Book Review: Off the Bookshelf

Jodi Kantor

Off the Bookshelf

The Slate Diaries

edited by Jodi Kantor, Cyrus Krohn, and Judith Shulevitz

PublicAffairs, 400 pp., $14 (paper)

The allure of this addictive, thoroughly browsable collection is the promise of familiarity with famous people, though it quickly becomes apparent that the daily lives of Bill Gates, Karena Gore Schiff, and Benazir Bhutto aren't necessarily more scintillating than those of Leslie Carr, school nurse, or Russ Siegelman, venture capitalist. The school nurse recounts the typical accidents and colds but also "a principal who had stapled his finger and proceeded to regress at an alarming speed once he entered my office." The Portugese ambassador sends Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, a book of poetry by Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa translated into Urdu. "The Portugese have done this to commemorate our golden jubilee year, which is really thoughtful of them," Bhutto writes. Those details are written as if they were mundane, and they make for great reading. Though the editors at have selected a plethora of novelists -- Amy Bloom, Mavis Gallant, Cynthia Ozick -- to contribute diaries to the site, very few of them overwrite or seem concerned with revealing their less-polished selves. There are no intimate confessions here, but no need for them when the revelations are of such an insightful nature.

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