The next Chinese New Year will begin on Feb. 12, 2021. It will be the year of the Ox. The first real publishing season since the pandemic started will begin at about the same time. In America and elsewhere, I suspect, it will be the year of the Diary.
Writers in lockdown are, like everyone else, feeling pale and postoperative. The pandemic has thrown a spanner into best-laid plans. A diary, as soldiers, prisoners and invalids have long understood, can be a good way to write oneself out of a bad spot.
The Chinese novelist Fang Fang lives in downtown Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. After that city went into quarantine in January, she began keeping an online diary about her experience. Wuhan remained shut down for 76 days, and is still struggling to return to anything resembling normalcy.
In her diary, Fang Fang wrote about quotidian things: food, pets, sleep, friends. She talked about weeping, and about her country’s mental health. Her diary provided a daily catharsis. She monitored newspapers and the internet, keeping tabs on what was happening outside her small housing project.