Samara O'Shea

Red with Envy

I have motioned to write about this girl and her book many times over the past year. My envy has stopped me each and every time. Today, I’m feeling brave.

Lily Koppel is a writer for the New York Times who came across an old leather diary in a steamer trunk that was sitting in a dumpster outside her Upper West Side apartment. The diary was kept in the 1930s, and Lily set out to find the diarist. She found a ninety-year-old woman named Florence living in Florida who was thrilled to meet Lily and to hold her diary once again. I’ll skip all the details in-between and get to the result, which is the book The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming A Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal. The tome is a collaboration between Lily and Florence. Lily retells Florence’s story while excepts from the diary itself are the whipped cream and sprinkles on top.

It’s certainly an incredible story! I read about it just before the book came out in April 2008. But my heart sank simultaneously because my book Note to Self was due to come out in July of that same year. Another book about a journal—just not one found in an old steamer trunk. Lily and I share a publisher—Harper Collins—and it was clear that they were more interested in promoting her book. Unfortunately, publishers cannot promote all books equally, so they zero in on the ones they think will really sell. I understand this. Lily’s written for the New York Times, she’s been mentioned on Gawker, plus finding the diary is just an incredible occurrence. Her story is the more sellable one. A better Lifetime movie. I don’t dispute any of this, I’ve just sighed in complete and total envy more times than I’d like to admit.

In my last blog (below) I boasted about how I’ve overcome jealousy in the past few years. I still say that I have. I believe jealousy and envy to be different things. Jealousy is holding other people accountable for your own insecurities. You want what they have, and you are angry with them or rude to them simply because they have what you don’t. Envy is the plain and simple act of wanting what someone else has. Envy can become jealousy, but it’s best to stop it from doing so. I’ve been able to tame my envy in the past few years. I can walk into a huge house in the Hamptons and think Man, I WISH I had the money to buy THIS. But then I shrug my shoulders, accept that I do not have said money, and try to enjoy the time I get to spend in the house (and by the pool).

It’s been more difficult to dismiss my envy of Lily—although I’m trying. A house in the Hamptons is not something I’ve dreamed of all my life. Literary success is. Her book has sold very well in hardback and is receiving accolades all over again in paperback. Please understand, I don’t wish to strip her of her success at all. I just wish mine had been on the same level. You know what though!? Maybe it can be. Maybe I have to write five books before I bang out a bestseller. Maybe someone will find my book fifty years from now, and I’ll experience what Florence did—late-life fame. Everyone’s story is different. It’s my job to keep trying, and the rest is up to the powers that.

Instead of being envious of Lily I should really be grateful that someone of her caliber found the diary. Another passerby (not me obviously) might have thrown it away or just not bothered to open and read. Lily knew what a treasure it was at first sight, and she has certainly made the most of her discovery. So I raise my glass to Miss Lily and wish her well in all future endeavors and continued success with The Red Leather Diary. Below is a quote that Lily gave in an interview with Nerve.com that I love. Below that is a clip from YouTube.

The fact that young women idealize Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan — not that that’s wrong, but I hope they realize that really, they are the stars of their lives, they’re the ones with the story to tell. Whether they record that in a diary or a blog, it’s important to find significance in your own existence, to be your own heroine and your own celebrity. ~Lily Koppel