paper obsessions

moleskine.jpgAfter years of scribbling notes into haphazard notebooks, steno pads and other such gup, I decided last week that it was time to break down and begin using real journals. Judging from this piece in today’s Tacoma, Washington News Tribune, I’m hardly alone.

These timelessly classy blank books have always caught my attention at book stores and stationery shops, but whenever I bought one, it was always as a gift for someone else. (I hope they’re being used.) That changed in Nijmegen, Netherlands a little over a week ago, when I stepped into an elegantly cramped bookshop to innocently escape the afternoon mist and chill, and where I walked out with my first moleskine (mol-a-skeen’-a) notebook, joining, in my mind, a mythical brotherhood with Van Gogh, Mattise, Hemingway and Chatwin.

(This wasn’t actually my first moleskine; deciding I wanted to breathe life into the dying art of postcard writing, I bought a small tabbed address book version last December, in which I carefully entered the most meaningful addresses from my past and present that I could collect. It was an important first step, and I can’t remember the last time my handwriting was so legible.)

The travel writer Bruce Chatwin‘s obsession with moleskines has been well-documented elsewhere. He would buy them by the hundred before embarking on a journey, and famously said of his journals: “To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.” [A moleskine website has a brief entry from one of Chatwin’s moleskine entries written during the writer’s extended stay in Australia while writing his modern classic, The Songlines.]

The decision to buy my own moleskine actually came a few days earlier, on an early morning train ride from Ljubljana to Klagenfurt through another dreamy mist. A slight delay allowed enough time to finish Oracle Night, Paul Auster’s delightfully noir parable on time. An enthralling work, the novel takes place over the course of nine days in which a writer’s life turns inside out after he buys a mysterious little blue Portuguese-made notebook. Most of the novel is actually set in the notebook, which for a time becomes such a dizzying jungle of activity for the protagonist –and for the reader– that he’s forced to resort to footnotes. [Here’s a blurb from a Paris Review interview with Auster’s comments about notebooks.]

Mine isn’t blue; it’s a semi-glossed black, stylishly minimalist, but it’s not blank in the purest sense of the word. I chose the ruled line version, simply because sometimes I need guidance. The absolutely blank book, I decided, was too big a first leap. I’ve glanced at it several times a day since returning home, sitting there on a largely empty shelf where I envision it being joined by dozens more.

But I have yet to put black ink pen to acid-free paper. I’m not too worried about that, actually. As with the pair of 1990 Bordeauxs I’m still clinging onto, the right moment will come. In the meantime, I’ve carefully selected items to place in the book’s accordion folder: a 20 euro bill, just in case; a photocopy of passport info; a few small photos; and some loose paper to avoid, at all costs, tearing a sheet from its ruggedly-bound spine.

While reading the News Tribune piece on Moleskiners, I found others who share what I should now finally, readily and unequivocally admit is an obsession with stationery. (While typing this, I just realized that I’ve been collecting stationery and letterhead from various hotels in which I’ve stayed, paper that I’ve never used and most likely never will.)

A nice start is papersnobbery, a newish blog that is subtitled as, appropriately enough, “an obsession with stationery.”

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