The Care and Keeping of Notebooks: A Reading List

I found my favorite notebook—a red Moleskine, narrow-ruled, hardback—at the Harvard Book Store while on vacation. I liked its bold color. Someone had bent the front cover, giving it a well-worn look and earning me a 10% discount from the kind bookseller. I felt relief. My anxious handwriting and endless to-do lists would not be the first things to mar my new notebook. Someone had already done me that courtesy. Now there was nothing to fret about; I could write in peace.

1. “Why Startups Love Moleskines.” (David Sax, The New Yorker, June 2015)

Distraction-free, tried-and-true: the notebook remains, even in the tech-saturated realm of Silicon Valley.

The notion that non-digital goods and ideas have become more valuable would seem to cut against the narrative of disruption-worshipping techno-utopianism coming out of Silicon Valley and other startup hubs, but, in fact, it simply shows that technological evolution isn’t linear. We may eagerly adopt new solutions, but, in the long run, these endure only if they truly provide us with a better experience—if they can compete with digital technology on a cold, rational level.

2. “Notebooks.” (Belle Boggs, PowellsBooks.Blog, September 2016)

“To an outside observer, the contents of my notebook might seem randomly, messily grouped, but I know that its copious unlined pages kept me sane.” On writing in public, committing poetry to memory, and a childless primate.

3. “Blank Books and Letting the Ink Dry.” (Rachel Vorona Coate, Catapult, September 2016)

First, the rush of carefully choosing a new notebook, pristine and unblemished. Then, anxiety: Is there a sentence fine enough or handwriting neat enough to merit marring the first creamy page?

4.“Why the Humble Notebook is Flourishing in the iPhone Era.” (Josephine Wolff, The New Republic, June 2016)

I have a knee-jerk reaction towards bullet journaling—really, towards anything that demands perfect execution of an impossible aspirational aesthetic, like Pinterest come to life. Bullet journaling—with its color-coding, keys and obsessive precision—feels like organization as performance. The founder of bullet journaling, designer Ryder Carroll, insists it’s a flexible format, and his acolytes declare that they’re more productive than ever. Who are these color-coding fiends with so much time on their hands? Why is their handwriting so much better than mine?

5. “16 Famous Designers Show Us Their Favorite Notebooks.” (John Brownlee, Fast Company, February 2016)

Doodles, games, brainstorms, and meeting notes all have their places, whether inside simple composition books or brand-name journals.

6. “On Keeping a Notebook.” (Joan Didion, PEN, orig. publ. 1968)

Revisit the classic essay about notebooks and the people who fill them.