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Alphabetical Diaries
Cover of Alphabetical Diaries
Alphabetical Diaries
An enthralling work from one of our greatest literary innovators, shortlisted for the Giller and winner of the GG for Fiction.
A little over a decade ago, Sheila Heti—the award-winning author of a string of modern classics including How Should a Person Be?, Motherhood, and Pure Colour—began looking back at the diaries she'd kept over the previous ten years, searching for signs of deeper change inside herself. She loaded all 500,000 words of her journals into Microsoft Excel, to order the sentences alphabetically and seek out patterns and repetitions. How many times had she written, “I hate him,” for example? With the sentences untethered from the narrative of her diaries, she started to see herself—and the Self—in a new way: as something quite solid, anchored by shockingly few characteristic preoccupations. Returning to the project over the years, something more universal and novelistic emerged.
     Alphabetical Diaries is the sublime and probing result—one that rises to the heights of artistry and insight for which Heti is rightfully acclaimed.
An enthralling work from one of our greatest literary innovators, shortlisted for the Giller and winner of the GG for Fiction.
A little over a decade ago, Sheila Heti—the award-winning author of a string of modern classics including How Should a Person Be?, Motherhood, and Pure Colour—began looking back at the diaries she'd kept over the previous ten years, searching for signs of deeper change inside herself. She loaded all 500,000 words of her journals into Microsoft Excel, to order the sentences alphabetically and seek out patterns and repetitions. How many times had she written, “I hate him,” for example? With the sentences untethered from the narrative of her diaries, she started to see herself—and the Self—in a new way: as something quite solid, anchored by shockingly few characteristic preoccupations. Returning to the project over the years, something more universal and novelistic emerged.
     Alphabetical Diaries is the sublime and probing result—one that rises to the heights of artistry and insight for which Heti is rightfully acclaimed.
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 8, 2024
    In this arresting literary experiment, Canadian novelist and playwright Heti (Pure Colour) takes sentences from 10 years of her personal journal entries and rearranges them in alphabetical order. “Don’t forget that although you aren’t telling a story, you must still do what stories do, which is lead readers through an experience,” Heti writes, providing a kind of cipher for the idiosyncratic format. What the book lacks in traditional narrative structure, Heti supplements with evocative snapshots of life, detailing broken love affairs, mediocre meals, and professional triumphs with the controlled chaos of a late-night thought spiral. She juxtaposes the mundane (“My book will be done this year!”) and the profound (“I wonder if I wanted to be a writer because nobody ever told me the truth”). The arcs of friendships and romantic relationships are sliced up and remixed, raising subtextual questions about the linearity of time and the nature of change. While the format might grate in lesser hands, and certain sections (the lengthy “I”s in particular) will test the endurance of even the most forgiving readers, Heti’s penchant for aphorism and sentence-level excellence keep things afloat (“Don’t want to be killed, but if I am, it’s no great tragedy, and there’s no dignity in worrying about it”). Those who stick with it will be dazzled. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literary.

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