Diary literature is the term used for novels that resemble one’s personal recordings of one’s daily activities and sentiments. Ruth Ozeki’s novel My Year of Meats displays hints of this genre with the first-person narration of Jane Takagi-Little, the protagonist, who shares with the reader her innermost thoughts and perspectives. Jane starts with a prologue, a brief scene of herself in action, giving the reader a preview of the meat of her story, and then officially begins the novel with a summary of her history, not only as a staff member of an upcoming television program titled My American Life, but also as a Japanese-American who has never truly felt like she belonged.
Elements of diary literature can be seen in the novel’s incorporation of quotations from The Pillow Book, the diary of the historical court lady Sei Shōnagon. These concise but meaningful passages are present at the beginning of every chapter and are also dispersed throughout the book; for example, the lists from The Pillow Book that Akiko, the secondary main character whose passages are narrated in third person to show personal and stylistic contrast to that of Jane, reads are titled: “Things That Give a Clean Feeling” and “Things That Give an Unclean Feeling” (38). Later on, inspired by Shōnagon, Jane makes a list as well to describe her strong dislike for John, her boss and Akiko’s domineering husband: “Hateful, Unsuitable, Depressing, Annoying . . .” (44). Moreover, there is a brief recipe included at the beginning of Akiko’s first segment (19), which serves as another kind of list–a list of ingredients. Another variation of the list is the memo on pages 11 to 13. This memo is a different and interesting way of presenting information; it is material that one would include in one’s diary. Lists are often featured in diary literature due to their individual and spontaneous nature.
Another component of diary literature that Ozeki has assimilated into her novel is the very focused and personalized style in which Jane narrates her passages. The audience can clearly feel Jane’s wry and strong personality radiate through the text when she describes herself as a “cultural pimp” (9), as she delineates how she “straddle[s] this blessed, ever-shrinking world” (15), as she sardonically concludes that her name “represents [her parents’] despair at ever reaching an interesting compromise” (9). The audience can sense her remorse when she confides that she “felt bad about Suzie Flowers—like [she’d] stolen something from her that could never be replaced” (37). Readers can taste her disgust for John and his “carrion breath” (43), and relish in her quirks when she off-handedly remarks that she is “probably the only person . . . who has ever recalled Shōnagon in a strip joint in Texas” (44). Diary literature seems to have provided a model for such a free-minded, personalized, and descriptive yet casual narration, much like one might find in an actual diary.
Evidently, the influence of diary literature is present in the style and form of Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, embellishing her unique style of writing and enriching the experience for her readers. Jane desires to leave her mark on the world—for future generations to watch her documentaries and learn something real from them—much like Shōnagon did many centuries ago. In some ways, her documentaries are her diaries.