I hesitated for months before reading Susan Sontag’s diaries. I knew I’d love them, of course – as a devout fan of Sontag, I’d adore a Tesco press release if she had written one. The reason of my reluctance was that I don’t like the thought of peeking into someone’s private journal – published when they’re dead and cannot object, or even unfriend me on Facebook as a punishment for reading it.
Fortunately, guiltily leafing through the book, I came across this:
One of the main (social) functions of a journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people
“Fine then, Susan,” I said. (Not out loud – you shouldn’t talk in a college library, you know.) And kept reading.
As soon as I combated the embarrassment, the experience of glimpsing into the young Sontag’s mind was rather uplifting. It turns out that, as a teen and twenty-something, one of the most brilliant writers of recent times had exactly the same problems and insecurities that we all struggle with. Believe it or not, she was human. She doubted herself, including her writing skills. She was socially awkward and sexually frustrated. She worried about eating too much. Hell, she even peed! Of course, she also had a Bill Gates of an inner life – but so did Charlie of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
In fact, the two had loads in common. They were both moved to tears by music (although Susan was born too early to listen to The Smiths, so she stuck to Bach.) They shared a passion for literature. They both wanted to have sex with girls. And they both felt infinite sometimes.
However, unlike Charlie’s, Sontag’s diary is no material for an Emma Watson-starring movie. (Which is rather unfortunate – who wouldn’t like to see Emma in X-rated lesbian scenes???) It couldn’t be a bestselling piece of non-fiction, either: although the collection offers insight into Susan-The-Human’s personality, plenty of fascinating remarks, some invaluable writing advice (Try whiskey. Also, being warm), and, yes, a bit of sex, in order to find them, you’d have to force their way through the intellectual’s notes about her eating bean soup and buying sneakers.
Unless you are me, that is, and do it with immense pleasure. Remember what I said about the Tesco press release? Her shopping lists are even more gripping.
Reborn is a great read for die-hard Sontag enthusiasts, but until someone publishes a “best-of” booklet (can you hear me, Penguin?), the rest of humanity may prefer to look for the best quotes online.