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.