In THE JOURNAL KEEPER, Phyllis Theroux gives us an opportunity to second guess her life through her journal. She comments on it and displays all the chutzpa necessary to engage us in her life. We are judge and jury, but mostly, we are readers, second guessers, and hopefully advocates for keeping and preserving our thoughts in a journal.
“There is something very wrong with my use of time.” Maybe I have Alice in Wonderland in my head too much recently, but it’s a very thought-provoking sentence in a book about keeping a journal. Theroux has such a graceful writing style, squeezing each word for all its meaning. Keeping a journal, to her, is not happenstance; it is a function of her self-worth. As a writer, she values words, descriptions and language, intertwined with the events and elements that color her world: “Why isn’t it enough simply to enjoy a thing without wanting to describe it, pull the thread of sensibility through it, like a needle poking through a bead, to make it mine?”
We see the world through Theroux’s eyes --- in her mid-60s, divorced, losing her mother, frustrated about so many aspects of her life to date. The journal is our touchstone, our rudder, keeping us somehow connected to reality, to the day-to-day. Without it, we have no sense of balance. Looking at life and death through her eyes, as well as her mother’s, we live vicariously though their visions.
An avid reader, Theroux has an eclectic and excellent taste in authors. At the end of the book, she includes a reading list of her favorites. Among them are Marcus Aurelius, Stephen King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, Eckhart Tolle and Kurt Vonnegut. Often, she quotes in her journals from an author who makes a relevant point, perhaps shoring up an experience. Her writing style is refreshing and very matter-of-fact, as evidenced in this quote: “A funeral is like a train station waiting room. We’re all going to board the train some day. Only the schedules vary.”
There is just one issue I must address. Theroux explains in the introduction that she changes and rewrites some of her past journal entries. I believe that a journal entry is unlike any other form of writing and should not be subject to editing. The purity of the words, feelings and descriptors are fresh in your mind as you write them for the first time. Perhaps you could improve on a description, but not the way you felt at the time of the original writing.
Theroux’s Internet dating experiences are detailed in memorable chapters. I won’t tell you how she ended up with the men she met, but suffice to say, it was fun to read about her adventures. There is something absolutely charming about keeping a journal and rereading it, savoring the highs and lows in our lives that set us apart from others in our universe. It is an art form, a touchstone of our mortality and, as we write, our immortality.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on January 22, 2011
The Journal Keeper: A Memoir