Here are the books I enjoyed reading the most in the past year. They fall into various categories of fiction and non-fiction, old and new, and are listed in the order that I read them. The only thing they all have in common are that they are generally positive and upbeat!
As previously posted, I love diaries, and I found many diaries online, including Mark Twain’s “discoveries” of Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary. Then I looked at an actual diary from 1771, written by Anna Green Winslow of Boston, noticing that, in many respects, what was important to this 12-year-old girl in the 18th century is still important to 12-year-old girls today.
Another one I found at Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) was The Real Diary of a Real Boy by Henry A. Shute, written in 1902. Henry seemed to grow up in a similar rural area to where my dad grew up, and his diary entries are quite similar to some of my dad’s.
I naturally assumed this “real diary” was the actual diary of the author when he was a boy. But it’s not! Aargh. I was very disappointed to learn that it is a fictionalized journal as I was researching for information on the author. But it is based on real life, and I found it fun to read, especially knowing that the author was a farmer, musician and a juvenile judge in his hometown!
This humorous work was supposedly written by a reluctant writer whose dad persuaded him to keep a journal for a year. The boy’s childhood is all about exploring the land, his abilities and the boundaries of authority. I loved reading about the relatively carefree life that Henry lives, his independence, and his physically demanding adventures and discoveries in the outdoors.
In the Introduction, the now-grown Henry starts out: “In the winter of 1901-02, while rummaging an old closet in the shed-chamber of my father’s house, I unearthed a salt-box …”
Then he describes the contents of the box:
“Fish-line…with…hook, to which adhered the mummied remains of a worm that lived and flourished many, many years ago.
Popgun…. One blood alley, two chinees, a parti-colored glass agate, three pewees, and unnumbered drab colored marbles.
Six-inch bean-blower, for school use—a weapon of considerable range and great precision when used with judgment behind a Guyot’s Common School Geography.
Unexpended ammunition for same, consisting of putty pellets.
Frog’s hind leg, extra dry. Wing of bluejay, very ditto.
Letter from “Beany,” postmarked “Biddeford, Me.” and expressing great indignation because “Pewt” “hasent wrote.”
Copy-book inscribed “Diry.”
“Diry” means Diary. This boy started many entries with a weather report, “brite and fair”. He seemed to get into a fight several times a week, and goes into great detail about his and his friends’ shenanigans and punishments, which seemed to be pretty important occasions!
Here he tells about his average summer days (I decided to doctor up some of the spelling and punctuation for ease of reading!):
July 21. Awful hot. Big thunder shower and lightning struck a tree in front of Perry Molton’s house.
July 22. Went to church. Beany let the wind out of the organ and it squeaked and made everybody laugh. Keene and Cele sing in the choir. Father feels pretty big about it.
July 23. I got stung by hornets today. I went in swimming at the eddy and when I was drying my clothes I set rite down on a stump where there was a nest of yellow bellied hornets. They all lit on me and I thought I was afire for a minute. I ran and dove rite off the bank and swam way out under water. When I came up they were buzzing round jest where I went down. When I came out the fellers put mud on my bites and after a while they stopped hurting. I tell you the fellers jest died laughing to see me run and holler.
July 24. Brite and fair. I was all swelled up with hornet bites but they didn’t hurt any, I looked jest like Beany when he had the mumps. Everyone laughed at me.
The author, called The Mark Twain of Exeter (New Hampshire, where he grew up), includes an “update” at the end, 30 years later, telling where all of his friends and relatives were and what they were now doing, showing how the ones doing all the mischief grew up and became proper, successful human beings (most of them!). This ending is quite a creative and amusing feature to the book.
Henry Shute wrote over 20 books about mischievous boys, all set in his hometown. He graduated from Harvard University in 1879. In the 1890’s, he began writing for the Exeter News-Letter, and this diary published in 1902 was what brought him national recognition. He went on to publish in the SATURDAY EVENING POST from 1925 to 1928.
