Beyond Words by Susan Snyder

Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries
149 pages; Heyday Books
What it is: A collection of art-decorated journal excerpts written by everyone from anonymous American explorers of the western wilderness to famed citizens like the naturalist John Muir and the writer Mark Twain.

Why it's not just dry history: People tend to be honest, revealing and even funny when they're talking to themselves and drawing for themselves—without thinking of who may read or see their work. Consider Issac Baker who describes his voyages in 1849 as a sailor (complete with colorful cartoons of him spitting up seawater and carousing with the captain) or William Voigt the depression-era magician who wrote a guide to his own tricks, complete with step-by-step drawings. Our favorite: the dazzling, free-spirited Jean Margaret Hill who hitchhiked around Europe in the early 1970s, exploring drugs and free love, sketching the strangers and fellow travelers she met along the way, and asking some surprisingly challenging questions like "Does my loneliness glow five hundred meters? Is it a strange magnet for so many vague individuals? Is this the only warmth I have?"

How it will inspire you: You don't have to be an artist to illustrate your own life. Use Miss Minnie Perrelet as an example, who relied on photographs as her journal (with long detailed written entries about trips to Death Valley in the 1920s) or David Ross Bower who drew maps of the California parks he explored as hiker in 1930s. Watercolor, sketch, doodle, collage, or glue on "bits of plant fluff, grass stalks or a lock of mountain goat hair" like the young ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey at the turn of the last century.
— Leigh Newman