Dear Diary

Diary of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809–1871), 1862. Gift of Lorenz Reich, Jr., 1980. Photo courtesy of The Morgan Library.

I remember like it was yesterday my series of diaries as a girl – mostly with cushioned covers and accompanying little locks and tinier keys. Finding a place to stash the key and remembering where I put it was a challenge even at that age. Nowadays the practice has morphed into journaling, an exercise employed by some for both pleasure and writing practice. But I fear with the advent of email, IMing, texting and yes, blogging, this worthwhile endeavor has become a less popular undertaking. And it’s a shame. Many of us have been commenting about the lost art of letter writing and I feel that taking the time to jot down our thoughts falls into the same category. A popular book making the rounds in the blogosphere is Write it Down Make it Happen, a practical and instructional incentive for readers to “write down their most extravagant wishes and, merely by the act of recording them, make them come true.” This may seem a tad trendy and pragmatic but could be a good place to start for many who find writing an intimidating process. And while it has a very no-nonsense approach, it could easily help would-be diarists head in the right direction.

Another more literary source of inspiration is the new exhibit at the Morgan Library The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives. Even if you have no interest in ever writing for yourself, this show provides fascinating insight into the lives of the many of the featured authors. Curator Christine Nelson discussed what inspired her. “I started thinking, To what degree are status updates, Twitter feeds, and blogs kinds of diaries? Because a diary is really just a place to talk about what’s on your mind as the days pass. Life builds up. You live a little, you write a little, and that’s exactly what’s going on with these new forms.” Exactly!!

Manuscript journals of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), 1837–61. Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909. Courtesy of The Morgan Library.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the journal of Henry David Thoreau, accompanied by dozens of marbelized covered notebooks recording his life. But from Charlotte Bronte’s escapist musings to Bob Dylan’s notes and sketches while on tour, there is really something for everyone. The exhibit examines the question of what qualifies as a diary and why these authors turned to such musings. Clearly Christine Nelson captured what many of us have been thinking.  “For centuries, people have turned to private journals to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, this exhibition explores how and why we document our everyday lives.”

And if you can’t make it to New York City to see the exhibit in person, you can visit it vicariously online. The museum has provided images and links so that you can learn about a selection of the diaries, subscribe to a podcast, download the exhibition audio guide and even follow the curator’s blog. In addition, there is a link so you can listen to the audio guide on your mobile device. And perhaps best of all, you are encouraged to submit comments regarding the exhibit or your own diary writing experiences.

For those of you looking to start documenting your thoughts, there are many chic choices on the market. Here are a few to pique your fancy.

These fun notebooks from the husband and wife team at May Books are stylish, affordable, and eco friendly. Both the Moroccan Lattice Grass and the fun Monogramatic come in a cheerful array of colors and are indestructible – no pages ripping out or covers falling off.

This simple, playful Kate Spade journal could be a perfect present for a special someone for Valentine’s Day. You could even start them off with a romantic inscription.

Anthropologie offers a variety of journals from this five year Q&A journal with fun prompts to get you thinking to this Books journal from their lifestyles series with places to record the author, title and genre of your reads as well as your favorite quotations and reviews.

Graphic Image is one of my go-to companies for many leather items. They feature a variety of notebooks that could be the perfect writer’s companion. The 9″ Wire-O-Notebook includes a refillable spiral insert with 144 lined perforated pages on gilded edge paper. The purse sized mini notebook would be perfect for those thoughts on the go you don’t want to forget.

For those who like their writing vehicles straight up, there is always the classic and nostalgic Mead composition book in either the original black or new fun fashionable colors or the myriad of choices offered from the people at Moleskine.

And for the luxury scribbler, there are always the beautiful and dependable offerings from Hermes. The Ulysse PM notebook at $190 (with refills at $45) is a not too devasting-to-the-pocketbook way of owning a little something from this fabulous house.

60 thoughts on “Dear Diary

  1. wonderful! what is better than good old mead. I think other than the Hermes-and why not?- I have enjoyed most of these journals. I could never be reduced to storing notes on an ipad, etc. etc. There is something memorable writing anything down on paper. I use journal notebooks for each client I see.pgt

    • Gaye – And I tend to remember thoughts better if I write them down. Such a great idea to have notebooks for each client – sometimes simple solutions are the best!