Project Gutenberg is a tremendous resource. Below is the link to this diary, and links to the other three diaries I reviewed, and I hope you will find something you enjoy there. Let me know if you do!
In previous posts, I wrote about my absolute joy in reading Extracts from Adam’s Diary and Eve’s Diary. Reading (and even re-reading) some parts of these made me laugh almost to exhaustion. Other parts were serious and surprisingly tender compared to the other books I’ve read by Mark Twain.
At Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) I also found Diary of Anna Green Winslow, a Boston School Girl of 1771. It was written by a 12-year-old girl, and published in 1894. The editor, Alice Morse Earle, included an in-depth family history.
Miniature of Colonial Diarist Anna Green Winslow
Quite the Lineage!
Anna was born in 1759 in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her family did not feel that Halifax could provide the society or the schooling that would “finish” their daughter. So they sent 10-year-old Anna to America to live with Judge Winslow’s older sister, Aunt Sarah Deming, and her husband, in Boston.
Miss Winslow traveled in high social circles and had quite the lineage! On her mother’s side, she was descended from a Puritan, Percival Green, who sailed from London, England, in 1635. On her father’s side, Anna’s great-great-great grandfather was the older brother of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, who arrived on the Mayflower as did Anna’s great-great-great grandmother, Mary Chilton.
Anna’s interests and daily life
Anna is clearly fascinated with people, and details visits and conversations with the many people she interacts with. She writes about fashions, the weather (waist-high snow!), her sewing skills and various domestic duties, and her attempts to improve her writing skills. She records the many visits she makes to help and encourage friends and relatives who are ill. Anna mentions her spiritual progress in strengthening her relationship with God, and writes many notes about Biblical scriptures she reads and sermons she hears.
1771 not so different from 2016?
I find it fascinating to compare people from different eras, and noticed an obvious contrast in Anna’s memoirs between the orderliness and apparent serenity of their lives, and our disjointed, hurried lives of today.
Parents and society required children and teens to work more in 1771. A sense of duty and responsibility to family and society was more internalized and self-motivated in children then, compared to now. Family members seemed more engaged with each other then–especially the females and children who spent so much time in the home together. Yet I am surprised that there was so much emphasis on proper etiquette and connections that families would actually send a 12-year-old girl away to be trained and refined!
Twelve-year-old Anna rarely talks about her friends. By contrast, for many youth in 2016, friends seem to have taken the place—or a higher priority—over family relationships. I think our children today devote more time on physical fitness, entertainment, pleasure, and buying “toys” than in Anna’s time, partly because our automated society gives us more free time and money. But it’s also partly because we as adults encourage children to have fun.
However, having said all that, I don’t think that pre-teens are that different now than they were then in 1770’s Boston, when it comes to what is truly important to them. Children value that family closeness no matter what century they live in. And they all have hopes and dreams to be a valuable member of society, be accepted by their peers, enjoy particular hobbies, be healthy, and many still reach for a connection with the divine.
“Mom, there’s no way I’m wearing that!”
Anna Green Winslow’s diary entry in handwriting
In this handwritten letter, Anna seems annoyed that her mother doesn’t let her wear the latest fashions, something that annoys plenty of Anna’s 2016 counterparts as well! She says that her hat makes her look like a “street seller”:
“Dear mamma, you don’t know the fation [fashion] here—I beg to look like other folk…”
She closes this journal entry (which is also a letter to her mother) affectionately:
“…with duty, love and compliments as due, particularly to my dear little brother (I long to see him)…Your ever dutiful daughter…”
Any thoughts? Do leave a comment!
Up next is a diary reluctantly written by a boy in rural America in the 1860’s.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I love diaries, and at Project Gutenberg I found many diaries available to read, listen to and download to my Kindle. The first one I read was Excerpts from Adam’s Diary, supposedly written by Adam. This book by the American humorist Mark Twain was published in 1904.
Well, naturally, Eve also kept a diary, which Twain “discovered.” It was first published in the 1905 Christmas issue of the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, and in book format in June 1906.
