Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits Hardcover – Jul 22 2008
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About the Author
Samara O'Shea is the author of For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing as well as a blogger for The Huffington Post.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Samarah's weaving of personal stories and journal entries into the book make it seem more like you are having a conversation with a friend.
It's a wonderful book and I would recommend it to life-long journalers, those who are just starting, or who just like to read books on journaling, as I do.
Sure, she gives a number of suggestions for possible areas to explore in a journal or diary--some that you might not have thought of, others that might have occurred to you but you dismissed as silly, juvenile, or dangerous. But the pith of the book is the insight on how a journal can illuminate our lives. O'Shea does this with specific examples, some from journals and diaries of famous writers, but mainly providing unexpurgated samples from her own journals throughout her life, along with reflections on how/why she wrote what she did.
At first blush, this might seem like a tactic that could end up producing a book that tells you a lot about O'Shea and why she keeps a journal, but precious little about why you might do the same. That's not the case. For those of us who might like the idea of journaling but haven't been able to get into it, O'Shea shows us that when it comes to journaling, anything goes. There is no right or wrong way. Even starting and stopping, ending up with erratic entries rather than dutifully making a daily record of ones thoughts is fine and dandy. The takeaway (at least for me) is that you can use your journal in any way(s) you want. Perhaps the only sin is to be dishonest with yourself, and O'Shea's numerous personal examples (and her willingness to share them publicly) make you feel much less self conscious about writing about anything in your own journal. Heck, if she can write about doing drugs and cheating on her boyfriend in her journal--and then publish it!--certainly you can share your secret fantasy of dancing with the Rockettes or the slightly naughty dream you had about your son's second grade teacher with your own journal.
For me, I've resisted keeping anything like a personal journal for a long time, mainly because something about it seemed . . . well . . . self-indulgent. Obsessive, in some way that I found off-putting (for reasons I can't quite articulate). But I came away from the book with the sense that the opposite is true: by recording one's thoughts and reflections, we get out of our heads and put our feelings out in the world. True, it might be in pages that only we see, but by giving them a life of their own, we can interact with them in a way we can't when we just let them roll around inside our skulls. And this interaction helps us grow and become better people, both for ourselves and for others. That's not self-indulgent. It's good ol' common sense.
By the way, in spite of the semi-scandalous nature of some of O'Shea's entries, one pleasure of the book is that O'Shea herself comes across as a wonderfully complicated, engaging, funny, caring person. In one excerpted entry, she is describing her relationship with God; in the next, giving a blow-by-blow breakdown of a teenage romance. This is also a good lesson in its own right: we are complicated creatures, not just the choir boy or the juvenile delinquent, the princess or the bad girl. Allowing us to see the proud and not-so-proud moments of her life, and showing that she accepts these all as part of herself (at least as she was at one time), O'Shea models how she uses her journal as a way of documenting her life as a work constantly in the process of becoming, not a static entity.
That lesson alone is worth the cover price.
Now she gives us snippets from her journal dating back to her teens, which was not that very long ago, from this delightful and talented woman who is not yet 30.
Some of her journal entries:
THE FIRST PAGE
"I've always felt a pressure to be profound on the first page of a new journal. I won't say that I always achieve profundity, but I do try. Since there is no obvious outside source creating this pressure, I imagine it's one I put on myself: Say something smart to look back on later! I prefer to think it's nothing like that, but more like the beginning of anything. A new year. A new job. A new relationship. All of these, essentially, are the start of new seasons in our lives, and we want them to be as fresh as clean linens drying in the path of a friendly breeze. So we show off a bit at first - doing everything as diligently as possible. Going to the gym every day, showing up a half hour early for work, or tending to a new lover as if she or she were royalty. In the same vein, we start our journals off on a semi-philosophical note, or at least we acknowledge the fresh start we feel we're making with our words and the act of journalng itself."
..."I've never suffered from apathy. My problem is that my emotions are too strong and uncontrollable. I'm sixteen years old but I feel about eight. The world around me is foreign and I'll never understand it. Poeple and their actions are so weird. At this point in time, I do in fact have a boyfriend..."
..."My 2nd year of college but first year at Duquesne is closing in on me. I enjoy the warm weather immensely but the warmer it beomces the more I fear. Because that means graduation is upon us. Well, upon the seniors. I've met a handful of seniors this year and I know some will go, never to be seen again by me. I fear good-byes and life is filled with constant good byes."...
...Perhaps it was my grandmom who whispered to me that I couldn't stop writing. I don't remember her saying anything of the sort but perhaps she did. I saw her tonight...At the wrinkled age of 86 she is the victim of a very aggressive liver cancer. Looking at her today was strange. She was tethered in 1,000 tubes and her soft, toothless mouth could barely bring thought to the surface. I kept thinking, "All human beings are subject to decay." (Samara notes at page bottom that this line is from John Dryden's Mac Flecknoe. John Dryden, 1621-1700)...
...I thanked her for taking such good care of me. She took my hand and raised it to her rasin-wrinkled mouth and kissed it. Porbably the nicest moment we've shared in years. I tried to cry softly enough so she couldn't tell. Then I told her how proud I was and how in love with her I was. Now, I hope to hold that moment close. Forever."
Samara also includes journal entries from Anne Frank, Anais Nin, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, among others.
Very well worth reading!
Starting with her title, you know this is not going to be a staid, "now pick up your pen" kind of book. That O'Shea even mixes "danger" and "journaling" is a sign of her mindset, one that greatly aids this book, making it an illuminating look at her life and some noted journal keepers, rather than simply a how-to book.
The examples she shares are rich in wordplay and emotional nuance, as is O'Shea's turn of phrase. Her baring of her own journal entries takes bravery, and does its job well, showing not just what she wrote but why she wrote it and the progression of entries over her lifetime.
Divided into chapters focusing on love, heartbreak, faith, blogging, introspection, and sex, Note to Self reveals just how profound are the thoughts that can be revealed when we give ourselves permission to simply let go. Each chapter covers a different type of journal writing, and is guided by O'Shea's own entries, as well as the backstory to them. She tells us briefly bout losing her virginity, and then why she didn't write about it in her journal. On the other hand, hot sex with one man left her eager to rush home to record it in her journal. Her relationship with her journal is a significant one in her life, and it's this sense of intimacy, both via self-knowledge and creating a dialogue, if you will, with your own thoughts, that sustains Note to Self. Her observations about such topics as forgiveness, cheating, and love are profound, and surely aided by the time she has spent exploring them in her journal.
O'Shea shares snippets of diaries by Joyce Carol Oates, Anais Nin, Lewis Carroll, Sylvia Plath, and others (of Plath, O'Shea writes that her poems, lettrs, and journal entries "hold me graciously by the throat.") These additional outlooks add depth to O'Shea's advice and show varying styles of journaling.
This is a feisty, bold, invigorating book. It got me reaching for my journal multiple times as I read, pondering why I so often put it down even as muddled thoughts cry out to be written, even if crudely. O'Shea daringly reveals her fears, mistakes, doubts, triumphs, and personal relationships, and even gets her sister and mother to cough up entries I'm sure they would rather have kept private. By doing so, she further shows what happens when we read someone else's journal, putting ourselves in O'Shea's place upon reading of her mother's despair trying to calm a squalling child (O'Shea).
Readers will be hard-pressed to close O'Shea's book and not long to take pen to paper. I know that's what I did throughout reading the book, and kept picking it up almost as a reminder that the thoughts knocking around in my head deserve the dignity of being preserved in my journal.