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Some Writers Obsess About Notebooks – Not Me

by Jeff Phelps on December 28th, 2008

What about those really expensive ones that Hemingway and Chatwin used? At £9.99 for a pocket size notebook some of Hemingway’s genius really ought to rub off on you. And they’re called Moleskine, which isn’t the same as mole skin though you have to admit they feel a bit like it – soft and warmish. So the feel is almost worth the price alone. And they do fit in an inside pocket, which is obviously esssential. After all, who wants to look conspicuous with a journal the size of the Domesday Book? It’s just so vulgar, so Oscar Wilde.

But isn’t there something pretentious about borrowing Chatwin’s notebook? A notebook’s a tool after all. It has to be practical. For instance, when it’s full you need to put it somewhere to refer to later. Where would you put all those Moleskines? Don’t they look a little serious when one or two of them get together, with spines like the reading room in the British Library?

So for a long time I’ve been using the good old WH Smith exercise book – lined, preferably with margins (for notes – obviously!). At less than a pound each they are a real working person’s notebook – down-to-earth, dispensible, rugged, unobtrusive! You can write in them with a cheap biro or a posh pen or even a pencil. OK, they’re a bit flimsy and they get ragged from too many months spent in the corner of a bag, but they are properly portable and get filled up in a month or two at the most so their time in the pocket is limited. You can go into any WH Smith (universal, you see) and buy four or five at a time and it makes you feel virtuous, because soon they will be filled with words.

But I was becoming disenchanted. Call me feckless. I’d sneak into independent stationers at lunchtime and ask if they knew where I could get a notebook with a biro included. There’s nothing worse than scrabbling round for a biro or, worse, finding it’s leaked into your pocket. I searched the internet late into the night for that elusive combination of looks, quality and price. Most internet goods looked like the journals of Victorian anthropologists. I secretly wished Smiths would do a version without lines. It felt freer. But they resisted.

Then one evening, when we were discussing inspiration, my friend Nick showed me the notebook he’d got from Muji in New Street, Birmingham. My heart leaped. It was narrower than Smiths (more portable), and less obvious on the outside (exercise books do have a scholastic look – at least mine didn’t have ‘times tables’ on the back). It had a handsome, plain brown working appearance and about 70 pages. It cost 73p. It was love at first sight. All I had to do was get to Birmingham to buy some. Only thirty miles. A small distance for such a prize.

Now I have two Muji notebooks – empty so far. The perfect notebook. At last. Their pages will almost write themselves. Not sure about those lines, mind you. Do they do them unlined? And where do I keep my biro? Any thoughts on the perfect notebook?

One Comment
  1. great post, thanks for sharing

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