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Wednesday, 06 February 2008 00:00

Life chronicles

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How To Make A Journal Of Your Life by D. Price. Ten Speed Press, $9.95.

Ant Farm by Simon Rich. Random House, $12.95.


Many people have attempted at least once in their lives to keep a journal. Whether they use one of those expensive, leather-bound journals with creamy white paper from their local bookstore or simply a cheap notebook from Wal-Mart, they set out to chronicle their lives for their own pleasure and perhaps for the edification of their offspring.

Some write for a few days, a few of the more determined keep up their efforts for a month or so, but it is probably safe to say that nine out of every 10 aspiring diarists lose interest in recording their lives after only a few entries.

Reading D. Price’s small book How To Make A Journal Of Your Life may help change that statistic. With good humor, drawings, and photographs, Price shows readers how to put together a journal that is both fun and interesting. The book itself is a journal about journaling; Price not only tells readers how to liven up their account of their lives, but also shows them by way of example. The prose in the book is hand-printed, the drawings somewhat primitive but nevertheless lively and real, the photography and the writing on photography engaging and instructive. Price himself is a professional photographer — he was a photojournalist for 10 years and created a fine-arts magazine of photography called Shots — and shares with his readers some of his knowledge about cameras and picture-taking.

Price’s love of nature also enters into his advice on journaling. He explains, for example, how to preserve flowers or stems of grass in a journal (they can be preserved under tape if the tape is punctured in several places, both to prevent molding and to allow the flora to dry out). He encourages readers to follow their own bliss; theatergoers might fill a journal with ticket stubs and reviews while gourmands would set down their favorite recipes, record their dining experiences, and write restaurant reviews.

Best of all, Price shares with prospective journalists his own joy in writing and drawing. Near the end of How To Make A Journal Of Your Life, he writes that:

When you find yourself lost observing a trail of ants or frantically sketching boats moving in and out of some sunny harbor, you’ll realize you’ve arrived and will smile. You have trained yourself to be a chronicler of life and your long days will be filled with wonder.

•••

The problem in reviewing Simon Rich’s Ant Farm is the temptation to quote long passages from the book. Although Rich, a former Harvard Lampoon president and a recent graduate of Harvard, tends to focus on humorous situations connected primarily with young people — “Crayola Co.,” “Second Grade Realization,” “My Roommate Is Really Hard To Get Along With” — his humor should appeal to readers of all ages. Here, for example, are the concluding remarks from “I Still Remember The Day I Got My First Calculator.” An elementary school teacher has just given Rich and his classmates their first calculators and is trying to teach the students how to use them. Meanwhile, Rich keeps wondering why they had to learn multiplication and division tables in the first place.

Teacher: If a farmer farms five acres of land a day —

Me: So that’s it, then. These past three years have been a total farce. All this time I’ve been thinking, “Well, this (math) is pretty hard and frustrating but I guess these are useful skills to have.” Meanwhile, there was a whole bin of these things in your desk. We could have jumped straight to graphing. Unless, of course, there’s some kind of graphing calculator.

Teacher: There is. You get one in ninth grade.

Me: Is this ... Am I on TV? Is this a prank show?

Teacher: No.

In a chapter titled L, Rich gives us the notes of a teenager who has just contracted hepatitis C:

Sometimes I ask myself, “Y? Y has the lord 4saken me? RU there God? Have U 4gotten me?” I’m trying 2 B positive, but it’s hard when U know that your death is a 4gone conclusion. It’s only a matter of time B4 my D4med liver ceases 2 function 4ever.

In “If Life Were Like Middle School,” Rich gives us this scenario:

Judge: In all my years on the bench, I have never seen a more despicable criminal. You robbed, assaulted, and tortured the victim simply for the thrill of it. Do you have anything to say in your defense before I sentence you?

Criminal: Nope.

Judge: In that case, I hereby sentence you to forty years in a maximum security prison. I also sentence the victim to forty years in prison.

Victim: Wait — what? That doesn’t make any sense! He attacked me!

Judge: I don’t care who started it.

In addition to his takes on school life, Rich raises such questions as “If your girlfriend gives you some ‘love coupons’ and then breaks up with you, are the coupons still valid?” and “If murderers can get into heaven by accepting Jesus, just how awkward is it when they run into their victims?”

Readers looking for a break from grim winter weather or presidential politics can find some relief in Ant Farm.

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