Tuesday, 22 January 2008

The Assassin's Cloak

The Assassin's Cloak is an anthology of “the world’s greatest diarists” edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. The ever-lovely Mr B bought me this book after I spotted a mention of it on dovegreyreader’s blog a few days ago when she was talking about her daily reads for 2008. I’ve spent a very happy couple of hours this afternoon browsing through January and I am now fully caught up. I must confess that I also read the first one for tomorrow (my eye was caught by Pepys describing his uncle’s new wife as “a pitiful, old, ugly, ill-bred woman in a hatt”) but then I stopped myself as I intend to savour this book rather than gulp it down.

The book is laid out like a diary with 1800ish entries from 170 diarists spread throughout the year. Some contributors are very famous diary-keepers such as Benn, Pepys and Waugh but others are more obscure (although that could just be me!) and the dipping in and out of such a wide variety of lives being lived across several centuries is where the real joy of this book comes from. There is a useful, albeit brief, biography section at the end of the book which I have already used several times. Occasionally it is frustrating to read an entry when you don’t understand the context but luckily there is a solution…

I Wrote On The Pages!! I’ve seen the “do you or don’t you?” topic debated before and I felt that this was a good choice of book to test my nerve on. I am happy to report that it’s been a very liberating experience and I have enjoyed scrawling in the margins such illuminating notes to my future self as “more context” and “Who is she? Find out.” So far the writing is in pencil as I just could not bring myself to write in pen but we’ll see how that rule fares when I don’t have one to hand.

I look forward to my daily dose of this book throughout the year and I already have plans to dig out my copy of Waugh’s collected diaries (that I had forgotten I owned) and to buy several others…. Does the booklist ever stop growing?

Oh – and in case you are wondering where the title comes from (as Mr B and I were): “A diary is an assassin’s cloak which we wear when we stab a comrade in the back with a pen” – Willian Soutar, 1934.

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