The End of a Diary
Sarah Manguso

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

One of The Atlantic’s Best Books of 2015
One of National Post’s Best Books of 2015

One of FSG’s Favorite Books of 2015
One of Brainpickings's Best Books of 2015
One of Entropy’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

One of Popsugar’s Best Books of 2015
One of The Believer's Best Books of 2015
One of Paste Magazine's Best Books of 2015
One of The Quivering Pen's Best Books of 2015

Featured in “The Millions Year in Reading 2015” by Parul Sehgal
A Best Book of 2015 from NPR "On Point"
A Favorite Book of 2015 from The Strand Bookstore


About the Book

A dazzling philosophical investigation of the challenge of living in the present, by a brilliant practitioner of the new essay
In her third book that continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay, Sarah Manguso confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years. “I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,” she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, now 800,000 words, had become, until recently, a kind of spiritual practice.

Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time. Ongoingness is a spare, meditative work that stands in stark contrast to the volubility of the diary—it is a haunting account of mortality and impermanence, of how we struggle to find clarity amid the chaos of time that rushes around and over and through us.

Additional Reviews

“Manguso draws from her ballooning subject (800,000 words and counting, none of which appear here) an urgent portrait of an artist’s dilemma: how to extract from life some persuasive hedge against death, ‘that great and ongoing blank.’”—The New York Times Book Review

“Manguso offers another kind of structural challenge to the traditional confessional style. . . . Her prose feels twice distilled; it’s whiskey rather than beer, writing about writing about life. . . . Manguso does deliver some beautiful un-forgotten moments, their visceral immediacy brought into even sharper relief by the book’s largely abstract topography.”—Leslie Jamison, The Atlantic

“Exquisitely honed. . . . Written in spare, elliptical bursts of hard-won insights, this slim meditation invites quoting and mulling. . . . Like many of the best of this new wave of female essayists grappling with how to live — a group that includes Leslie Jamison, Emily Rapp, Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits — Manguso's insights resonate beyond her personal situation.”

“[Ongoingness is] a collection of fragmentary, piercing meditations on time, memory, the nature of the self, and the sometimes glorious, sometimes harrowing endeavor of filling each moment with maximum aliveness while simultaneously celebrating its presence and grieving its passage. . . . A spectacularly and unsummarizably rewarding read.”—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

“Upend[s] the journal form with reflections on marriage, aging, and the selves we leave behind.”Vogue

“A quick read yet a moving view into the narrative that can build up in a diary. How and what we remember and how we can grow.”Lonny

“In her almost psychedelic musings on time and what it means to preserve one’s own life, she has managed to transcribe an entirely interior world. She has written the memoir we didn’t realize we needed.”The New Yorker, Page-Turner

“A beautiful book. . . . [Manguso’s] powerful and provocative reflections . . . interrogate the mortality we all share.”The Boston Globe

“This non-diary diary signals a reinvention or at least a reinvigoration of the form. . . . [A] concise meditation on time, presentism, and memory.”Flavorwire

“[Manguso’s] oeuvre is a kind of ode to the power of concision.”The Guardian (UK)         

“Compact and crystalline. . . . Like Didion’s memorable ‘On Keeping a Notebook,’ [Ongoingness] is not a personal record but rather a meditation on the act of recording.”—Bookforum

“I finished [Ongoingness] in one sitting, and as soon as I did I felt sure that I would read it again. . . . There is a remarkable sureness to this book, a calm hush like that of a person who speaks softly so that you lean in to listen.”The Millions

“A beautiful, haunting book.”Tin House

“A bold, elegant, and honest confrontation of a diarist’s motivations and neuroses. . . . Ongoingness reads variously as an addict’s testimony, a confession, a celebration, an elegy.”The Paris Review, Staff Pick

“[Ongoingness is] a ponderous elegy to both her diary and the particular ambition it represented.”Los Angeles Review of Books

“Any diarist will be interested in Manguso’s reflections, but those who have raised children will find their own special kind of ongoingness reflected in her book. . . . A pleasure to read.”The Pacific Standard

“Slim, aphoristic, poetic, and true.”The Believer

“[Ongoingness is] a meditation on what writing can do, and how having a child changes one’s relationship to time, identity, and language. . . . Intense and beautiful.”—Book Riot

“[Manguso] bores into her own diaries with the unsettling, questing mind she brought to illness in the celebrated Two Kinds of Decay.”The Barnes and Noble Review

“[Ongoingness] reverberates with revelation and insight about [Manguso’s] changing sense of place in the universe as she adjusts to motherhood, a state in which she becomes the universe for her young son.”Los Angeles Review of Books

Ongoingness shifts from a meditation on a diary to a much broader consideration of time and mortality. . . . This book can change the way you think about time and your place on time’s continuum in ways that will indeed be ongoing.”The A.V. Club

“A scrupulous and ruthless weighing of a subject.”Harvard Magazine

“Of all the books I read in 2015, Ongoingness, is the one that halted me in my tracks, made me stop what I was doing (suspended in time!) and read slowly, and repetitively, its words of wisdom.”—David Abrams, The Quivering Pen

“A slim but rich read, minimalist in style, Ongoingness strikes a chord with our impulse to document, to assess, to preserve ourselves.”—The Strand Bookstore

“The tiny book ends with a lightning strike of wisdom; for an instant, we can see the sea through the storm.”The Hudson Review

