book review: Ongoingness


Ongoingness: The End of a Diary By Sarah Manguso.
Graywolf Press| March 2015.|95 pages |$20.00| ISBN: 978-1-55597-703-0

Rating: *****/5*

“Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws.”

In this riveting pithy memoir, author Sarah Manguso writes about her experience writing daily in a journal for 25 years. It arrived on my doorstep one evening. I opened the memoir the next morning and read straight through before I needed to shower and head to an appointment. On moments. On being. On mindfulness and awareness. What has she learned? Why does she do it? She describes one goal: “My behavior was an attempt to stop time before it swept me up. It was an attempt to stay safe, free to detach before life and time became too intertwined for me to write down, as a detached observer, what had happened.”

Manguso soon realizes, particularly after the birth of her son, that living in the moment might be best and need not be written. By analyzing her journal she could detach from the past and center herself: “All I could see in the world were beginnings and endings: moments to survive, record, and, once recorded, safely forgot.” Manguso writes: “I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination—so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.” That’s a positive. Then: “Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.” That’s problematic. She went through her journal at one point and eliminated an entire year because she felt nothing of interest occurred. Would think that would drive up her anxiety level.

Many of us keep journals to record our thoughts and activities. We keep mood journals to record our moods. Some people scrapbook to have things to look back on at a later date. Remember all the concerts we went to. Remember the people we dated. Remember various decades, specific years, turmoil and triumphs. But is that the only reason we write things down. And does one keep the journal, keep recording or does one get rid of the journals? I found myself involved from the first page. It’s a gorgeous reflection on time and record keeping.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Graywolf Press.

Sarah Manguso reads at Harvard Book Store tonight at 7pm.

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