The Accidental Diarist

“I’ll try to do this without mentioning David Lee Roth.”

Available at newstands practically nowhere.

The New Yorker is by design the type of publication a reader might be inclined to seek out. To be blunt, it’s not People. You won’t find it in the racks at the supermarket checkout lane, but you may find it in the bookstore of a major international airport terminal. The periodical’s average reader is 47 years old, white, makes around $100,000 a year, and doesn’t live in New York City.1 Although its reviews and events listings often focus on the cultural life of the Big Apple, The New Yorker is essential reading for its erudite commentaries on popular culture and “eccentric Americana, its attention to modern fiction by the inclusion of short stories and literary reviews, its rigorous fact checking and copy editing, its journalism on politics and social issues, and its single-panel cartoons sprinkled throughout each issue.”2

Vincent Price as the villain Egghead, from original Batman TV series.

Accordingly, as I am fond of saying, The New Yorker is “for eggheads.” That’s good and bad news. While in the process of defining the term, it occurred to me that only an egghead would spend any amount of time thinking about how to characterize an individual who thinks too much. However, that’s doesn’t quite get us all the way there. In American slang, egghead is an anti-intellectual epithet, aimed at out-of-touch academic guys who know the difference between Lexus and Linux. Nowadays we say elitist (political), and geek or nerd (social). This goes a long way toward proving that in order to call someone an egghead, you’ve got to be one yourself.

On the average day I visit more than 100 websites ranging from ABC News to The Onion to Vice Magazine, and often stop by The New Yorker. Dot com. One of my favorite contributors to any outlet is The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, who writes book reviews and A Critic At Large: articles with a general focus on literature. He has written about Donald Barthelme, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hunter S. Thompson, and he penned a brilliant review of the Chicago Manual of Style that includes a scathing damnation of Microsoft Word, which all said, should pretty much slam-dunk the lid on my case for egghead credibility.4 At any rate, The New Yorker, unlike other similar subscription websites, does not have a limit on free page views, and maybe Noel Bancredi can give them a kudos for that.

You’re Reading This, I’m Writing This, and How Did That Happen?

Louis Menand

Menand’s “Woke Up This Morning: Why do we read diaries?” (December 10, 2007) examines the question contained therein.5 But first, he tackles the question of why people try (and fail) to keep diaries in the first place, and it basically comes down to one of three motivating factors—the ego, the id, and/or the superego. The ego “obliges you to believe that the stuff that happened to you is worth writing down because it happened to you.” This type of vanity might explain why people seem to quit writing a diary after about two weeks. Menand says, “keeping this up, you quickly realize, means something worse than being insufferable to others; it means being insufferable to yourself. People find that they just can’t take themselves seriously enough to continue.”

Those who come from the id part of spectrum are the “neurotics” who use diaries to keep secrets, and ruminate over personal failures and short-comings. Their shelf-life in the diary game is also brief, Menand says, “since the last thing most people want to do with their unconsummated longings and petty humiliations is to inscribe them permanently in a book. They want to forget them, and so they soon quit writing them down. Most people don’t confess; they repress.” Theoretically, I’ve postulated that it would be possible for an id-type to stick with the diary as long as they remained focused on complaining about other people, rather than trying to endure on a meager diet of self-loathing.

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