  2. Love the traditionalal nod of what writing in a diary really means…that technology hasnt’ taken over everything in our lives, that there are things in life, both good and bad worth writitng about and that one has the time to sit and write their thoughts. I write things down here and there, but its not an official diary but when I do take the time to do it, its a very relaxing and quiet time for me and something I need more of. Hope diaries stay alive!

    • TEH – I don’t necessarily have the time to write consistently but like you jot things down here and there – I think even that is valuable.

  3. I started to take notes each night of things that make me happy each day. Its such a great way of self-expression. I mostly use Moleskine products as I love their page layout. Have a lovely day, my dear

  4. As an artist, I have many journals and sketch pads galore in hopes that each one will provide sort of a path to what lies ahead, then it is in looking back that I realize what truly matters is what lies within.
    One artist Mary Ann Currier painted exquisite paintings incorporating her diaries as part of the still life. I was and still am mesmerized that she did this while raising her family. Her journals were one part art historian and the other librarian.
    Her work is exacting as well as sophisticated.

    • pve – I’m sure your journals and sketch pads are mini masterpieces in and of themselves. Mary Ann Currier’s work sounds fascinating – I will have to look it up later.

  5. I totally forgot about my diary of my youth, probably in a dump somewhere but it’s nice thinking back to all the silly young girl things. Great journals to write down your thoughts in this phase of your life.

    Saw what you posted on facebook yesterday, me, I’m praaying for spring!

    Have a wonderful day!


    • Debra – I don’t have mine from childhood anymore either, but I do have one from when I lived in Switzerland during college and it’s so great to look back at -in addition to thoughts, I kept train tickets, museum postcards etc. Wasn’t that facebook photo hysterical?!

  6. I’ve never kept a diary because reading my older sister’s was so much more interesting (I remembered where she kept the key). However, I really like Diane’s idea (above) to jot notations about the day’s positive points and perhaps inspirations too. Of course, I’ll need the Hermes book to do this! Thank you also for information on Morgan Library exhibition.

    • Elle – oh dear – your poor sister! You clever girl! I liked Diane’s idea as well – so positive!

    • Buzz – I am definitely going to make an effort to get there but the online offerings are really extensive if not.

  7. I was definitely attached to my diary when I was little. I still have my strawberry cloth covered one tucked away with my bubble-gum rounded hand-writing and ornate scrolled letters. My daughter is very similar. She has a drawer full of journals. When she goes to one of the popular book store chains, she gravitates to their journal section. When we go on vacation, a friend recommended carrying a tiny journal and jotting down words throughout the day to help remember details of the trip. I love doing that and am amazed how many small details would slip away otherwise.

    • Sarah – Such a good idea and love that your daughter likes her journals. My daughter is actually required to keep one for her English class. Love that!

  8. Hi Q,
    what a great topic…I used to journal ..since high school.. and found it became a kind of I finally quit… I had volumes of journals….stashed everywhere… I eventually threw them all away….
    kind of glad… it was baggage in the end….

    • Maureen – I can see how piles of journals would be a burden – it is indeed an escape – which can be useful at times.

  9. I’ve kept diary since I was nine years old. I’m re reading them now with my 9 year old son and it makes us howl with laughter!! It’s the most fantastic reading around, I highly suggest encouraging your kids to keep one!!

  10. I wish I kept a diary, but I’m really more of a list maker : ) It is sort of a dying art in the face of technology. Hopefully some attention will be brought to it through this exhibit and books like Write It Down Make It Happen. xo Kelly

    • Kelly – I’m a list maker too – but sometimes I interject thoughts within those or inspiration that I don’t want to forget.

  11. Years ago I bought a beautiful leather book with gilt-edged pages, to use a s a journal. I found its richness a little intimidating at first, but rather than journaling my thoughts, I ended up keeping a daily log, That was 32 years ago, and my log has proved very useful in ways I would not have guessed. I’ve reconstructed lost mileage sheets from it, checked bills against it, and remembered names and locations that would otherwise be utterly lost. If not a joural or diary, I very much recommend a daily log.

