Some Ways to Fill Notebooks

The other day I came across an interesting list, “50 Ways to Fill a Notebook.” The title strikes a chord with all of us stationery hoarders, surely. I read it with interest, and noted two things: 1. It included some things I would never ever use a notebook for, like gratitude journals (which is why it was interesting!), and 2. It did not include two ways I most often use a notebook for: recording books read, and looking up words in a foreign language. The latter (vocabulary lists) is, for me, by far the quickest way to use up my notebook stock, and I’ve written about it a little here, so, as a way of adding to this list, I’ll talk a little about booklogs this time.

Keeping a booklog is simple. You record the title, author, and date you finished it, one entry for each page. I usually number the book as the nth I’ve read that year; I also try to jot down some impressions (nothing approaching a book report, just a few sentences) if I feel like it. (Sometimes I leave it blank.) The book-per-page scheme means that it can take two to three years to finish a regular Hobonichi-sized notebook, so I’m stuck with one for a long time.

I started keeping a booklog in 2012, and for some strange reason the notebooks I chose for this purpose have all turned out to be duds.

The first notebook I used was the orange Quo Vadis Habana. It features silky-smooth Clairefontaine paper and a nice faux-leather cover. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy writing in it. First of all, the lines were ruled too tightly (5.5 mm!). Secondly, the paper is too smooth for my taste, almost slippery, and some fountain pens don’t take to it very well and will skip. (This happened most often with Pilot pens. And yes, I should have used pencils.) All in all I wished I could finish the notebook quickly, but it took me three solid years.

The second notebook (which is the one I’m using now) is from Bindewerk. This is also an extremely well-made, sturdy notebook, featuring good-quality paper packaged in an appealing design that strives to be different from the tired old Moleskine-ish rubber-banded format. Bindewerk notebooks look wonderful displayed on store shelves and I would not hesitate to recommend one to you. However, while it was much less frustrating than the Habana, it wasn’t a perfect match for my fountain pens either. It uses the kind of paper that’s “good” in the Western sense – thicker with a bit of tooth, with a solid cottony texture. It feels a bit like writing on sketchbook paper, which doesn’t provide that bit of surface “glide” for my pens. But this is purely a matter of personal taste. I am maybe a year away from finishing this one now and am already mulling over new candidates.

You don’t see the point of keeping a booklog? I used to think so too, but let me assure you, it comes in useful. First, you do forget what you’ve read. I recall reading on an online forum the memorable remarks of an inveterate reader: “…and as I closed the back cover of the book I remembered I had read the book before.” This happens. Especially when you’re reading an author who is prolific and whose novels tend to, well, resemble one another, like P. G. Wodehouse or Alexander McCall Smith, it can be difficult to figure out which book you’ve read and which you haven’t. In which case it’s useful to have your notes to jog your memory.

Also, I didn’t expect this kind of benefit when I first started, but going over the titles read in a given year provides one with a kind of perspective. There are bumper years in which you come across a slew of the meatiest, juiciest, most memorable books ever, and then there are years in which you don’t manage to read quite that much because either the literary scene was just not that interesting, or you moved house, or (more insidiously) your family started a Netflix subscription. In any case, because I haven’t been able to keep the books I read with me for some years now (library books were returned, and here I’m more and more reliant on my Kindle), going over my records is a delight in itself: just coming across a title while flipping the pages reminds me of the giddy moments I fell in love with that particular work. The books reside there in the pages of the notebook, side by side, sparkling, occupying a certain beloved moment in my past, even when they are no longer physically on my shelves.

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23 thoughts on “Some Ways to Fill Notebooks

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Sola! Keeping a booklog sounds interesting, and in view of the fact that I often copy small parts of the book I’m reading (mostly on loose leafs) I could add these. Additional benefit: I don’t need to get 287 years old to use up my current notebook supply ;-)

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    1. I know! We have to be very creative in order to use up all our notebooks 😁 In that sense one thing I still haven’t figured out is what to do with my plain notebooks. I can easily use lined or (my favorite) gridded notebooks, but plain ones are still a challenge.

