Who would have ever have thought that an ordinary housewife's diary would be interesting? When England's "Mass Observation" experiment started in 1937, intending to foster a "science of ourselves" by setting up hundreds of volunteers to write details of their everyday lives, they probably did not foresee that a world war would make such diaries significant historical records. But war did come, and Nella Last's Diary: The Second World War Diaries of a Housewife is a surprising mix of interesting, gossipy, observant, humble, and honest writing. Nella had aspirations to be a writer, and her talent shows. The aged 50's-some housewife shares intimate feelings, details and conversations about her family, friends and volunteer war work at the local canteen, the chilly church halls, and her boys in the service, giving us a peephole view of what life was like for the average villager in England during WWII. We see Nella scrimping and making do with the little amounts rationing allowed, and spending evenings by the fire listening to the radio, knitting and crafting handmade dolls to donate to children's hospital. She is a feisty woman who stands up her own problematic mother-in-law and to soldiers who push their way too far: "Little man..." she addresses one, putting him well in his place. Surprisingly, the post-war volume, Nella's Last Peace: The Post-War Diaries of a Housewife, is even more interesting, as England has to cope with unexpected continuous rationing. Throughout the diaries, Nella includes her own insights about life, love, and the politics of the day, leaving you with a respectful admiration for her attitude towards life. She was so ordinary, someone as much like you or me, an Everyman. If Nella were alive today she would probably be a blogger...and a good one!
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder