I have never been the sort of person who knows how to keep a diary. Oh, I have tried. I'm a sucker for pretty stationary, and I sometimes catch myself buying unnecessary new notebooks and pens. Yes, this is the time I will commit to journaling, I always tell myself. Maybe I start, my best intentions leading to a few entries before I fall out of the habit. Or I get halfway through a diary when I make the mistake of re-reading an entry and cringe so much at my inner dramatics that I scrap the entire thing altogether. More often than not, though, I let the notebook collect dust in a pretty pile. But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in reading other people's diaries.
Though I always refrained from snooping through my younger sister's notebooks, I am not immune to the impulse. If you're anything like me, you might be able to scratch the itch of curiosity (without getting into major trouble with your friends and family) by picking up the published journals of one of your favorite creators instead. From authors and artists to musicians and memoirists, these collections (both in the form of diaries and letter anthologies) go deep into the mind of people like Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, whose innermost thoughts are sure to be more interested and affecting than your own:
'The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath' by Sylvia Plath
The publication of Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals in 2000 was considered a major literary event. Until then Plath's journals had only been available in a version that had been highly abridged by the late author's husband. This complete transcription reveals the true depth of the poet's personal and literary struggles.
'Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002' by David Sedaris
Did you know that beloved essayist and humor writer David Sedaris has kept a diary for over 40 years? The first of two planned volumes, Theft by Finding: 1977-2002 is a compendium of the private records, observations, overhead comments, gossip, and life stories, and it's all just as funny as his essay collections.
'You Are Always With Me' by Frida Kahlo
This collection, edited and translated by Héctor James, features never-before-published letters between the world-famous Mexican artists and her mother. Here Kahlo shares her anxieties, her feelings about her husband and friends and her incredible creative mind, in ways both vulnerable and deeply moving.
'A Writer's Diary' by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's diaries were published in five volumes between 1977 and 1984, but if you're looking for something more digestible, check out A Writer's Diary. Drawn by her husband from the personal record she kept over a period of 27 years, the entries here cover her work, her writing exercises, and comments on books she was reading.
'Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963' by Susan Sontag
You've probably heard people talking about writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag in recent months, thanks to her famous 1964 essay "Notes on Camp," which inspired the 2019 Met Gala theme. This first volume of her journals begins during her years as a student, and ends in 1964, just when she was breaking into the artistic scene of New York City.
'The John Lennon Letters' by John Lennon
This collection of almost 300 letters gather the late Beatle John Lennon's personal correspondences to family, friends, strangers, and lovers from every point in his fascinating life. Revealing a voice that oscillates between comedy, poetry and heartbreak, Lennon's letters illuminate a never-before-seen intimate side of the musical genius.
'My Mad Fat Diary' by Rae Earl
In the inspiration behind the Hulu series, writer Rae Earl shares the real life diary she kept in 1989 — when she was a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Lincolnshire with her mum. In her diaries, she writes of body image issues, friend dramas, and her complicated relationship with her mother in a way that will be relatable to anyone who struggled to figure out who they were as a teenager.
'The Andy Warhol Diaries' Edited by Pat Hackett
Wildly influential and undoubtedly controversial, pop artist Andy Warhol has always been shrouded by a mist of quotes and celebrity stories. But in his diary — a compendium of the more than 20,000 pages of the diary that he dictated daily to Pat Hackett before his death in 1987 — readers get the ultimate backstage pass to his life.
'As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto' edited by Joan Reardon
This sweet collection shares the decades-long correspondence between beloved celebrity chef Julia Child and her friend and unofficial literary agent Avis DeVoto. It chronicles the lifelong friendship between the two women, as well as the turbulent process of Julia’s creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written.
'The Brontës: A Life in Letters' Edited by Juliet Barker
Juliet Barker's selection of letters reveal the authentic voices of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, as well as their brother, Branwell, and father, Reverend Patrick Brontë. These letters detail the siblings' strange childhood, their years of struggle before their books took the literary world by storm, and the tragically young deaths of several of the Brontës.
'Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year' by Anne Lamott
Beloved essayist Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions is a riveting, powerful account of her son's first year of life. In it, Lamott writes about the transition into motherhood, and all the changes, exhaustion, and love her child brought into her life.
'Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker' by Audre Lorde and Pat Parker
Sister Love collects the letters of African-American poets and activists Audre Lorde and Pat Parker. The duo wrote each other regular letters over the course of 15 years, remarking on everything from their work as writers to their landmark roles in politics, to their individual struggles with cancer. This intimate portrayal gives glimpse inside the minds and friendship of two great twentieth writers.
'The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992' by Tina Brown
Over the course of her eight years as the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Tina Brown kept extensive journals. Providing a no-holds-barred portrait of New York's competitive media world in the excessive '80s, Brown's diaries go behind the magazine's biggest scoops and her own drama-filled personal life.