Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Did You Think Of Red Leather Diary?

I finished The Red Leather Diary last night.  I found myself thinking a lot about Florence after I put the book down.  Why?  I think because she made me think about myself, in the future, as --God willing--an elderly woman.  When I look back on my life, what will I think?  Will I be filled with regret, or will I be one of those amazing senior citizens who still get up every morning and keep a full and active life?  Will I be jumping out of a plane at 80, running (very slowly) a half marathon, or dancing in a Zumba class?  

As I was reading this book, I must admit Florence got on my nerves a bit.  She seemed very "adult" for a young teen, and rather snotty at times.  I cannot imagine living in the world she occupied--it had to be so vibrant and alive!  Knowing what would come in a few short years--a world torn apart by war, made reading this poignant for me.  This world was lost, so for Florence to have kept a diary for just a few short years gave us a window into a time when it seemed the world was full of fresh new ideas, chock full of art and culture, and women were realizing they had more to give than being a wife and mother and stifling their artistic talents and desires for careers outside the home.

I am glad the book did not simply end with the diary, that I got see what Florence did after she wrote her last entry.  I'm thrilled she got to Europe--that trip sounded like a heck of a good time!  And Nat--what a handsome guy--holy cow!  I think every man she met was swoon worthy.  They all looked so elegant.

Florence as a 90 year old was a delight.  I agree with Lily, that she was still the young girl from the diary.  Florence may have felt she lost that adventurous young girl, but I think she was still there.  And her daughters and grandchildren were perfect examples of her sense of adventure and artistic flair reaching their full potential.  I looked to see if Florence was still alive today, and I could not find anything that indicated her death, so I can only assume she's closing in on 100 years.  What a time span--so many things she has witnessed.

Does this make you want to begin a journal of your own?  Have you rediscovered an old diary from your younger years?  I must confess I do not have a diary from my childhood.  I think of Oprah, who has kept a journal since her teen years, and still, to this day, keeps a journal.  She has said she looks at some from her 20's and laughs at her drama.  I am kind of envious that she still has contact with that version of herself.  I can't remember what I was thinking about 5 years ago, much less 20!  So I may start a journal this year, the year I turn 45.  I say better late than never.

I hope you enjoyed this book.  If Florence was too much for you, well, I hope you enjoyed traveling back to 1930's New York, and it has given you some thought about your life--what you've done, where you are headed, and if you are living the life you dreamed about in your younger years.

Will you start your own red leather diary?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Discussion Questions for "Diary"

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer so far--here it's been either high heat and humidity or very strong thunderstorms, hail, and pounding rains!  Perfect weather for reading, I think :)

Here are a few discussion questions for The Red Leather Diary, courtesy of HarperCollins:

1. Koppel writes that "she wasn't really interested in celebrities" that she was covering for the New York Times before she found the diary. She writes, "wanted everything to slow down. I was searching for a story that completely touched my life and those of other people." What point does the book make about finding meaning in our youth-obsessed, celebrity-crazed, materialistic culture? Do teenagers keep diaries anymore? Where do we record our inner lives? What windows do we have into the human soul?

2. One morning, outside of her Manhattan apartment, Koppel glimpses an unusual sight: a dumpster piled with old steamer trunks. Late for work, she climbs in, prying open the trunks' rusty latches. Among the flapper dresses, old photographs, "an entire collection of handbags," a tangerine bouclé coat from Bergdorf's, she discovers a crumbling red leather diary kept by a precocious and free-spirited young woman named Florence Wolfson. Koppel writes, "I couldn't help but read it as if it were a personal letter to me." Koppel unearthed a deep and profound connection with a like-minded spirit. Does the discovery of the diary signal fate? A cosmic force at work? Coincidence?

3. Opening the tarnished brass lock, Koppel embarks on a journey into the past. As she turns the diary's brittle pages, she is captivated by the headstrong young woman whose intimate thoughts and emotions fill the pale blue lines. "I had kept journals but never like this. Not a single day was skipped in the diary's full five years from 1929 to 1934," Koppel writes. Is Florence's inner monologue recorded on the pages of her diary a "real-life time machine," as Koppel writes, or also a portal for us to look at ourselves, daughters, mothers and grandmothers in a new light?

4. Koppel writes, "Florence's writing possessed the literary equivalent of perfect pitch." In one entry, Florence swooned, "Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven—I feel like a ripe apricot—I'm dizzy with the exotic." At fifteen, she writes, "Went to the Museum of Modern Art and almost passed out from sheer jealously—I can't even paint an apple yet—it's heartbreaking!" Florence records, "I'm not ordinary." In another entry: "There's so much to do—music, art, books, people—can one absorb it all?" How does Florence compare with contemporary young women today?

I'm still taking ideas for our next batch of reads--any ideas?  I'll be putting up a list later this month for everyone to vote on.  Next month's read is The Great House by Nicole Krauss.