Red Leather Diary: reclaiming a life through the pages of a lost journal

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Book 

A tattered and tarnished Red Leather Diary…discarded and left in a trunk for years…opened for the first time in decades by a young writer working for the New York TImes

photo of florence from red leather diary

Florence...the author of the "Red Leather Diary"...in the 1920's

Amazement...as the life of a young well-to-do woman in New York in the 1930’s unfolds. Horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills,  tea at Schrafft’s, and toasting the night at El Morocco.  And behind it all a diarist who writes frankly of her explorations–in cities around the world, and with various sexual partners–both male and female.

Even more amazing: The journalist tracks down the author of diary, who is now 90 years old and chronicles her reaction as she rediscovers her younger self.

Published in 2008, 321 pages.

The Author: Lily Koppel writes for the New York Times and other publications. She lives in New York City.

Quote: 

Five hours of tennis and
glorious happiness–all

I want is someone to love
–I feel incomplete.

-one of Florence’s entries from the Red Leather DIary

Discuss:

  • How the life of a young woman in the 1930’s compares to the lives of young adults today.
  • Florence’s diary gives us a remarkable glimpse into the New York of the late 1920’s and 30’s.  Do people still keep diaries like this today? How will future generations be able to access what life is like in our own time and place?
  • Florence’s feminist views and remarkable relationships with men and women will spark discussion on gender roles, parenting roles, and the amount of freedom a young woman should be given to express herself.
  • How would you feel if a diary you wrote decades ago was suddenly rediscovered? As Florence writes in the book’s foreword: “How do you feel when a forgotten chunk of your life, full of adolescent angst and passion, is handed to you? How do you feel when you see your striving, feeling, immature self through your now elderly eyes? It stopped my heart for a moment. That was me?” “
For more discussion questions go to the Reader’s Guide from Harper Collins

Enhance

a page from the red leather diaryThere is a marvelous slide show narrated by Lily Koppel tells the story of how she found the diary–and its author–through pictures and audio.

Before she wrote the book about The Red Leather Diary, Lily Koppel wrote a feature article about it for The New York Times.

Interact

Try your hand at writing a diary entry like Florence’s:

Five hours of _____________ and ____________________

all I want is _______________________________________

I feel ____________________________________________

Feel free to share your entries in the comments below!