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The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal (P.S.)

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3.38  ·  Rating Details ·  2,815 Ratings  ·  601 Reviews

For more than half a century, the red leather diary languished inside a steamer trunk. Rescued from a Dumpster on Manhattan's Upper West Side, it found its way to Lily Koppel, a young writer, who opened its tarnished brass lock and journeyed into an enthralling past. The diary painted a breathtaking portrait of a bygone New Yorkâ”of glamorous nights at El Morocco and eleg

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Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 20th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published April 8th 2008)
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Susan Wright I agree with you - I felt as though she had a lot of freedom even as a child. I have four children and I can't imagine putting any of them on a train…moreI agree with you - I felt as though she had a lot of freedom even as a child. I have four children and I can't imagine putting any of them on a train for a 200+ mile trip by themselves at the age of 6.
According to the US Department of Census the average age of a woman for marriage was around 21 during both the 20's and 30's. I think Florence was an exception in almost every area of life.(less)

Community Reviews

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Brina
Lily Koppel then 22 has just moved to New York to work for the Times. The superintendent of her brownstone has decided once and for all to move years of forgotten items to the dumpster. Of these items is a red leather diary inside of a trunk that Lily rescues.

The diary's author is a nonagenarian named Florence Howitt nee Wolfson. I find the 14-19 year old Florence to be a sophisticated woman for her time. Not only did she receive a bachelors from Hunter College and a masters from Barnard during
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Amanda
May 28, 2008 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amanda by: Chicks on Lit book club pick for May!
At the end of chapter 13:

So far this book is an inspiration of living life to its fullest. Not because this teenager is necessarily more wonderful than any other human being whose footsteps have fallen on this earth; but because you can read it and look at it from afar, and touch its edges of life lived; as if it's in a snow globe or behind a fog of time. You read and you know that there is a 90 year old woman sitting beside you, fingers outstretched, touching the same edge as you are, stirring
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Janelle
Aug 11, 2008 Janelle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, own
At first I thought it was the fact that I couldn't relate to Florence's life growing up that caused me to not like the book. It's not that we grew up 60 years apart, that caused me to unrelate, it was her upper middle class, lower upper class upbringing, her lesbian trysts, her quest for love to complete her, that I couldn't relate too. It all seemed unrealistic. But then I realized I've read other recounts of people's lives that I was unable to relate to, and enjoyed them. After some thought I ...more
Laura
May 21, 2008 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written -- at times the narrative changed tense and narrator, and it wasn't clear why -- and frustrating. I would have wanted to read the diary, not a fictionalized version of the diary.
Rose Ann
Aug 04, 2008 Rose Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: signed-books
I love that this journal was found in a dumpster...almost gone forever, but found. And that Lily Koppel found the owner of the diary, and returned it to her.

I was intrigued by all the treasures that were found in the steamer trunks, and this journal added a "voice" to the other treasures.
I loved the photos that were included in the book, and all the historical information on Manhattan.

How wonderful for Florence, who had such a passion for literature in her school/college years, to now have a sto
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Book Concierge
Subtitled: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal

Lily Koppel was a young (age 22) writer working at the New York Times when she stumbled upon a dumpster filled with old steamer trunks. Her curiosity piqued, she started scavenging and among the vintage clothing, handbags and general miscellanea she came across an old red leather diary, its cover cracked and peeling. It had originally been given to Florence Wolfson for her 14th birthday – Aug 11, 1929, and Florence dutifully wrote i
...more
Kate SouthernBelleSimple
I enjoyed this book. That being said, it was not great by any stretch. It was almost as if the author just described and described things, but nothing ever actually happened. And the things that did happen weren't really stories, just descriptions. The concept was very neat, although I wish that more images from the diary had been used (i.e. her hand-written words/story). The format is where the author (Lily Koppel) would give an excerpt from the diary and then follow it with a long description ...more
Tricia
Jun 02, 2008 Tricia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Here's the most interesting part of this book:
Lily Koppel was a gossip columnist for the New York Times when she found the red leather diary in a dumpster outside her building. She decided to track down the owner, who miraculously was 90 years old and still alive.

