Sunday, August 24, 2008

product placement

Try as I might, I can't entirely seem to move myself into the digital age – even, for that matter, into the keyboard age. Now and again, when taking up a new writing project, I resolve that this one will be strictly word-processed – no pens, paper, ugly scribbles, & so forth. All clean & on the keyboard & screen. But I can't really do it, ultimately, even though I know it would save me tons of time & help avoid the writer's cramp that seizes my right hand just a little bit earlier every time I sit down to write. 

I've had some luck writing reviews and brief prose pieces on the keyboard, but I simply can't make it work when I'm trying to write poems. It's pen & paper or nothing. (Note: think about what writing technology means to literary texts – Pound was Mr. Typewriter, but he still drafted his poems by hand; the late Henry James, however, & Adorno for that matter, tended actually to dictate their work.)

Anyway, a big part of my equipment for life has always been notebooks. Yes, I fetishize notebooks, & I'm not the only one. A post a couple years back on Ron Silliman's blog alerted me to his love for the clunky orange Rhodia notebooks (see left), which are pretty cool but not quite to my taste. For the past seven years or so I've been pretty much in love – like everybody else, it seems – with the wee compact Moleskines, with their elastic closure, the pages that end flush with the binding, & their deliciously portable size. I think I've filled maybe 17 or 18 of them; they're the sort of books that make you want to write.

Problems with Moleskines, however: (1) Their very size, which is great for jotting travel notes or scribbling blog entries or taking notes at a lecture, can be constraining when drafting poems. It's true that I tend towards a short-lined poetics anyway, but there are times when I dream of a Whitmanian / Kochean expansiveness, & it just doesn't work when I'm scribbling in a Moleskine. (2) I also happen to fetishize pens, fountain pens in particular; this doesn't mean that spend money on cigar-sized pretentious Mont Blancs or other corporate office doodads, but I have a pretty large collection of brightly colored inexpensive, mostly beautifully designed European student-quality fountain pens (and yes, a couple of nice Pelikans as well). The paper in Moleskines simply doesn't take fountain pen ink very well – it bleeds thru, or spreads out. I've spent ages trying various inks to find which work with the notebook best (for the record, Waterman ink wins out, which is bad luck for the pens that don't take Waterman cartridges or can use bottled ink). (3) The darned things are expensive; when Moleskines first got reintroduced in the US, they retailed for $12 apiece; now they're down around $10 at most outlets, but that's still a pretty steep price for a hunk of paper.

I came upon solution of sorts to my notebook dilemma at the MoMA design store over the summer. One word: Muji. Muji is short for "Mujirushi Ryōhin," which means "No Brand Quality Goods." It's the Japanese Ikea, a company that makes well-designed products that range from paper goods & office supplies to clothing, furniture, & packaged foods. I picked up a couple of their notebooks (see right) at MoMA because I was entranced by their size & clean lines: approximately 8" x 5", a single fifteen-leaf sewn signature (for 60 pages total) with a band of heavy tape covering the spine, the pages narrow-ruled with very light grey lines. And mind-bendingly cheap: $1.00 apiece, in fact. 

When I got them back to the apartment, I found that this might well be my new workhorse notebook: the color of the paper is pleasantly neutral, the notebook opens satisfyingly flat, the cover is stiff enough to promise some durability, while still being able to be written on. And delightfully, the paper proves absolutely perfect for fountain pen use. Even the broadest, wettest nib leaves a perfect line that doesn't spread out or bleed thru to the opposite side of the page. I was delighted: the next time J. left me at the apartment to catch something on Broadway, I sent her to the new Muji flagship store in the New York Times building to pick me up a serious stack of the things – 10, to be exact. (There, it turned out, the notebooks were going for all of 99¢ apiece.) I'm looking forward to filling them up.

Enough anality for now. Is it clear I'm avoiding preparing syllabi?
But speaking of slim & cheap volumes, I have a largish stack of copies of Anarchy on hand at the moment, probably enough to send one out to anybody who cares to backchannel me a request.


William Keckler said...

Japanese IKEA?


Anarchy copies available.

Double perk.

Happy summer's end, Mr. Bond...erm, Mr. Scroggins!


tyrone said...

For a while I fetishized those grayish composition books but lately like lined, large black books (various sizes), heavy paper, clothbound, usually found on discount at art or office supply particular fetish for particular kinds of pens, though black ink is essential..I just returned from Copenhagen and Vancouver so hope you'll write more on Stockholm...


Brad Green said...

Thanks for the mention of a notebook that works well with Fountain Pens. Yes, both words should be capitalized.

Norman Finkelstein said...

Like Ty, I've used black unlined notebooks of various sizes over many years. The big ones are great for projective verse, if your poems are all over the page. But I also love old grade school marble cover notebooks, lined. I used to use them a lot for copying out long passages of books I really wanted to internalize. And I still write all my poems by hand, though I long ago went electronic for prose.

The Mujis sound great...

François Luong said...

I use the sketching moleskines (the ones that are sold with a purple band). they have a thicker paper that takes fountain pens fairly well. As for Kochean expansiveness, I'd just turned the notebook around if need be.

Tom King said...

It's good to hear about Muji. Do they lay open flat, though? That's my pet peeve for notebooks. Many nice ones are too tight and don't lay open flat. Miquelrius makes nice knockoffs of moleskines in different colors and a few bucks cheaper. Apica notebooks (also Japanese) are very nice, accept fountain ink well and have the pleasant logo: "Most advanced quality gives best writing features." It seems many of the Japanese notebooks accept fountain ink. It's interesting to see you share my notebook preferences and aesthetic so closely.

Tom King

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm so late to this party. When it comes to stationery I share your fetish. Based on my limited experience, the paper in Clairefontaine notebooks takes fountain pen ink exceedingly well but they are expensive. The Muji no-branders sound phenomenal for the price. The spare architectural look of them is very attractive! One quibble though, I believe the Mujis either have fifteen leaves and thirty pages or thirty leaves and sixty pages. I have always understood a leaf to consist of two pages, recto and verso. Thanks for alerting us to this find.