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Friday, September 4, 2009

Book Review: 6 Diaries

Congratulations to Targum on publishing a truly original, meaningful work for the frum audience! 6 Diaries shares the personal accounts of the members of an experimental workshop focusing on issues of modesty. The workshop seems to have been an overwhelmingly good idea; the book -- also monumental, though I felt it had just a bit of room for improvement.
The good news first: The thoughts shared in 6 Diaries are realistic, universal, and successfully touched me to think a little more myself. At the risk of sounding cliche, this book is deep, but in a real-world way. The diaries were fairly easy to read and stylistically quite OK -- I guess they would resonate better with the intended teenaged audience than a nitpicky old English teacher like me. You could call it authentic. I was pleased to note minimal typos.

As I read, I started off making mental notes of powerful lines to quote in this review. But I may as well have just re-typed the book. There is profundity on every page.

The diary entries are presented with the 6 writers in a predictable rotation, which helps the reader keep track of who's writing. The workshop consisted of monthly meetings with writing assignments in between, so the chapters are organized by month. With the exception of a brief introduction to each chapter, we don't really hear the group leader's voice, although her notes to the members are included in the appendix. I would have liked to see them included sequentially with the students' writings; it would improve the flow and help the reader to make the connection between what was going on in the group and the individual diary entries. It would also be nice to have just a bit more detail in the session notes of each meeting; although I understand that the focus of the book is the students' voices, I was left wondering what prompted the changes in their thoughts (brainwashing?!) Perhaps to the same end, future editions might include an appendix or companion booklet of inspirational/informational materials for those readers who might want to step further into the experience but might not know how or where to start.

One more cautionary note: Although the book is thin and easy to read straight through, I don't recommend it. It needs time to be digested. Due to intervening circumstances, I had to read it one half at a time, and I definitely enjoyed it more after the break. The changes in the writers' attitudes did not occur overnight and it's difficult to believe when reading them overnight.

Overall, this book is an excellent addition to the Jewish library and I hope it becomes something of a classic. I think many can gain from reading it, adults and youth alike. Whether or not the reader makes any immediate or lasting changes to their observance, I believe the strongest, most important message is bound to penetrate: Everyone struggles. And it's OK to grow anyway.