Wednesday, February 18

material culture: dead trees, part 1

The Moleskine notebook is as much a well-marketed cult as it is an object. Still, it is a useful and aesthetically pleasing object. Or rather, a class of them - Modo e Modo produce a whole slew of styles now, with four kinds of paper, two or three sizes, and things like address books and pocket folders.

My first Moleskine came in the mail a couple of years ago, as an unexpected Christmas gift. The basic pocket size, with graph paper pages. It took me until the following August — through noticing that poetry was worth paying attention to, a couple of major road trips, and my first real move away from home — to fill that one. Once it was full I spent weeks looking around for another decent notebook that didn't cost $10 a pop before I broke down and ordered a couple from Dick Blick. At some point I started finding them at Barnes & Noble. There's a little pile of small black rectangles on my shelf now, bulging slightly with ticket stubs and other paper ephemera.

These aren't the only notebooks I use. They're less than ideal for some situations. I've used them for notes in class when nothing else was handy, but they're too expensive to be wasting the space, and anyway my notes are too scattershot and disorganized for a pocket sized book that contains things I actually value. They take ink pretty well, but the fountain pens I favor can bleed through the pages - mechanical pencils or very fine tip ballpoints and markers work better. Sometimes a fat sketchbook or a cheap gridded composition book or whatnot just works better for all kinds of reasons.

Still, for what goes into them - copied poems, library call letters, song titles, addresses, grocery lists, Latin paradigms, a lot of thinking on paper and emotional purging which has lately become an irregular personal journal (the first I've kept since junior high) - they are excellent tools and probably better archives than most anything else I could be doing. My mind leads a curiously compartmentalized life, sometimes, and it can be valuable to reconnect the obsessions and realizations of the present moment with others. Maybe the perspective I'm getting here is shallow, but it probably beats having none at all.

I'm not wedded to Moleskine as a brand name. Their books remind me of the way Oregon Chai has slurped onto a giant market by being the definitive US implementation of the sweetened-milk-black-tea-with-spices idea. Oregon Chai is, in fact, pretty excellent stuff, but the important thing is that it's a good idea. (As a billion or two people could probably have told us decades ago, if it had occurred to anyone to ask.) If someone shows me a better alternative or a more economic take on the small-notebook-with-strap-and-pocket idea, I'll be happy to try it out. Especially since at this rate I'll be going through one a month pretty soon.