losing a notebook was a catastrophe.”
Moleskine is the legendary notebook that the European artists and intellectuals who made twentieth-century culture used: from Henri Matisse to the turn-of-the-century Parisian avant-garde, from Louis Férdinand Céline to Ernest Hemingway. Writer-traveler Bruce Chatwin picked up this tradition and made it famous.
I’m a sucker for this kind of lofty marketing, and I bought three Moleskine notebooks before I left New York. Two large squared and one small ruled. That was the store’s entire stock, so I ordered two more online to be delivered to London to pick up on my way. These notebooks are perfect, you see. The binding opens completely flat. The pages are lightweight enough for travel but substantial enough that ink doesn’t bleed through. There’s an accordion pocket in the back for cards and clippings, and a ribbon placeholder. A built-in elastic band holds the sturdy covers closed in my backpack. Inside, there’s space for a name and address and a proposed reward if returned to the owner. I taped a poem to the back flap and a note from my friend Paul Ford to the front flap. On the second-last page I keep a running list of things I’m seeing for the first time: water buffalo, spirit houses, pufferfish, fried cockroaches… On the last page, I write the names of books I read on this trip.
I’ve always been a greedy, lazy reader. I used to buy stacks of books and I flew through them, skipping whole sentences and paragraphs in a race to the end (and was easily distracted by the next book before I got there.) My bookshelves, more than my brain, were the real repository, since I could always go back some day and give each book the attention it deserved. I was particular about reading—I hated to borrow, and I disliked hardcovers that were heavy on the subway, or very old second-hand books that smelled musty.
Now, though, each book represents a half of pound of paper that I have to lug around. Before I left, I worried about what to do with finished books. I knew I couldn’t ship everything home, even if I had one. Max suggested that if I were really bothered, I could tear out and keep the title page of each book before trading or selling it. But I can’t bring myself to collect scalps in this way. Instead, my reading habits have changed. I read more slowly, knowing I own each book for just a short time. I savor sentences. I copy whole chunks into my fancy notebook, and when I’m finished, I trade two-for-one to get the next book. Now that I earn each book in a way I never did before, I’m grateful. This Moleskine notebook, my $17 confidante, the analog laptop that holds a draft of everything I post here, has become my library and my home.