Julie Doucet, “My New York Diary”

There are very, very few pleasures associated with moving the heaviest and most cumbersome parts of a long and consumer-driven life across country borders, but one of them is, at least, the discovery of books I had completely forgotten I owned. Back in June, I donated or sold every single thing I no longer loved or needed, and then boxed up everything that couldn’t fit in my biggest suitcase for temporary storage; the idea was to pare my entire life down into as few boxes as possible which was, in retrospect, not nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be, but also everything seems less difficult in retrospect. Anyway!! This weekend, I brought everythiiiiiiiiiiiing back to New York, and I did it with grace and elegance and certainly not a lot of loudly-uttered creative combinations of every swear word in my vocabulary.

When one box ripped open My New York Diary by Julie Doucet fell out, a book I bought several years ago from one of my favourite book stores in the world, Librairie D&Q; in Montreal. A friend I was travelling with told me I had to read it and warned me to watch out for a single word: “Plop.” I love recommendations, and I love cryptic hints, so, I mean, sold.

The book is a series of true stories: the first time Julie has sex, her year at a junior arts college in Montreal, and her years living in New York struggling to work while living with a truly terrible boyfriend. She meets artists she admires and is afraid to leave her apartment and misses the cat and friends she left behind in Montreal. I re-read it in one sitting and thought, again, about how true everything in the book feels; more than just labelling it a true story, the book feels very honest, which are two different things. Like she figured out a way to tell us something real while also telling something personal.

I liked Hillary Chute’s review of the book in Artforum, where she wrote:

Anybody who has lived in New York — or had a romance with its grittiness, as the central characters here are wont to do — will relate with pleasure to the thick visual texture of the book and Doucet’s love of detail: the swarming streets, full of trash and possibility, and rooms in which no patch of space is unattended or insignificant.

That’s true of the book, but I don’t think it’s only true of living in New York. It’s more the romance with the grittiness of our first “true stories,” the things that happen and the people we meet and the places we pass through in those years when we’re meant to be aware of how keenly formative everything is.

In 2008, Doucet made a short film with Michel Gondry titled My New New York Diary, which you can watch here:

And you can buy the book here, if you haven’t read it yet, because you should!