Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits

Image result for the folded clock

I have barely read any book reviews in the media this past year and all those lists being published right now about the Best Books of 2015 have left me cold.  I have not added to a written To Be Read List. All year I have been overwhelmed with choice: the public library shelves, my own library, books on my Kindle, the library's ebook collection, used book sales...

The plan I have followed is that if a book shows up on my radar and piques my interest, and if I can get my hands on it, I read it. This is how I came to be reading The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits. 

The title had me at Clock and Diary.

An image of a folded clock came to mind. It was the little travel clock that my father had. It was in a hard leather case that opened and revealed a clock face. The case and the clock formed its own freestanding triangle and would fit snugly on a bedside table. The clock had to be wound up with its little key on the back. It ticked. I loved it. 

Bulova Reliable II Travel Alarm Clock - Clamshell Case - Key Wind

But this book is not about clocks, although it does concern time. It is, as the subtitle claims, a diary...of sorts. And I love reading diaries. Each dated entry - month and day only - begins with the word "Today..." The events take place over two years' time and they are not sorted chronologically. This actually makes for interesting reading. One minute the reader is in New York City on 9/11 and the next celebrating a Fourth of July holiday in Maine. A few pages later and there is the account of a dinner for academics attended by the author and her husband in Germany.

The accounts of the events in those two years are sometimes entertaining but sometimes her riffs spawned by the events are over-the-top neurotic. She seems to know a lot of people - other writers, film directors. She doesn't name drop but teases the reader with I-know-this-famous-person-but-I-am-not-going-to-tell-you-who-he/she-is. I found that annoying. Not because I don't want to miss out on celebrity gossip, but it seemed smug.

I have to tell you that although I am enjoying many of the stories that Ms. Julavits writes - her visit to E.B. White's grave; her attempts to read the French journals of the gossipy Goncourt brothers; her attendance at a party at Edith Wharton's house - I decided about a fourth of the way in that I didn't really like her.  

I looked up her photo online thinking that might change my feelings toward her. It didn't.

I suppose that when reading someone's published diary, it is key to liking the diarist! Think E.M. Delafield (Diary of a Provincial Lady) or Virginia Woolf (A Writer's Diary). 

I have been torn between wanting to let the book go because I don't care for the author or to continue reading it because some of the events that take place intrigue me.  

The Folded Clock is on my Kindle as an ebook from the library and will expire in four more days. I guess I will let it.

Has this happened to you? You enjoy the book but wouldn't want to have coffee with the author?  I would love to hear if you have had a similar experience.


  1. First, I hope you've had a very nice Christmas.
    Second, I felt the same way you do about this book. I didn't like the author much either. I also didn't understand why it was so popular. There was nothing outstanding in either the writing or the stories that I thought warranted all the fuss. I guess some things just aren't for us.

    1. First: Thank you, Joan! I hope you had a nice Christmas as well. I was caught unawares and activities seemed to keep piling up and I was busier than I would normally like to be so I am holing up this weekend to recover.
      Second: Thank you, Joan! I agree with you. Nothing really outstanding here. And I was put off by her frequent use of the F word. Maybe I am getting old...I don't remember where I read about this book but the reviewer/reader made it sound funny and captivating. We obviously weren't reading the same book! I am so glad to hear you had the same feelings about the author. I thought maybe I was just a little crazy!

  2. Yes! I have had this experience, I'm sorry to say, with Virginia Woolf herself. I'm currently reading A Writer's Diary, and I find that I don't really like her, though I do feel sorry for her physical and emotional/mental sufferings. Also, I respect her, but I don't like her.

    I've certainly had this experience with people I've met in person, so why not with people I've met on the page?

    1. Hi, Kathy. It has been a while since I read A Writer's Diary and I don't remember feeling any antipathy toward Ms. Woolf. I was most likely too focused on her words about her writing process to notice any feeling of dislike for the writer. But I am glad to know that I am not alone in this matter. On the opposite end of this is liking the author on the page and then meeting them in person and being sooooo disappointed! That has happened to me more than once!