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  2. 근사한 지적 일기가 되겠네요. 나중에 아드님께 대대로 물려주셔도 의미 있을 것 같은… (조선왕조에는 역대 임금이 대를 이어 쓰던 일기가 있다고 읽은 기억도…)
    독서 정리에는 저도 루즈리프를 사용하는데 다만 한동안은 책 제목-서지정보-내용 요약으로 이어지도록 정리를 했었으나 요즘에는 주제-출처-발췌 또는 요약한 정보 순으로 조금 다르게 정리해보고 있어요. 논문 쓸 때 좋더군요.
    얼마 전에 일본에서는 미도리의 모회사에서 링바인더 브랜드를 새로 론칭했는데 좀 비싸지만 갖고 싶어 지켜보는 중입니다.
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    1. 이 Plotter란 브랜드 어디서 들어봤다 했는데… 여기 소개가 되었었군요. 가죽 커버의 링바인더라니 신선한데요^^
      http://www.pen-info.jp/library/all/note/20170926_12290.html
      제 독서일기는 내용도 가볍지만 글씨도 엉망이라 절대 물려주고 싶지 않은 물건이예요 ㅎㅎ 책 내용을 요약 발췌하신다는 얘기를 들으니 저도 갑자기 학생시절에 대한 아련한 향수가 밀려오네요. 그 시절을 즐기시길!^^

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  3. I am 71, and have kept book journals/log since I was 13 years old. I have all the notebooks and it is a pleasant way to spend an hour just browsing the records I have read in a lifetime of reading. Like you, Sola, it took me a while to find a suitable book, but it’s so worthwhile to persevere.

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    1. Your comment must be one of the most encouraging I’ve ever received on this blog! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And here’s to many more decades of reading :D

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      1. Thank you! For my part I am so glad to have met another fellow reader and lover of books. Blogs come and go but we always have the comfort and consolation of a good book :D

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      2. When I was younger I only read fiction (modern). I still follow the literary scene, but now I enjoy other nonfiction genres too – reportage, memoirs, history, religion, music, etc. Truth is really stranger than fiction sometimes ;)

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      3. I love biographies and history. At the moment I am reading a biography of a Cornish writer and Oxford Professor. He was a brilliant man from a poor mining area. His life is fascinating. I collect his books, both fiction and essays. I’m also reading the letters of an early 20th century publisher, which is great as he had written to a lot of my heroes, Thomas Hardy and T.S. Eliot, for instance. I do read some fiction as I run a reader’s group at my local museum. The members all choose a book and we all read it, so I get to still read some modern fiction.

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      4. That sounds like a wonderfully balanced diet. I tried book clubs a couple of times, as I often feel my tastes are too fixed, but venturing outside of my comfort zone wasn’t very rewarding for me, so now I read alone and am happy about it. I would like to read some new poetry from time to time, though – it’s hard to find something you like other than the ones you learned in school.

        I prefer autobiography to biography, as I often feel the biographer tries to cram in as many facts as possible at the expense of narrative flow – and I suppose I prefer something less dry, more reflective perhaps. I particularly appreciate books by, for instance, mothers raising autistic children (no one around me is autistic), older people, and writers on the writing life. Oh, and travel essays, too!

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      5. I have had two experiences of autism, a little girl, daughter of two academics at Exeter University. I rented the top floor of their enormous three storied house. It also had a loft and basement. The little girl was a sweet looking little blonde, who, as a 21 year old, I adored. She was a beautiful artist even as a four year old, but was very determined to do whatever she fancied. I had pink sheets and a duvet with pink flowers, which she would kick the door down to get at, wrap herself in them and, because she would stay there for hours, wet them. I was a shift worker at the time and arriving home in the early hours wasn’t my favourite thing. Her dad eventually fixed a more solid door and that cured the problem. It wasn’t naughtiness just that she would get something that fascinated her and it would take her over. She was a delight most of the time. I also have an American acquaintance who is an Asperger sufferer. She has two degrees and high functioning, works for the Pentagon as a librarian, yet has difficulties socially and with food. She is also an accomplished musician. I am interested in the subject, but puzzled by why more research isn’t done into the causes and management. The shame seems to be that this malady hits so many very talented people. The situation her in the UK is grave, in that little help seems to be available for young people suffering from this condition, and when it is it is often miles away from their families.
        I also like autobiographies and letters.

