The Diary? Let’s Get Real

For someone who’s already a star – Ted Koppel, Peggy Noonan, Mario Cuomo – publishing a book that reads like a diary is a safe thing to do: Warm, innocuous, reassuring while unbelievable. Yep, these were your innermost speculations, now offered to 50,000 people.

A "diary" by a famous person makes no more sense than a memoir by someone who remains in the game. Since we don’t see many such books, we can assume the book-buying public is as skeptical as I seem to be of this mode.

Then again, the value of circulating a "diary" depends less on the who and more on where they are in life. What if someone you’ve yet to meet is a superb writer and also a ruthless analyst of their own work trajectory? And what if that work is entwined with a drawn-out national catharsis?

Such a blend prevailed in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. I worked with an architectural student using his original diary entries; they began as e-mails not intended for publication. With some new formatting, and not much tightening, we produced a rollicking account. Originally published on a website he and I were the top two contributors to, "An Architecture of 9/11" is linked below -- "by Chris Loyd, as told to Frank Gregorsky."

As befits a long web document, the pace is rapid. Chris assaults the reader with facts and events, while inserting observations in a non-imperious way. So the scroller keeps thinking: "Hmmph, how will this really turn out?" You also see how a college class functions these days, especially how young architects are trained (or developed, or conditioned).

Bottom line? I suggest we look past the cultural and political bigwigs who can get away with producing a "book" on the cheap, and instead demand Real Diaries. The diary mode can indeed excel, when four factors are present:

(1) The reader has no pre-existing view of the diarist;

(2) the diarist is seeking to get beyond himself while still being authentic;

(3) what the diarist is experiencing and deducing is tops – in short, focus on the what and where, a bit less on the why, and subordinate the who.

Finally (4), an editor has stepped in to play the role of traffic cop: Expedite the movement, but allow no crashes.

With that, and the routine copyrighting, I turn you over to Chris Loyd. Three thousand Americans have just perished in New York City, and an architectural class in San Antonio seeks to extract meaning and permanence from the atrocity...