On Burning Books

From a young age and throughout my life, I’ve kept diaries.  I look through them every now and then, if I’m feeling nostalgic. I have a total of seventeen that have survived the years of journaling (maybe I’ll post a picture soon). I remember the ache I had to fill up a book of my own and the satisfaction I felt from finally having my first journal. I even read non-fiction books about famous journals and diaries, how people utilize the craft of journaling, etc. I was fond of the Dear America and Royal Diaries series when I was younger, and found solace in The Diary of Anne Frank as I grew older.

During my research of the journaling craft, however, I was shocked to find that writers like Franz Kafka would request their precious writing be destroyed, or as in the case of playwright Carlo Goldoni, even destroy it themselves. How terrible, I thought. How could one be that ashamed or disgusted by his work? Within what other reasoning would someone suffer that kind of loss (or induce that suffering on a world of readers who would benefit from such writing)? What if Anne Frank had destroyed her diary for fear that critical eyes may read it? I was shocked the first time I read the book, to see that another girl (my age at the time) had written words of the vulnerable, personal content I myself was too afraid to put down on paper.

I learned from reading that diary that we’re all human, full of awkwardness, ugliness, and insecurities. No diary should ever be destroyed, I thought, or any other personal writing for that matter. I’ve been pondering this mindset over the past few days, however, and affirmed today by tearing out twenty pages from an old journal and ripping them to shreds that I do not hold that belief anymore.

What changed? I did. The people around me. My thoughts about people. And my understanding of the most important person in my world.

What about all that change? All that I learned, the transition from adolescence to adulthood, recorded in pen? It would do more hurt than good, I concluded. So the elimination of those words commenced. Take a look at this girl’s thoughts on destroying her diary (I pulled a screenshot from Yahoo answers).

The support she received from other users surprised me:

Yes destroy it.

I did that to my old diary and dont regret it one bit

And another:

burning things is always fun. plus it would symbolic. the end of your old life

And one more:

…delete…things that remind you of the past you dont like. It really does help!!!


How encouraging.

Have you ever destroyed personal documents? Would you ever consider destroying your writing? What would be your reasoning behind it? Share your thoughts in a comment below.


Filed under personal

3 responses to “On Burning Books

  1. Darryl

    I have mixed feelings about this. I have destroyed some old documents of mine before. However, I keep all of my old journals. Why? Because they present a journey of where I’ve been (who I was) and how I’ve changed. I go back over those old journals and they teach me something of myself–demonstrate there is still hope for me to continue to grow and change. I try to avoid naming names and insulting people (not always possible)–but I attempt to be honest about myself.

    To each their own, but I feel somewhat dishonest if I leave behind only the journals I want people to read. Delete names to protect the innocent, but be candid about yourself.

  2. Darryl

    Sorry, had to add one more thought. This is the “yes, but” side of me: if there is a therapeutic benefit to burning your journal–perhaps the past is so painful and you need that cathartic cleansing, then by all means, burn the journal. But even then, be very certain that is what you really want to do. Don’t do it in a knee-jerk reaction when you find an old piece of writing and think: “O horrors! I can’t believe I wrote that!”


    Read it. Mull over it.

    Then if you feel it must be burned, do it. But grieve over the loss, too.

  3. Hi, Darryl.

    I too, have thought about this. All of my old letters and journal entries exhibit a journey from the person I was to the person I am now–just as much as my posts even on this blog will demonstrate a transition from where I am now to where I will be years down the road.

    Before destroying evidence of blemishes in my character as a young girl, I had to take into account what I was taking away from the world. Was I destroying something that could help other young people in their struggle through adolescence? Or was I doing everyone (including myself) a favor?

    In the end, I decided that I could contribute valuable sources to young readers in other forms other than diary entries and that I had to do what was best for me and the important people of the present. So I bid my old self good riddance.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

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