    • Mark – But I’ll bet within your log are some entries that are more thoughtful among the data!

  12. The Morgan Library is one of the best kept secrets in NYC. One of my absolute favorites. I definitely want to make it in to see this exhibit!

    And, I have had so many notebooks/diaries over the years and seldom stick with it. I think I just need to accept my gemini way of doing things and use one for scribbling random ideas and thoughts. Not too much of a linear thinker!

    xo elizabeth

    • PPT – So true – and so beautiful. I don’t seem to stick with it either. As I said to Kelly, I am a list maker with thoughts thrown in between the lines.

    • Dawn – I think a blog is a diary of sorts. There’s just something about the act of writing that seems to make a real statement.

  13. I’m with you, I’d be lost without my note bookes…….I have many from the Meads to the Moleskins……….I use them to work it out, keep a note, remind myself and fill the void… inspired to write more wish lists!!

    • YaH – I’m now trying to write things in books instead of on the little pieces of paper that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

  14. Love this post, from the sentiment expressed to the sampling of journals. There is something soothing and immensely personal about setting down one’s thoughts, and the keyboard will never replace the pen and paper, at least not for me. I think the Graphic Image and Kate Spade you show are favorites!

    Sending you a smile,

  15. I have never been much good at keeping a diary. I did start a gratitude journal a few years ago and still write in it from time to time. Perhaps, as you said, my blog substitutes for it a bit. My husband’s mother has her mother’s diary and in it is the entry of the first time she met her future husband. I love reading it.

    • Jeanette – I think if one tries to be too ambitious with journaling, it becomes too intimidating. Time to time is just fine in my book. How wonderful that you have such memories recorded. Hope you’re feeling better!

  16. Love this! I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was a kid. For the past 10 years I’ve purchased the Moleskin page-a-day diary in which I try to record the day’s happenings. Isn’t it just the case though when the day was so rockin’ fabulous that you’re too tired to write it all down!

    • Hi Annemarie – I love all these journals – but almost anything’s better than the 50 million little pieces of paper I’m always hunting for!

  17. Hello, my sweet Q! :-)

    How are you doing today?

    I miss having a diary… maybe I should start one… beginning of the year! I’m in love with the Hermes. So beautiful!

    Great post! Great idea!

    Luciane at

    • Hi Luciane – I think it’s wonderful to have a book to jot ideas or notes in – doesn’t even have to be formal entries. And the Hermes is indeed lovely and not too bad for something from them!

    • Marianne – Love the Ulysee of course! And while not cheap, certainly not that bad a hit for a beautiful Hermes product!

  18. The orange Hermes is spectacular, but my favorites are the Molskine journals with watercolor paper so I can illustrate my thoughts and dreams and write them down, too.
    Hope your week has been gorgeous!

    • Jeanne – I would love to see one of your Moleskine journals filled with your beautiful illlustrations!

  19. Although I am far too private a person to keep a diary (for fear someone will one day find and read it!) I am obsessed with notebooks and have always been. Have a great weekend!

    • Anne – You’re too funny – you could always buy one with a little lock – but I understand the privacy issues! I love all sorts of notebooks as well – this was the tip of the iceberg.

  20. I never Kept a Diary. but always had a to do list. Then there were the Travel log books and sketch books.
    I loved that movie also.


    • Yvonne- I seem to always haVe a to do list that never quite gets done!! Travel logs and sketch books sound good!!

  21. I’ve had diaries for years. And for me, the blank moleskin has been the best one to have over the years. I can tape, glue notes, I can draw, I can write. It allows for all types of musings. I need to get back into the habit of it though.

  22. Thanks for this! And especially for the conversation you started about diary keeping–just what I hoped the show might help spark. Christine (curator of the exhibition at the Morgan)

    • Christine – what a pleasure to hear from you!! Your concept for the exhibit is brilliant – can’t wait to see it in person – just love hte Morgan!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *