I don’t have a system for reading through my bookshelves. I try my hardest to read the books that were lent to me, given to me, or suggested to me first. This week’s book— The Red Leather Diary, Reclaiming a Life Through The Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel—got picked because my aunt sent it to me for my 30th birthday. This is the same aunt who once owned an independent bookstore, ate organic foods before they were trendy, and came out openly as a lesbian for as long as I have known her. She’s my godmother, and I love her very much.
She’s the first person who explained the sliding scale of sexuality to me, and at the age of nine or so, I learned that it was okay for me to like girls, too. Thank god for that information! My twenties would not have been as much fun without it. She was also the first person to take me to a farm to see how people make cheese.
So when this book came in the mail, I couldn’t wait to read it.
The premise of this nonfiction tale is that Lily, a twenty-something aspiring writer living in New York, finds a diary in an old steamer trunk in a dumpster on her way home from work. Lily becomes enthralled with Florence, the diary’s original author. She connects with Florence’s witty and passionate insights on life, New York, and the arts. A chance encounter with a detective provides Lily the break she needs to find Florence and interview her at ninety years old. The book is not so much a journal, but a story written in a straightforward journalistic manner about the five years that the journal spans in Florence’s life from the age of 14 to 19. The details of a 1920s/1930s New York are stunning, and for that alone I would recommend the book.
I wondered what would happen if someone found one of my diaries seventy years from now. I wondered how Chicago and Minneapolis and Denver would have changed, what people would think about my trips to Paris and London with an older man I met in Las Vegas. I wondered which of my friends would become famous artists, and laughed about my escapades in Mexico. I think a future reader would be so confused by my notes that they would likely stop reading after the first page:
I like the way my shoulders look. Why are bananas always thirty-nine cents? Guys with lip-gloss, dad with braids, Madonna girl, professor—people at Raven’s on a Wednesday night.
It’s not quite as insightful as Florence contemplating art or her bisexual encounters. Yes, bisexual encounters—she was way ahead of her time. But that’s not what matters to me. What matters to me, is that I was able to take a step back and look at my life, and see how fortunate I am.
I never chronicled all my kisses with Indiana boys on Indiana nights, nor my flirty dirty dancing with girls in seedy nightclubs, but I lived hard and fast—drunk on passion, and this book reminds me to keep living that way (only in a bit more mature and married manner).
Aside from the young writer thing, I think AJ sent me the book as encouragement for the blog. It gets pretty confessional around here. . . so in keeping with the theme of the book, and if this blog is something of a virtual diary for me, here’s my bisexual confession: I check out girls at the gym. Thank god for short shorts. What? We all need a little motivation on the treadmill every now and then. . . you know, keep the heart rate up . . . Holler!
Thanks for the book, AJ. You know me all too well . . .