a few of my favorite published diaries.  I think my absolute top choice would have to be A Diary of the Century by Edward Robb Ellis, which contains selections from the diary he wrote for over 70 years.  Ellis was born in 1911 and died in 1998.  He was a newspaper reporter, diarist, and author of several books, most notably on New York and on the Great Depression.  His diaries are now archived in the Fales Library/Special Collections  in New York City.  The published diary is available through Bookfinder.com

A Diary of the Century opens with an introduction by Pete Hamill, whose first paragraph is a simple and  extraordinarily beautiful description of why we write:

“The diarist has one essential goal: to freeze time.  With each entry, he or she says that on this day, a day that will never again occur in the history of the world, I lived.  I lived in this city or that town, upon which the sun shone warmly or the rain fell steadily.  I ate breakfast, walked city streets or country roads, drove a car or entered a subway.  I worked.  I dreamed.  Other human beings said witty things to me, or stupid things, or brutal things;  or I the same to them.  I laughed.  I wept.  The newspapers told me about the fevers of politics, distant wars, and who won the ballgames.  I experienced a work of art or read a novel or heard music that would not leave my mind.  I was bored.  I was afraid.  I was brave.  I was cowardly.  I endured a headache.  I broke my leg.  I loved someone who did not love me back.  I suffered the death of a loved one.  This day will never come again, but here, in this diary, I will have it forever.  Casual reader, listen:  I, too, have lived.”

Pete Hamill has been a novelist, essayist and journalist for over 40 years.  He is also a New Yorker.  (www.petehamill.com)

Although Edward Robb Ellis does not fall in the category of the “common” man and his diary has many entries about the rich and famous, I am drawn to the style of his diary,  perhaps because that is the type of diary I write.  Ellis writes like the reporter that he was – a record of the events of his life, with a background of the history taking place around him.  Unlike a reporter, he reveals his true feelings and emotions about those events, and says things about famous people that could not be printed in any paper.   I am especially intrigued with the deep insights that come to him through the discipline of writing for so many years.

In May of 1932, his elder sister tried to talk him out of keeping his journal. He wrote: “As usual, I’m going to ignore her advice.  What must be kept in mind is the fact that someone should have the courage and integrity to put down on paper all his life’s happenings precisely as they occurred.  It is my belief that the historian of the future will thank me.  In these pages he will not find a record of world deeds, mighty achievements, conquest.  What he will discover is the drama of the unfolding life of one individual, day after day after day.”

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