“[Manguso’s] concise, compact sentences have clearly been whittled with a poet’s eye—each word carefully chosen, no room for frills. . . . Nearly every page of Ongoingness has a line that knocks the wind out of you a little.”The Portland Mercury

“Manguso’s reflections [sweep] forward like a flood, somehow covering vast territory and then retreating, leaving a changed landscape in their wake. . . . Bold. . . . [Ongoingness is a] lucid look at how we move through time.”The Riveter

“Manguso’s Ongoingness achieves a grace no diary possibly could. The essay instead reflects on the intimacy of keeping abreast of one's self.”The National Post (Canada)

“Modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were on to this, too — that even the smallest units of time deserve our serious notice. . . . But what was, largely, an exhilarating enterprise for the modernists is a source of deep anxiety for Manguso. . . . Manguso might be pursuing new forms in Ongoingness but her themes are old. . . . Manguso’s meditations help us make sense of what would appear to be our innate and insatiable appetite to record our lives.”The Australian (AU)

“Thought provoking and transformative.”Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“[Manguso is] a Proustian minimalist on the order of Lydia Davis, both in the way she distills complex thoughts on time and memory into pure essence and in how she examines writing as a means of control. . . . While Manguso’s thoughts are inward, they work outward—from her life to life itself. Read as either a meditative essay or a revealing confessional poem, this is a thoughtful, reflective look at one talented writer’s creative evolution.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Sarah Manguso’s personal meditation on time and memory begins at the center of a dilemma: how to let time go by without losing the life it contains.  Ongoingness is a diary turned inside out, an answer to the writer’s question, ‘what do I do with all the words of my life.’ It’s a quiet argument for letting go and going on.”—Lewis Hyde
“[Ongoingness] has put me into an emotional and intellectual dither from which I fear I must read my way out. It is the best argument for serious introspection I know, and it is written with amazing care and self-compassion. Damn I wish I’d kept and become dependent on this kind of diary as a tool for living life for the last quarter century. March is a long time to wait to sell this wonderful book.”—Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Books 

“Add Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness to the stack of great books on obsession. It’s a profoundly incisive meditation on the limits of art and a subtle exploration, in language distilled to its essence, of memory and mortality.”—Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books on the Park

“Hovering between poetry and prose, the short one-and two-sentence paragraphs of Manguso’s arresting meditation on writing and motherhood are deceptively slight, but strong, like chains attached to the anchors of the memories that steady her in the vast ocean of time. Manguso’s third memoir is her confession of her twenty-five years of compulsive diary-keeping in order not ‘to lose anything.’ Loss happens despite the 800,000 words, however, and, like the question about whether a dance is a series of poses or the movements between them, the conflict between recording and forgetting leads Manguso to wonder if time is essentially a series of moments or the unceasing flow of days and years. Motherhood gave her an answer; at least for now, she ‘became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against.’ She no longer keeps a diary. May she not stop writing books!”—Laurie Greer, Politics and Prose

Ongoingness is at once a calm analysis and a feverishly whispered confession. Built around the ‘dark matter’ of Manguso’s 800,000-word diary, each capsule-sized entry is a meditation on memory, mortality, and what we leave behind—both tangible and not. Highly recommended for fans of The White Album and The Empathy Exams.”—Sarah Hollenbeck, Women and Children First

“Readers will want to return to [Ongoingness] again and again as they consider their own relationships to documenting, remembering and just plain living their lives.”Bookreporter

“[Manguso’s] style is elegant and compelling.”Full Stop

“Elegant. . . . [Ongoingness] is both grounding and heady, the spark of a larger, important conversation that makes readers all the more eager for [Manguso’s] future output.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Fascinating. . . . Ongoingness is, not unlike Manguso's other work, willfully open-ended, reflective, subjective, an essay rather than a mere recounting of events.”Los Angeles Times

“Elegant and incredibly straightforward, and deeply intimate.”—Rob McLennan

“The potency of Ongoingness, which chronicles Manguso’s decision to ‘quit’ a diary that she had kept for over twenty years and which contained nearly a million words, lies precisely in its economy. The book becomes the antidote both to the diary, and to the nervous record-keeping that the diary represented. In chronicling and questioning her long-held fear of losing time by not recording it, Manguso explores the futility and audacity of our impulse to guard our experiences.”The White Review

“It seemed scarcely possible that, after The Two Kinds of Decay and The Guardians, Sarah Manguso’s work could get more urgent, but somehow it has. Ongoingness confronts the deepest processes and myths of life and death: birth, marriage, illness, mourning, motherhood, art. Underwriting this book, as is true of all of Manguso’s books, is writing itself. Or, rather, the writing is about itself in the best, most vital sense. Our author/narrator/speaker/heroine is never not asking the most fundamental question, namely, Why live? The seriousness of the inquiry gives this book extraordinary purpose, momentum, and value. I am in awe.”—David Shields

“The memoir form is shaken up and reinvented in this brilliant meditation on time and record-keeping. Ongoingness is a short book but there’s nothing small about it. Sarah Manguso covers vast territory with immense subtlety and enviable wit.”—Jenny Offill
“After I had my son I looked everywhere for a book that might serve as some kind of mirror. I bought so many silly books. Now I see what the problem was: I wanted a book about time—about mortality. I can’t think of a writer who is at once so formally daring and so rigorously uncompromising as Sarah Manguso. Ongoingness is an incredibly elegant, wise book, and I loved it.”—Miranda July