Joni B. Cole, Rebecca
Joffrey & B.K. Rakhra,
This Day in the Life:
Diaries from Women
Across America

(Three Rivers, 2006)

For generations, the daily lives of great men have intrigued us. Not only their great deeds, but their more private moments became symbolic of both their greatness and humanity.

The daily thoughts and lives of women weren't considered as important, besides women hardly had the time, education and freedom to preserve their thoughts for either themselves or posterity. And if they managed to write journals, their diaries were considered important reading only if their lives were important, representative or exciting. And few women lived lives that were considered important. In our day, pen, computer and paper are not so expensive or hard to come by; women can detail their lives without feeling presumptuous because they know their value in the world.

In James Joyce's Ulysses, the action takes place on Thursday, June 16, 1904 and ends early June 17. In This Day in the Life, the ordinary, extraordinary and emblematic events in the lives of American women of all classes, culture and work take place on June 29, 2004.

Entries are divided into two categories -- diary entries of single individuals, and distillations and collections of several entries grouped under a single category, such as conversation, kids, husbands, on the job, brides, 24/7.

Chapters telling about the day of single individuals show a cross-section of American women. The famous, unknown and infamous are here. The book shows the variety of women's experiences and will definitely open the minds of girls to the possibility of being a rodeo rider, a reporter or even something less "respectful." Some lives might raise a few eyebrows, such as the 24-hours we spend with Laraine Harper, the only brothel madam who was never a working girl. In her entry we learn the business of prostitution is run like every other business. (I'm not pointing this out because I'm a puritanical prig but just to warn moms who might be tempted to give their daughters this book as a graduation or birthday present.)

The entries are honest and some will touch the readers more than others. I liked the Baltimore narcotics detective who feels antzy at being stuck at her desk. She's almost an adrenalin junkie who wants to be on the street trapping drug dealers. She's fun, and the reader really feels her annoyance at being stuck doing paperwork. Another favorite was Virgina, who is "parte de la diaspora cubana." Her gratefulness to God and joy in her family and friends really glows from the page. Then there's the unmarried reporter in Istanbul who must deal with pepper spray, sexist men and a culture that pretty much assumes her biological clock has wound down. But the writer who affected me most was Roseanne Cash. In her entry she speaks a lot of her father and her desire to have a dream about him.

A couple of small nits. Although the book deals with women of all classes, they are generally educated. Class is still a big issue in the United States and this book does not record the voices of the poor and uneducated. Often, the women represented here seem to have taken creative journaling classes. There is a general sameness -- many of the diaries are written in a first-person present that will challenge some people's definition of "a diary," and most of the entries wind up with a kind of epiphany or resolution that makes one wonder about the effect of media on the art of language and storytelling. Perhaps only journaling types and writers would find their way into this book, or perhaps the compilers gave them directions on how to express themselves. Certainly, it would have been good to see the submission guidelines the editors gave the diarists, and for the compilers to have included some informative notes on how they went about getting these "day diary" entries.

I would definitely have liked to have known how they came up with some of their statistics. "On June 29, 2004, 29% of diarists talked on the phone while driving, 31% talked to their mothers, 81% enjoyed the conversation, 15% said something they regretted." And later, "42% spent quality time, 88% did not have sex, 11% fought with their partners." While I love little factoids like these and although the diarists don't seem representative of my life (no cars, no cell phone and, sadly, no mothers) I did wonder if there was a questionnaire? If so, why didn't the compilers include it? Or did they merely figure out these statistics by pondering what was mentioned and not mentioned? After all, one can't assume that because a writer doesn't comment on something it didn't happen.

The organization is a bit odd at times. In addition, some chapters have short biographies about the writers, others just give a little note at the end of the chapter. Again, if the compilers had included some information on their technique and mode of operation, I would have understood why there wasn't more uniformity. We get some information in the acknowledgments, but not enough to really help us out in that respect.

All in all, though, this is a great book. It is highly recommended for women, for creative writing and social studies classes, and for anyone who wants to understand more about women.

by Carole McDonnell
22 April 2006

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