Art + Design

My life, in volumes by Danny Gregory

Our guest blogger today is the incredibly talented Danny Gregory, whose latest book, A Kiss Before You Go, has just been praised by’s 2.0 Book Club as “an honest—and literal—portrait of grief, charting the life and death of his wife Patti in watercolors and words.”

I was born a bibliophile. I loved the stories in their pages but I also loved the objects themselves. I would arrange and rearrange the books on my shelves. By author, then, by title, by subject, by size. I would put them in order by the colors of their spines, a spectrum across the walls of my room. Then I’d lie in bed and stare at them until they were emblazoned on my mind’s eye. I would close my eyes and ask my mum to pick any book and move it to another shelf and I would be able to tell which books she’d selected. At eight, I opened a library, putting little Dewey Decimals on each book and making a card catalog. I lent books to other kids in the neighborhood. When no one returned them, my mum ordered me to stop.

At seven, I started keeping a diary. “On Sunday, I got a fish. On Thursday, the fish died.” I wanted to make a record of my life and to have shelves full of volumes full of my doings. I felt guilty whenever I missed a day.

Here’s a page from my diary at nine. I was very into the books of naturalist Gerald Durrell and I can hear his influence in this sentence describing a trip to Northern Pakistan, “Much to the dismay of our hamster, we set off for Saidu Sharif. It was nice country…”

I was also writing novels at the time. Here’s the opening of a novel, complete with my own bookplate.

The books kept coming. I filled lots of them with stories, diaries, drawings, lists, ideas.

Shelf after shelf. It delighted the eight-year-old inside me.

At work, I always carried a book to write down ideas and concepts. Their pages are filled with crayon drawings and writing in every color of the rainbow.

I have a little book for every coat pocket. If an idea shows up, it has a place to go. And if I need to buy milk, here’s a reminder.

These are some of my journals, part of the series I began forty years ago. Only there’s been one significant change…

For years, I would write down a record of the day and how I felt, longhand, before bed or over breakfast.

But fifteen years ago, I started to draw and…

…my diaries became illustrated journals. I would draw the things I ate and drank, the view out my window, thoughts about my day. I taught myself to paint in watercolors and my pages came alive. Here’s a record of a midnight snack, a scary story about my dog, and the changing view.

When I travel, so does my journal. Here’s an olive tree on a hill overlooking Jerusalem.

Most of the pages record the way I see the world on any given day. Feeling fat and eating cake, the recent preponderance of dystopian fiction.

My drawing style changes a lot as I experiment and respond to the things I see in others’ work. For a while I was obsessed with the way illustrations in cheap children’s books were printed in just two colored inks. This was record of a trip to Boston.

I took classes at The Center for Book Arts and learned to bind my own books. I collected exotic papers and fabrics and stamped on titles in gold foil.

Sometimes I record memories from long ago, like this page about my childhood in Pakistan. Snake charmers would come by our house and perform for me in our garden.

This room is the achievement of a lifelong fantasy. My study, with one desk for writing and one for drawing. My taxidermy collection on the walls. Two dogs on the floor. And scads of book, neatly arranged.

Here’s another fantasy. A cabinet full of books I’ve had published, some in foreign languages. I’m lucky there are a growing number of books with my name on their spines, lined up on shelves on bookshops and libraries and strangers’ homes.

Here’s a stack of recent journals, covering a painful and challenging time of my life, the sudden death of my wife, Patti.

Inside there are watercolors, stories and tears. These pages in my journals were the raw materials for my most recent book, A Kiss Before You Go.

All those books I’ve been filling and rearranging are now becoming “real” books that other bibliophiles can buy and put on their own shelves. Here I am at Barnes & Noble with my book in the memoir section. Pretty cool. I hope you like it!

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Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory's blog, Everyday Matters, is visited regularly by tens of thousands of people from around the world. He lives in New York.
Danny Gregory

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  • matkeltri January 12, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Such beautiful artwork! I'm awed by your talent. It's neat to see how you've grown as an artist and a man. How wonderful it must be to have your whole life' s experiences, dreams, and memories documented, so that you may revisit them any time you wish.


  • Dee January 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

    You were the most adorable unusual little boy. No wonder I love you so much!


  • shebicycles January 12, 2013 at 11:01 am

    What a wonderful chronology. Fascinating to see the volume of work over the years and the progression and evolution. Thank you for sharing all of the glimpses into your inspiring and creative world.


  • Lynn Cohen January 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Just so you know I am one of those strangers who has a shelf with a lot of your books on it including Kiss Before You Go! You are an inspiration to my artist's eye and pen! Thanks Danny Gregory! I tell others about you and your art and your books all the time.


  • Brenda Swenson January 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Oh my gosh!!!! You were destined…for this! Your story is wonderful in every sense of the word. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into what inspired you from a very early age.


  • lainbrain January 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    This is fabulous. I am starting to sketch more and more. i'm not that good at it, but I try anyway. I am filling in the huge sketch book, the biggest sketchbook there is. I am just doing free style sketches that mean nothing. I won't tear pages, I am just sketching for fun. No stories yet. It's going to be a big sketch book of experiments. Your books above are an inspiration to me. Keep on sketching, Danny!


  • Lynn January 12, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    What a wonderful piece…


  • JaneLaFazio January 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    wow! what a grand story……books and books and books! I'm sooo glad you started drawing and sharing your books with us!


  • Donna Naes January 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I've been following your work for years now, and I loved this story of your life as well. Thank you so much for the inspiration, and for being you.


  • The Peace Patch January 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you Danny for sharing your stories…I'm absolutely enchanted! 🙂
    Everyone could use a book like A Kiss Before You Go at some point. I lost my father a few months ago…He was a joyfully exuberant artist, a generous-hearted mentor and a sparkling inspiration to many, and he was my sunshine guy. I think I'd like to read your book and find some creative comfort there. Many thanks again.


  • Joy Corcoran January 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    What an amazing collection and how wonderful that you've managed to keep so many of your journals and childhood writings. It's even more wonderful that you're helping create a new kind of memoir for readers and bibliophiles — and also encouraging the rest of us to value, illustrate, and celebrate all the ups and downs of our lives.


  • Charlotta January 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Thank you so much for letting us see your incredible books, beginning so young and keeping writing and drawing , it is amazing! Yesterday your book Everdyday matters found its way into my home and will give me much joy!


  • Cate January 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Never knew you before, but am enchanted with the first introduction. You were an adorable child (both looking and in personality) and must have kept your parents well-entertained by the many interests that colored your personality. Will definitely buy your latest book and will explore past ones.


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