As many of you may know, I am no longer a New Yorker, so please check out my new blog A Library of My Own. If you are just reading Life and Times, you are missing out. Thanks!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Red Leather Diary - Lily Koppel

I was asked earlier this year by Danny Goldstein of Harper Collins to read and review The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel. I read it back in May and can't believe it's taken me this long to review it, mainly because I loved it that much. The minute I finished it I wanted to open it back up and re-read it. You can browse the book over at Harper Collins website.

True story:

Lily Koppel is a writer for The New York Times who lives on the Upper West Side. One day as she's leaving her apartment, she sees a ton of old steamer trunks sitting on the curb for removal. (Side note: I love love looking at all the gems you can find on trash day in the city.) The apartment building had a ton of old trunks sitting in storage for decades and was finally getting rid of them. The one that struck Lily's fancy, though, was open and had some beautiful vintage clothes and an old red leather diary. She saved the trunk along with the diary. The following book is the story behind the woman who wrote in the diary from 1929 to 1934.

Here's a photo of Lily with some of the old trunks:
The diary isn't just any old diary. It's a diary that is meant to span five years. Each day of the month has a page. Each year has a couple of lines on that page. (Side note: I love this idea for a diary. That way you aren't required to blab on and can look back on the years and see what was going on in your life on that day.)

The diary was written by a young teenage Florence Wolfson. Lily tracks down Florence and finds the 90 year-old still alive and well today. Using the diary as a guide and Florence's memories for filler, Lily Koppel paints a beautiful tribute to a young girl living her life to the fullest in New York City.

Here's Lily and Florence:
Why did I love this book so much?

-Lily's writing. I feel like I could see what Florence's NYC was like. The sites, sounds, everything was so vivid. While reading the book on the subway and bus, I would look around the city and marvel how much things have changed...and how much they've stayed the same.

-Florence. What an amazing and accomplished woman. She was a writer too and her short lines on her everyday life are so insightful and beautiful. She tried and experimented everything. Some she failed while others she succeeded but it never stopped her from trying. She even experimented in love, both men and women (which was, I thought, pretty darn scandalous reading for back then.) She met and knew some pretty famous people as well, creating a literary salon of sorts. (Great post on her salon over at this blog.)

-The photos. I loved that the book included photos of Florence, the people she loved and knew...just a great part of the book.

-Her European tour at the end of the book. I am SO jealous. Just this part could be made into a movie. A young American girl going touring Europe, which is on the brink of war, while young European men, including an Italian Count, fall madly in love with her. Sigh.

I want to re-read it because there are so many quotes from Florence's diary that I just loved. I need to go back and write them all down. And then buy my own red leather diary because who knows, someday someone might find my little life interesting.

Here's Lily with the diary:
I wish I had reviewed this a long while back when it was all still new and fresh in my head. But I'm sort of glad I didn't, because I found the hardback copy of this book at a library sale. That means I am giving away my paperback copy!

To enter the giveaway:

1) Provide email, blog...a way of contacting you.

2) Have you read any interesting biographies or want to? If so, who?

Giveaway is open to all and through December 22nd. Good luck!

Here's the cover of the copy I'm keeping. Don't you love it?
Also Reviewed by:

Peeking Between the Pages
She is Too Fond of Books
Booking Mama
Confessions of a Real Librarian
Caribou's Mom
Bibliophile by the Sea
A Girl Walks into a Bookstore
Library Queue
Book Club Girl


  1. Pick me pick me! I've been wanting to read this one for quite a while. :)

    As for biographies, I'm listening to one right now. It's about Isak Dinesen, and I'm finding that I liked her better before I knew so much about her ... and I'm definitely in the mood to watch Out of Africa again!

  2. Awesome review, lady!!

    No need to enter me. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

  3. This sounds fantastic! I heard about it through someone's holiday swap post. I'd love to be entered :-) The next biography I want to read is an autobiography called A Princess Remembers, about the Maharani of Jaipur. Also a fabulous woman :-)

  4. This sounds so interesting, particularly because I have the letters my grandparents wrote to each other during the war and I've been wanting to do something similar.

    I do enjoy biographies. I haven't read any in a while though.

    melacan at hotmail dot com

  5. Sounds like a great book. Please count me in.

    Hmmm, I haven't read any biography recently. I have, however, read The Tender Bar, by J. R. Moehringer, and it's a beautiful memoir.

  6. love the cover of this book...I have read Michael J Fox's 'lucky man' excellent book.


  7. Can I enter this giveaway Amanda. This book has been on my radar since I started blogging. It was one of the first reviews I read and I absolutely fell in love with it.

  8. This sounds like a really neat book. I'm not huge on biographies but sometimes I like memoirs. 'I Am Not Myself These Days" by Josh Kilmer-Purcell is a really good one.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. I love memoirs, The Glass Castle was a favorite, but I don't normally read biographies. This looks great! Thanks for the giveaway.

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

  10. I really want to read this, but please don't enter me. I know you've seen my tbr piles and I am trying to control myself from bringing more books into the house for awhile :)

  11. HOW COOL! I love finding old books (especially those that have the owner's writing in them) in antique shops.

    Please enter me into the drawing!

    I've not read many biographies, but my favorite has to be Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He has just had one weird life!

  12. This sounds like a wonderful book. A biography I really enjoyed was Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his quest to bring modern medicine to Haiti.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

  13. Amanda, so glad you enjoyed this book -- i did as well :)

  14. well youve convinced me of its merit, count me in

    wheresmyrain at yahoo dot com

  15. i love to read this book. it'll be my first book ever about diiary. and i haven't read any biographies before.

    uniquas at ymail dot com

  16. No need to enter me~ Just wanted to say I loved this book as well! I'm glad you also enjoyed it so much.

  17. I just finished reading "Forever Liesl: A Memoir of The Sound of Music" by Charmian Carr and it was fascinating to learn more about the movie and the real person behind her character.

    Thank you for offering this giveaway. This book is on my must-read list.

    susanaudrey316 at gmail dot com

  18. This book sounds great. I'm actually glad you took so long to review it since reading it now reminded me that I really want to get this book :)

  19. Thanks so much for the shout-out to my blog post about Florence's literary salons. Very much appreciated! Glad you liked this one as much as I did ... it is one of my favorite books that I read in 2009.

  20. This sounds like a great book! I'm not a big fan of biographies, but I'd like to read "The QI Books of the Dead" by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd - it seems a fun book, packed with mini-briographies about exceptional people, famous or not.


  21. Please enter me in this giveaway! This book sounds excellent! I recently read "John Adams" by David McCullough, which was a wonderful biography of our second President's life and the time period in which he lived.

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah Emmerson

  22. This sounds like a great story. I'd love to be entered to win. :0)

    I haven't read any biographies lately, but I would like to read Mennonite In A Little Black Dress: A Memoir Of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen.

    librarygrinch at gmail dot com

  23. Love your post about this book. You make it sound so interesting. Count me in on your giveaway. Biographies - I go through streaks in reading biographies and I haven't read any in a while. Two that I really enjoyed were Glass Castle and Queen Noir.


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