Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Why Diaries Matter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th August, 2018

diaryI’m currently writing a memoir of the years I was based in Brussels (1974-1981), initially with Reuters covering the European institutions and NATO, later freelance writing film and theatre reviews and books — the second of which (a biography of Christopher  Isherwood) led to travels across America. Fortunately I still have a stack of diaries from the period, not just appointment agendas but extensive accounts of what I did and thought, people I encountered, places I passed through. It’s salutary to remember how in that age before computers, the Internet and mobile phones one wrote so much down. In fact, my diary was a sort of silent companion, a sounding board and a vent for frustration for a twenty-something British expat finding his way in the world. Some of the situations and people I am now reading about in those diaries are still fresh in my mind, whereas others are so unfamiliar that it is as if they never happened or existed, yet they’re all down there in black and white. Accordingly, the diaries act as a supplement to memory and at times a corrective. Of course, these days with the worldwide web, we can access a wealth of information immediately, wherever we are. But as someone who wrote history and biography before turning to memoir, I can’t help feeling that we have lost a lot by ceasing to write detailed diaries (and indeed letters). In my own case, I now blog instead. But so much that happens in my daily life now goes unrecorded and it will doubtless disappear into oblivion. Maybe that does not matter, but it is sad if one is only left with that sometimes unreliable tool, memory.

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