Mark Twain is known for his wit, but I had no idea how eloquent and tender he could be. Here are journal entries from Eve’s Diary. Notice that, compared to Adam’s focus on building and exploring, Eve is concerned with order and beauty. She delights in her endless discoveries of God’s gifts of flowers, plants, animals…and even her own reflection!
Here are some of my favorite passages:
First days in Eden, and losing the moon
Everything looks better today than it did yesterday. In the rush of finishing up yesterday, the mountains were left in a ragged condition, and some of the plains were so cluttered with rubbish and remnants that the aspects were quite distressing…. There are too many stars in some places and not enough in others, but that can be remedied presently, no doubt.
The moon got loose last night and slipped down and fell out of the scheme—a very great loss, it breaks my heart to think of it. There isn’t another thing among the ornaments and decorations that is comparable to it for beauty and finish. It should have been fastened better. If we can only get it back again… For I do love moons, they’re so pretty and so romantic. I wish we had five or six; I would never go to bed; I should never get tired lying on the moss-bank and looking up at them.
I got a basket and started for a place on the extreme rim of the circle, where the stars were close to the ground and I could get them with my hands… But it was farther than I thought… I couldn’t get back home, it was too far and turning cold; but I found some tigers and nestled in among them and was most adorably comfortable, and their breath was sweet and pleasant, because they live on strawberries. I had never seen a tiger before, but I knew them in a minute by the stripes.
Her first impressions of Adam
I followed the other Experiment around, yesterday afternoon, at a distance, to see what it might be for, if I could. But I was not able to make it out. I think it is a man. I had never seen a man, but it looked like one and I feel sure that it is what it is. I realize that I feel more curiosity about it than any of the other reptiles. If it is a reptile, and I suppose it is; for it has frowzy hair and blue eyes, and looks like a reptile. It has no hips; it tapers like a carrot; when it stands, it spreads itself apart like a derrick; so I think it is a reptile, though it may be architecture.
Her new discovery
I laid a dry stick on the ground and tried to bore a hole in it with another one, in order to carry out a scheme that I had, and soon I got an awful fright. A thin transparent bluish film rose out of the hole, and I dropped everything and ran! I thought it was a spirit, and I WAS so frightened! … there was a pinch of delicate pink dust in the hole. I put my finger in, to feel it, and said OUCH! and took it out again. It was a cruel pain. I put my finger in my mouth; and by standing first on one foot and then the other, and grunting, I presently eased my misery; then I was full of interest, and began to examine…Suddenly the name of it occurred to me, though I had never heard it before. It was fire!
Extract from Adam’s Diary
….perhaps I ought to remember that she is very young, a mere girl, and make allowances. She is all interest, eagerness, vivacity, the world is to her a charm, a wonder, a mystery, a joy; she can’t speak for delight when she finds a new flower, she must pet it and caress it and smell it and talk to it, and pour out endearing names upon it. And she is color-mad: brown rocks, yellow sand, gray moss, green foliage, blue sky; the pearl of the dawn, the purple shadows on the mountains, the golden islands floating in crimson seas at sunset, the pallid moon sailing through the shredded cloud-rack, the star-jewels glittering in the wastes of space—none of them is of any practical value, so far as I can see, but because they have color and majesty, that is enough for her, and she loses her mind over them.
If she could quiet down and keep still a couple minutes at a time, it would be a reposeful spectacle. In that case I think I could enjoy looking at her; indeed I am sure I could, for I am coming to realize that she is a quite remarkably comely creature—lithe, slender, trim, rounded, shapely, nimble, graceful; and once when she was standing marble-white and sun-drenched on a boulder, with her young head tilted back and her hand shading her eyes, watching the flight of a bird in the sky, I recognized that she was beautiful.
