Why you shouldn’t bother with the forthcoming release of Kerouac’s diaries:
Of course, when reading The Reagan Diaries for clues to what Reagan was actually doing there in the Oval Office — and there are some, buried amid the trivia and mountains of movie titles — one must keep in mind that this tome was whittled down from five large, leather-bound volumes, which Reagan — the only president of the twentieth century to have kept a diary, we keep being reminded — maintained diligently, not as an intended historical document (though he must have known that people would turn to it one day) but as a sort of “memory book” so that he and his beloved Nancy could page through it together and recall the good times during their retirement years. (Sadly, the former president’s Alzheimer’s put the kibosh on that sweet autumnal vision.) The work at hand is itself not so much an historical document as a popular bestseller assembled by a popularizing historian best known for his history-tour bus rides with his college students and for his worshipful attitude towards any American figure of recent decades who seems to strike him as glamorous, a hero-worship that transcends politics. (Brinkley has also edited Hunter Thompson’s letters and is now editing Jack Kerouac’s diaries for publication, and wrote a book about the Kennedyesque wartime heroism of John Kerry; he made an especially ridiculous ass of himself in the wake of John Kennedy, Jr.’s death, running from talk show to talk show insisting that the passing of George’s publisher was some major signal event in the life of his generation.) Brinkley has reportedly cleaned up countless misspellings in the original text but felt compelled to retain Reagan’s habit of censoring such G-rated cussword as “damn” and “hell” by writing them as “d_mn” and “h_ll”.
Given the options available – here, in the space age! – shouldn’t the publishers of these various diaries make available online the complete, not-ridiculously-edited version? For pay, or for free? There’s something to be said for good editing, but the diary isn’t meant to be edited. A glimpse inside the private thoughts of a man (and whether or not these private thoughts should be released posthumously is another matter) should be left as is, warts and boring parts and all. Less interesting, maybe, but more true – and if it doesn’t pass publishing muster without editing, then maybe you shouldn’t publish it. Even if it was Ann Charters editing it, and not Mr. Vanilla (seen here mired in the 1980’s) (look at that picture and tell me you don’t hear the Knight Rider theme music), I don’t think it would be a representative document. My two cents.