Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Not Moleskine?

Yesterday, while in the men's bathroom at the Mason Library at Keene State College I saw a few lines of graffiti that piqued my interest. I mulled it over for a little while, and later while I waited for my mother to get ready to leave her office for the day I had an idea about it I thought I could use and so I whipped out my notebook.

Later, on the way to the car, my mother asked me why I don't use moleskine notebooks. This is something I've pondered several times. They're very attractive little tools and every now and then someone gives me one as I gift, and yet I just don't enjoy using them. Here are my reasons:

1) My preference is for reporter-style notepads with spiral rings that can fit in my back pocket. The notepad I'm currently using has surface area of an index card, about 3 x 5 inches. The pocket size notebook fits the bill at 3.5 x 5.5 inches, but it's a new product that I've never seen in a store, and besides, it still suffers from the two other problems that plague all moleskine notebooks I've seen.

2) Price. I think even the Caliber notebooks I bought at CVS for $1.19 were somewhat overpriced. The moleskine notebook I've already mentioned that comes closest to meeting my needs costs $10.95. As with any other writer I have my own affectations and dreams of what I'll do once I'm a internationally bestsellhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifing poet. For instance, I've always thought it would be cool to have some fine writing utensils. My brother received more than half a dozen gold and silver Cross pens and my Dad has a Classic Montblanc rollerball, which I covet. Yes, the Montblanc has some nice heft to it, however you could by 300 effective Bic pens for the same cost. But I'm just not drawn in the same way to expensive notepads.

3) Most importantly, I need to be able to rip out pages. This is essential to my writing process and always has been since we started using blue-books for tests in school. I enjoy the visceral sensation of tearing and the catharsis that comes with crumpling a page and throwing it in the garbage. With my ringed pads it's easy. Tear out a page and it's gone, with nothing but a thin strip tangled in the rings remaining

The perfect-binding which I think is a main attraction for many moleskine users is one of it's main problems for me. I don't harbor the illusion that everything I write is a grand idea: a lot of it is utter hogwash. Yes, I could rip pages out from the binding, but there are some barriers. It's the savagery and swiftness of utter elimination that makes tearing pages out of my notebook so satisfying. With a bound notebook you have to be careful when you remove pages.

In some cases ripping out a page can mess with the binding, which in turn moves other pages. In a ringed pad, each idea and page stands on it's own individual merit. If the book binding is stronger than the individual pages you've ripped out then you're inevitably left with the frayed fragments of your disappointment. Always the book seems to fall open to those spots you've tried so hard to eliminate, little bookmarks of failed ideas.

The notebook I linked to earlier has 24 pages that are specially designed to be removable, but that makes it even worse. If I have any suspicion that what I'm writing is not good enough to remain in the notebook, I don't bother to write it down in the first place. I'd far rather that *all* the pages were removable.

Finally, I find it hard to refer to a perfectly-bound notebook as anything but a "book," and I find the idea of tearing pages out of a book beyond distasteful.

Moleskine makes beautiful objects. The covers are sturdy enough, whether you choose to go with soft or hard. The elastic enclosure is non-essential, but sort of cool. The paper is thick and creamy. The design is simple and timeless.

By contrast the notebooks I use are junk. The paper is thin and nearly transparent. They have no "class" to speak of. The rings bend when I sit on the pad in my back pocket and require adjustment to ensure it can be opened and closed.

The pages are individual, but I can easily flip through and see a year of ideas. The thin pages means that they're easy to turn into paper footballs or tiny airplanes if that's my fancy. The cardboard of the cover has been worn and rubbed till it's as soft and supple as kid leather. They hold the ideas I want to keep and make it easy to dispose of the ones I wish to be rid of, and quite simply, I love them: that's why I choose not to use moleskine notebooks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review #13

The Selected Works of T. S. SpivetThe Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really excited to see this in the basement of the Brookline Booksmith for just $5. I'd seen it a few months earlier and knew the general story/hype (it's not often that an author gets a 6, let alone 7 figure deal for a book, particularly a first book).

I bought it toward the end of February and read the first 35 pages in a white-heat, captivated by the precocious narrator and his amazing "maps," both of the land, and of the habits of his family member. I particularly loved "Father Drinks Whiskey with a Sensational Degree of Regularity."

I read a few more pages, and then heavy fatigue set in. There were several reasons:

1) The 12 year old narrator is just a little too smart (and perhaps autistic). Don't get me wrong: I love novels with alienated gifted-and-talented narrators, with Hal from Infinite Jest probably taking the cake, but for some reason I just wasn't as convinced by T.S. I could never quite shake the feeling that I was reading the work of an extremely intelligent slightly older person trying to impersonate an extremely intelligent younger person. This wasn't universal throughout the book, sometimes it was totally convincing, but the gaps were disconcerting.

2) T.S.'(s) maps are great and punctuate the book like footnotes. Little arrows stemming from the text indicate to the reader that a map is relevant to a particular section, and while these are initially cute, following all of them can be fatiguing, both on the eyes, and in how they slow down the progress of the plot.

3) While there are plenty of sublime moments, at times the writing seemed to drag on. I was significantly more taken with T.S.' maps, and a part of me wishes that there had been significantly more maps, and significantly fewer words.

Ultimately, I'm torn about how to rate this book. In the program where I teach there's endless debate about how to grade pieces of writing. On the one hand, there's the technical execution crowd: an unoriginal essay may receive a higher grade than a particularly thoughtful one if it demonstrates solid follow through. I more often find myself in the camp that wishes to award higher grades to papers that may not work out perfectly, but make an original argument.

And so it is with this novel. On the one hand I feel it could have been executed better, but on the other it's such an original piece with so many bright moments that I can't help but be kinder in my assessment.

At one point the narrator speculates that true success of a book should be measured in how re-readable it is (or something to that effect). I can't quite imagine wanting to reread this book from start to finish, but over the last month or so since I've finished it I have found myself flipping through to find a particular map, and so I get the impression this is a book that is more likely to rise in my esteem than go down.

This is Reif Larsen's first book. I feel the ending left considerable avenues to continue the story of T.S. Spivet and I'd love to see a sequel in which he enters puberty and perhaps "navigates" his first romance. Regardless, Larsen is an author I'll be looking out for in the future and will, despite reservations about his first book, pounce on his second, particularly if I can find in the bargain bin for $5.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 15, 2011