Writers Challenge Conventions of the Book with Diary-Like Modes

May 21, 2015

There’s been much buzz around books that verge into the diary-like mode—such as Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams and Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle—and this buzz has raised questions about their conventions and applicability. As Huffington Post writer Maddie Crum writes, “[W]hat, if anything, distinguishes them from the confessional writing happening en masse on Twitter?”

According to Heidi Julavits, who authored The Folded Clock: A Diary, the diary form allowed her to write the plotless story, which “became this permission to go anywhere in time—it was like opening up a portal.”

Julavits added in her interview with The Huffington Post that such plotlessness mirrors our everyday experiences. “I do feel like we move through space and information differently now,” she said. “We do it every day. You’re linking. There’s a link. Everything has a link. There’s a link buried in whatever you read. Things suddenly go off in these unexpected zig-zags through virtual spaces, which are kind of story spaces that you create for yourself as you navigate. There’s no plot to that.”

Eula Bliss echoes Julavits’s statements in her review of Julavits’s book in the New York Times Book Review, in which she argues that The Folded Clock “is happily plotless, though it is not without narrative, and certainly not shapeless. The book is structured around reoccurrences of objects, ideas, of signs and symbols, that gather meaning each time they return. The intricate structure calls to mind fractal patterns or Renaissance sketches of eddying water, and the real achievement here may be that Julavits manages to make it appear unintentional. The order does not feel made, but found.”

Other books recently released that fall into the “diary” vein include Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (which, although not a diary, reflects on the nature of the diary), and Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary, an account of a detainee’s torture while at Guantánamo Bay.


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