If there is anything on the planet that she is not interested in it is not in my list…When the mighty brontosaurus came striding into camp, she regarded it as an acquisition, I considered it a calamity;…she wanted to domesticate it, I wanted to…move out. She believed it could be tamed by kind treatment and would make a good pet; I said a pet twenty-one feet high and eighty-four feet long would be no proper thing to have about the place, because, even with the best intentions and without meaning any harm, it could sit down on the house and mash it, for any one could see by the look of its eye that it was absent-minded…
She thought we could start a dairy with it,…but…it was too risky…She thought…we could stand him in the river and use him for a bridge…but it failed: every time she got him properly placed…he came out and followed her around like a pet mountain. Like the other animals. They all do that.
Eve ponders her existence, and the stars melting
At first I couldn’t make out what I was made for, but now I think it was to search out the secrets of this wonderful world and thank the Giver of it all for devising it.
By watching, I know that the stars are not going to last. I have seen some of the best ones melt and run down the sky. Since one can melt, they can all melt; since they can all melt, they can all melt the same night. That sorrow will come–I know it. I mean to sit up every night and look at them as long as I can keep awake; and I will impress those sparkling fields on my memory, so that by-and-by when they are taken away I can by my fancy restore those lovely myriads to the black sky and make them sparkle again, and double them by the blur of my tears.
Forty Years Later… It is my prayer, it is my longing, that we may pass from this life together–a longing which shall never perish from the earth, but shall have place in the heart of every wife that loves, until the end of time, and it shall be called by my name.
At Eve’s Grave: ADAM: Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.
As you can see, this short book is by turns charming, hilarious and serious. Eve’s Diary is one of the most imaginative books I’ve read, my current favorite of Mark Twain’s wealth of writings. I hope you will read it and also enjoy all of the many detailed pen and ink drawings. It’s also available as an ebook at Project Gutenberg, and in print form at Amazon and other online bookstores.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these diaries by Mark Twain, and diaries in general, and you can leave a comment below. More diaries to come!
I love diaries, and have written in various forms of journals since I was about 10 years old. I enjoy reading them almost as much as writing them, and find reliving first hand experiences (yes, even my own) fascinating, educational and often humorous and inspiring.
At Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) I found many diaries available to read, listen to and download, and added a few to my Kindle. The first ones I read were Mark Twain’s books, which are supposedly diaries written by Adam and Eve.
The author imagines this first couple as being rather tentative about each other! I tried to select a few extra-special parts, but there are too many, so here are a few paragraphs from the beginning of the book entitled Extracts from Adam’s Diary, starting with Twain’s note:
* * * * * * * * * * *
[NOTE.– I translated a portion of this diary some years ago… Since then I have deciphered some more of Adam’s hieroglyphics, and think he has now become sufficiently important as a public character to justify this publication. – – M. T.]
This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals….
Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls–why, I am sure I do not know. Says it looks like Niagara Falls…. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered–it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it “looks like a dodo”. It will have to keep that name no doubt. It worries me to fret about it, and it does no good anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a Dodo than I do.
Built me a shelter against the rain, but could not have it to myself in peace. The new creature intruded. When I try to put it out, it shed water out of the holes it looks with, and wiped it away with the back of its paws, and made a noise such as some of the other animals make when they are in distress. I wish it would not talk, it is always talking… And this new sound is so close to me; it is right at my shoulder, right at my ear, first on one side and then on the other, and I am used only to sounds that are more or less distant from me…
This morning found the new creature trying to clod apples out of that forbidden tree.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Adam and Eve’s first child is named Cain. When Eve “finds” Cain, Adam can not figure out what kind of animal it is or where she found it. At first Adam thinks Cain is a fish, a kangaroo, or a bear. Eventually he figures out it is a human, like himself.
I love how they talk about God as a beloved family member. Eventually, despite his initial deep annoyance with Eve, Adam finds himself in love with her.
This 104-page book is well worth checking out, and I hope you will get as many laughs as I did! It’s available as an ebook and audio book at Project Gutenberg, and in print form at Amazon and other online bookstores.
If you do read it, I’d love to hear your reactions. You can leave a comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. I’ll look at Eve’s Diary in my next post!