Here's the rest of the book:
The owner of the diary, Florence Wolfson, grew up among the Manhattan elite in the '20s and '30s. For Florence, life was all about art, plays, music, literature, and sexual experimentation with both men and w
...more
Wendy
May 08, 2009 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wendy by: Vogue
A rare book that can be read over again. A found diary reveals a fascinating world infused with art, love and literature. A young journalist tracks down the woman whose 1930s world was hidden, locked away in a trunk for almost 75 years and then is brought to light. Crystal clear prose shimmer in this debut biography/memoir by Lily Koppel.
Maria
Aug 19, 2008 Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I really enjoyed reading this book. This is the true story of the discovery of a long-forgotten diary. The diary of Florence Wolfson lay undiscovered for over half a century until the author, Lily Koppel, finds it in a dumpster. Koppel is a writer for the New York Times and was naturally curious about the content of the diary. She searched for the diary's author, and 90 year-old Florence told her all about her life in 1920s and 1930s New York. Florence as a teenager had been full of energy and h ...more
Susann
Jun 05, 2008 Susann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marjorie Morningstar fans
Florence Wolfson was a smart, privileged Manhattan teenager when she started her diary in 1929. For five years, she faithfully recorded a sentence or two every night. Decades later, Lily Koppel found the diary, found the much older Florence, and told her story.
What a life she had! Her teenage life in the 1930s was leaps and bounds more adventurous than my experiences in the 1980s.
Florence sometimes comes off as a little vain and self-absorbed, but, hey, it's a diary: it's supposed to be self
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melanie (lit*chick)
Sep 22, 2008 melanie (lit*chick) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to melanie (lit*chick) by: www.wordstomouth.com
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved getting to know Florence Wolfson through the pages of her diary. I loved the history of NYC.
I didn't like so much the presentation by Lily Koppel.Her framing of the pages seemed kind of dry.
Still recommended for a glimpse at life in NYC from diary entries that are really stunning. Florence is a smart lady with an amazingly intersting life.
And it makes me wish I'd kept a diary...
Coco
Apr 18, 2009 Coco rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Finished! What a disappointment. This book, like "Triangle," had so much promise and just failed to deliver. The premise, that a diary was found in a modern day dumpster, chronicling the life of a young girl coming of age in the late 1920s/early 30s in New York, was excellent. Unfortunately, author Lily Koppel's writing was just lame. Unimaginative and choppy, she types in Florence's journal entries, but nothing more. She just never creates a world or character to captivate the reader.

The only
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Karin
Oct 25, 2013 Karin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though non-fiction, this retelling of the life of a young woman in New York city during the 1920s-30s reads much like historical fiction. It provides a glimpse of the social world of a "brilliant and too individual" girl shortly after the turn of the century... which is in many ways more progressive and exciting than our "liberated" modern environment.

The story-telling vehicle for this book is an tattered old red leather diary found by the author in a dumpster behind her New York apartment buil
...more
Deborah
May 19, 2008 Deborah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Deborah by: book club
having read most of my book club's review of this book I had decided to give it very little time. The 2 parts of the book I found the most interesting was to see NYC though the eyes of someone living in it as it grew up. The seconded was knowing that this woman was a contemporary of my parents. I'm am more grateful than ever for the values my parents lived and died by. A young girl growing up in the wilds of the west had a very different outlook on life than the self indulged girl of this book. ...more
Ciara
Nov 19, 2008 Ciara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people obsessed with diaries, diarists, people obsessed with 1929-1934, myself
i couldn't believe it when i stumbled across the book at the library! it's a kind of biography of a young woman who kept a diary everyday for five years between the ages of 14 & 19, years 1929-1934. she graduated from her fancy manhattan high school three years early & enrolled at hunter college when she was 15. she had many a love affair with both men & women, edited her college literary journal, harbored aspirations of being a painter or playwright, traveled to europe shortly befor ...more
Bonnie
Jun 10, 2009 Bonnie rated it really liked it
Can you imagine being new to New York City, starting a new career as a journalist and stumbling upon a dumpster full to the brim with old steamer trunks? This is a true story and it is what happened to Lily Koppel in 2003. She made an amazing discovery, an old and cracked red leather diary complete with a broken latch. Inside, she reads the diary of Florence Wolfson, a 14 year old girl when she started the diary in 1929 after she received it as a present. She continued to write in the diary thro ...more
Daniel
Jan 19, 2009 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful discovery, this diary and this book.

Lily Koppel has done a magnificent job relating the story of Frances Wolfson to the reader, taking the intimate, personal notes of a private journal, and expanding on them through research.

