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This article is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

From Chetham’s Library
7: The Book of Life
Michael Powell

This is the final entry, dated 19 November 2012, of a diary that is the longest piece of life-writing held by the Library, and possibly one of the longest in
existence. Three weeks later the author, John Reed, died in Manchester aged eighty-two.

His first diary entry was written over seventy years earlier in the winter of 1939, shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. His journal comprises an unbroken diary consisting of 140 ledgers and 20 box files of loose leaves. In the early 1950s Reed settled on a routine for diary keeping. He would get up early and write up his account of the previous day’s events before breakfast. How much he wrote varied, but for the last thirty or so years of his life he averaged two pages of A4, approximately a thousand words, for every day of his life. He wrote fluently and seldom crossed out or altered a word. This is a chronicle of a
life not so much lived as reported. Everything was to be documented – his reading, his opinions as well as an account of what he did, who he met and what he said.

Reed’s diaries are peppered with the names of famous friends and colleagues: his schoolfriends the actor Dennis Quilley and the composer Raymond Warren, politicians, including Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, both of whom who he taught in Rhodesia in the 1950s and ’60s, and Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia, with whom Reed eventually ...


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