Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Reading other people's diaries is drudgery. Not biographies, mind you. I love a good biography. A well-written one captures the highlights of a person's life and sifts away all the day-to-day tedium like balancing checkbooks and doctor's visits.

Michael Palin recently released some of his diaries to the public. They cover the late sixties and early seventies when he was a young father and Monty Python was taking over the world. I got to know Palin through his various round-the-world television series, which led me to the Python films and Flying Circus sketches.

I thumbed through his diaries at our corner bookstore over lunch today. He's an entertaining writer and has a gentle way of capturing the days. But unless you know the people he references or have an intricate knowledge of the Python era, it's really not all that interesting. Perhaps I chose a bad place to start. I really like Palin, so I'll buy his book for a discount and give him a little more time.

But I also am a huge fan of Malcolm Muggeridge. His book, Jesus: The Man who Lives is a masterpiece. But when I read his diaries, or at least gave them my best shot, I was bored to tears. However, Gregory Wolfe's biography on Muggeridge was hard to put down.*

Why are biographies (and the occasional autobiography) so much more interesting than diaries? (I'm making a broad generalization here.)

I think it may be, in part, because we cannot see ourselves by ourselves. That is why there are four Gospels. Four perspectives. My own diaries only capture a part of who I really am. My "biographers" (friends, family, wife, children, etc.) are just as important in shedding light on who Tom the man is.

We only come to truly know ourselves through the eyes of others.

*Palin and Muggeridge met once on a televised discussion concerning the film The Life of Brian. Muggeridge was upset by what he considered some of the "blasphemies" in the film. He and Palin did not get on together. I think Muggeridge needed to lighten up a bit.


Kim Ayres said...

So how does Blogging fit into this do you think?

Tom said...

Some blogs bore me to tears. There are times that I bore myself, and, I am sure, my readers (poetry anyone?).

I think the difference between the diary and the blog is that others get to "fill in the gaps" with the blog. Comments allow others to flesh out the thoughts of the blogger, keep the author from too much navel-gazing.

Blogs are the hybrid car of journal keepers. Part diary, part autobiography, part biography.