And what a wonderful life, Frances Wolfson lives! The detail and intimacy, shared by a young teen who certainly never expects anyone to invade, is delightful. So many artistic types, male and female, can relate to so much of the anguish and longing for art a
...more
Julie
Apr 30, 2008 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had high hopes for this book but ended up very bored by it. The premise of the book is pretty cool. It's the true story written by a young woman journalist-in-training who found a very old diary outside her nyc apartment building a few years ago. Diary was written by a teen ager in 1930s manhattan. She tracks down the woman who wrote the diary who is actually still alive and well. This book is basically a recap of this woman's life, which would only interest me if I knew her personally or was ...more
Rona
May 26, 2008 Rona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First-time author Lily Koppel found an engaging diary written during the Jazz Age by a gifted, beautiful teen, Florence Wolfson who dreamed of becoming a writer but was blown off course by her parents' insistence that she find a rich husband. When Lily tracked her down, nonagerian Florence reconnected with her young self. The author doesn't explore the issues raised by Florence's story, but the book is touching and evocative.
Janet
May 01, 2008 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone.
This book is AMAZING. I read it in one sitting. It made me want to be better, to do better, and to not get stuck in life just because it's easy. This book may have changed my life by challenging me to change. I will say what it is: inspired (full of love, life, and hope) and real.

I do have to admit I have a thing for diaries full of letters, photos and the like and this niche of a book satisfies many of my desires that I want within the pages of a life in print.
Didi Wane
Jun 03, 2008 Didi Wane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I admire Florence Wolfson and Lily Koppel. I saw them on the Today Show and was so impressed that I had to get the book. Three more chapters to go and I don't want it to end.
Noel
I very much enjoyed this book. Florence was such a remarkable young lady and it was a pleasure to get a glimpse of her life through the writing in her diary. I loved the snippets of New York City, her pursuit and wonder of all art, the way she listened to music and went to the theater and museums - just wonderful. I thought her questioning her sexuality was quite frank and her later explanations left me wanting to read more about those times. I enjoyed the fact that so many photographs were inc ...more
Anne
Jun 13, 2008 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard about this book on NPR and was so intrigued that I raced right out to get it. I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed. The subject of the book, Florence Wolfson, is fascinating, and it's irresistable to learn about her life in 1930s NYC and to draw comparisons to one's own life at that same point, when you're young and energetic and a bundle of potential and possibilities. Florence was (is) clearly a gifted writer and thinker. In fact, I really wish she had been the one to give voice ...more
Andie
May 23, 2016 Andie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 2003, Lily Koppel, a young reporter for the New York Times came upon a dumpster of old trunks outside her building on the upper West side. The building, needing storage space was throwing away unclaimed items. Intrigued, Ms. Koppel scavenged and found a coat from Bergdorf Goodman, several pieces of interesting bric-a-brac and a 5-year leather bound diary that had been kept by a young girl named Florence Wolfson from 1929 to 1934.

As Koppel read the diary she became intrigued with the life of t
...more
Veronica
Jul 13, 2009 Veronica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
At first I thought that I wouldn't enjoy the story of a privileged young woman in NYC during the 1920s and 30s, but Lily Koppel did an amazing job at weaving diary entries with a lot of research to craft a whimsical story. I think that really made this story work for me is that Lily asked Florence, the author of the diary, if it was ok to move forward with the book. Obviously she said yes...but the courage and fearlessness of a 90-year-old woman allowing us a peek into her thoughts, desires and ...more
Renee
Nov 15, 2008 Renee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story of a NY Times writer who finds a diary from the 1920's in an old steamer truck minutes before it is thrown in the garbage. The diary records thoughts and ambitions of 14 year old Florence Wolfson over the next five years. I had no idea that the 1920's were as sexually liberating as they were and I loved learning about NYC during that time. The author is able to find Florence (90 years old and living in Florida) and the friendship they develop is nothing less that beautiful. It is nothi ...more
Deirdre
I loved learning the story of this forward-thinking, glamorous woman of the 1930's, and reading selections from her diary. I'm not partial to journalistic prose in general, however--the style in which the rest of the book was written--but this is just a personal preference. The story itself was lovely, and I enjoy learning pieces of history through personal narratives.
Vicky
Jun 09, 2008 Vicky rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I didn't really read this book all the way through. It got to the point were it was mundane and dull.
Julie
Sep 02, 2008 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOVED IT! LOVED IT! LOVED IT!!!!
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Lily Koppel is the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club (Now an ABC Television Series Premiering June 18th at 8|7c) and The Red Leather Diary. "[An] entertaining and quirky throwback...This is truly a great snapshot of the times," says Publisher's Weekly of The Astronaut Wives Club. She has written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, ...more
More about Lily Koppel...

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“Florence has a passion for books. When she saw the one she was seeking, she would recognize it, as if the volume had belonged to her in a previous life.” 7 likes
“How I love - writing, acting, breathing the atmosphere- and one day I'll have it. If I cannot write, I shall die.” 5 likes
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