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      6. Clare, what a story. I think I first started reading up on that particular topic when I came across Charlotte Moore’s book on raising her two autistic sons by accident many years ago. It was very moving. I have always found motherhood challenging to say the least, and it was just so humbling to read about how others dealt with situations vastly more difficult and complex than my own. It’s not as if these kind of books come out in droves every year, but when I spot one I do make an effort to read it.

        Another new habit I’ve acquired during the past few years, besides trying out different genres, is rereading past favorites. I used to think rereading was a waste of time (when you could be reading something new!), but nowadays the prospect of greeting old friends is often more comforting than taking a gamble with new ones.

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      7. Old ladies like me reread, it’s sometimes thrilling, like when I reread ‘War and Peace’ and “Moby Dick” , both of which I thought great books when I was a teen, and later when I reread. I reread “W&P” this year again, and it just gets better. I hope to reread ‘Moby Dick’ next year.
        I think autism is an interesting subject, I just wish our government took more interest in funding research into the subject.

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      8. That’s heartening to hear, because “War and Peace” is still on my to-read list ;) I have never taken to Russian authors much and that area remains a great black hole in the landscape, but maybe it is time to start. We were assigned “Moby-Dick” at university, and I wonder whether I would ever have appreciated that particular work without instruction. I find it strange how being assigned as classwork ruins some books for you, whereas other books benefit from it. Fortunately the majority of assignments fall into the latter category.

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      9. I didn’t do literature at University, but studied accountancy. I like Russian authors, but then I like Thomas Hardy. I’ve been accused of liking ‘depressing books’ but I like books that tackle the difficult aspects of life sometimes. You have to persevere with the names of Russian characters, another notebook use. I love ‘Moby Dick’ although my sister calls it a ‘man’s book’, but I just believe in good and bad books.

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  4. Sola, thank you for sharing your use on notebooks and the idea of a book log. Instead of a book log, I have the habit of keeping quotes from books I have read and from time to time, I go back and read the quotes that I have jotted down. In a way, I am reliving the books through them, but as you probably guessed, my method does not capture every single volume I may have read.
    With my ever growing heap of notebooks, I am using them to organize recipes I have encountered over time by either types of cuisine or dishes. Testing notebooks and tasting dishes simultaneously, not too bad of an arrangement!

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    1. Yes, I have another notebook for exactly the purpose you mention. I used to stick to quotes from books, but more recently I have been transcribing online news and magazine articles that I want to save (you never know when they will disappear). And I also have a separate notebook where I write down lists of books I want to read, and then I have a pencil research notebook, and another notebook to record random facts, etc. etc. ;)

      Your comment reminds me that I need to reorganize my recipe notebook. What notebook do you use for that? I was thinking it might be convenient to use an Atoma-style notebook, in particular a nice one with a leather cover, but recipe notebooks by definition are prone to water damage and I am reluctant to use a leather-covered notebook in the kitchen :(

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      1. I usually use a notebook with a more durable cover, thinking that my daughter can have these recipe books for herself later. I agree that an Atoma-style would facilities with organization, especially if you want to arrange recipes in alphanumeric order. I have divided recipes along types of dishes (soup, protein, starch, etc.), so a multi-subject notebook could work as well, if the purpose is solely to find a home for recipes. Originally, I used an app to organize them, but while Iwas recipe hiatus, the app was update and as a result, all my recipes wee lost. That was one of the impetus of me to record them ina analog way

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      2. Okay, my device waged a rebellion and accidentally sent out an incomplete reply. I am still search for a good way to collect recipes, but I have a faint suspicion that I might never find the perfect way :)

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      3. Thank you for explaining, Shangching. So you originally used an app! I well understand how you might want to keep a hard analog copy. I guess there is no perfect solution, as you say – I should just pick one and get on with it ;)

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      4. It was a painful lesson, losing about 2/3 of the recipes from my husband’s culinary school days, but it gave me a chance to use up most of the notebooks I have. It is a great way to test pen and ink as well :)

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