Alphabetical Diaries

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Pub Date 6 Feb 2024 | Archive Date 24 Jan 2024

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Sheila Heti kept a record of her thoughts over a ten-year period, then arranged the sentences from A to Z. In the vein of Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait, passionate and reflective, joyful and despairing, these are the alphabetical diaries.

For fans of Getting Lost by Annie Ernaux, Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Second Place by Rachel Cusk.

Sheila Heti kept a record of her thoughts over a ten-year period, then arranged the sentences from A to Z. In the vein of Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait, passionate and...

Advance Praise

‘Like Iris Murdoch’s novels, Heti’s are philosophically intense, although Heti's work is pared down where Murdoch's was Rabelaisian.’

— Dwight Garner, New York Times

‘Like Iris Murdoch’s novels, Heti’s are philosophically intense, although Heti's work is pared down where Murdoch's was Rabelaisian.’

— Dwight Garner, New York Times

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781804270776
PRICE £10.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 18 members

Featured Reviews

Sheila Heti's Alphabetical Diaries are, at least initially, easier to admire than to enjoy, but they develop a compelling fascination as (and if) you stick with them. The book's central conceit, taking 10 years of diary entries and rearranging their sentences in alphabetical order, is bold and intriguing, but takes a while to adapt to. Once you have, the diaries have a double effect, being both unsettling, in that chronology has been largely jettisoned, and gradually familiar, as you come to recognise individuals, preoccupations, tropes and concerns. Some of these (relationships, writing, becoming known) are surprisingly consistent. Ironies appear constantly, where observations are not followed e.g. "It is an honourable thing and a wise decision not to speak about your relationships", or where juxtaposition creates new meanings: "I am not Leonard Cohen. I am not sure that I like this realization". Sometimes, the new juxtapositions create poignancies and absurdities e.g. "Grandma died. Grandma has been sick. Grandma is ailing still. Grandma said that sex is the glue". I'd have liked to have learned something about how Heti put the book together, and what she thinks about the dominance of certain sections ("I" unsurprisingly), words ("maybe") or issues, but that would detract from the purity and simplicity of the exercise.

While it's almost certainly not for everyone, and you need to invest time and attention to get the most out of it, Alphabetical Diaries is, like so much published by Fitzcarraldo, a thrilling experiment.

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I was very intrigued by the concept of Alphabetical Diaries, and having previously enjoyed Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, my hopes were cautiously high. I am pleased to report that this is such a worthwhile read. Heti is an excellent writer and the unusual concept pays off as it produces numerous wonderful juxtapositions from sentence to sentence. I loved tracing the names throughout and then wondering which ‘he’ or ‘she’ was being referred to. I can see why some might not enjoy this kind of literary experiment but personally I loved how inventive it was and how humorous, erotic and oddly poignant it proved to be.

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This book has an interesting core concept- what happens if you were to take every sentence you wrote in a diary over a certain period and rearranged it not by time, but purely by alphabet?

Although this sounds overly academic at first, I found the effect oddly riveting. Sometimes more banal sentences would gain power just through repetition (several one-word sentences of 'Alone.' pick up an odd pace, for example) and it is interesting to see the effect this has when certain people's names recur, such as exes of hers, where the effect is almost meditative.

Similarly, the effect is often that characters are introduced at the end of another sentence before we have been introduced to them in more detail, and it feels almost novel-like.

A short book, but one where I don't think the concept would have withstood a much longer text anyhow.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The premise of this was so interesting to me - ten years of a diary reorganised so that every sentence appears in alphabetical order. I would never have thought that this idea would work, but actually, within each letter you can see areas where the sentences come together to form small scenes, or what you could imagine would work as monologues whether internal or external.

I’ve never read anything by Sheila Heti before, but if her fiction is written like her diaries I’ll definitely be picking some up in future. I enjoyed the stream of conscious effect given by the organisation so would definitely recommend it to people who enjoyed things like Annie Ernaux’s Getting Lost and the diaries of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.

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This was a fascinating read, one of the most original books I've read in some time. It really reminded me of Ducks Newburyport because of the structure of the sentences and you found yourself utterly convinced by the internal dialogue of the writer. Her obsessions, money, sex, love and creativity are universal and her lunging from self doubt or moments of elation constantly catch the reader off guard. As a 'Portrait of an artist' it is fascinating, and fully immersive.

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I had never read anything by Sheila Heti before, so the only thing that drew me to this book was the description. The concept seemed really interesting, but as I started reading it I thought that it could go terribly wrong.
It turns out *I* was wrong, because I really enjoyed this book!

At times it’s more introspective, then it’s more descriptive of people and relationships. You can be reading a more philosophical bit about the human condition, and the next thing you’re reading is about cake types and textures.

There are some really beautiful sentences and whole passages in it, but what’s really great about it is, because of the way it’s structured, you never know what to expect from the next sentence you’re about to read.

This book, for me, was a very interesting reading experience, and a peek into Sheila Heti’s mind. It made me want to explore more of her work.

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This was so strange to read, but I loved it? The fragmented nature of all the scattered sentences, forcing you to try connect the dots between what sentence you’re reading, to one you read earlier in the book. A new and remarkable way to give a snapshot into your life.

This was my first Heti book, and I will be picking up more!

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My first Heti and I am definitely wanting to read more! I was not convinced by the concept before reading but wow was I wrong. A fascinating and original book that I would recommend to fans of Annie Ernaux and streams of consciousness like Ducks, Newburyport.

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This was my first encounter with Sheila Heiti. 'Alphabetical Diaries' is unusual, distinctive and compelling. It feels like it shouldn't possibly work - the author having let go of the reins and allowed an Excel file to structure her diary entries alphabetically - but somehow this bizarre and playful approach results in a really propulsive tension. The next line wasn't intentionally placed to resolve or build upon the previous one, instead having landed there coincidentally. It's fascinating. I wonder what we'd all learn from clustering our own private thoughts in this way.

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Often, our impulse is to chronicle the past linearly. The pursuit of diarism and journaling is to regurgitate the day as it happened, as if this might make sense of history. In this work, Heti scrambles time, reducing a discrete period into its constituent parts and reassembling them into a new whole.

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