Sunday, February 8, 2009

The writer's notebook: computer or laptop?

A notebook these days might more easily refer to one's laptop than to a literal piece of paper. However, for a very long time, writers kept a notebook with them to make notations about the world around them, phrases, things they observed, their ideas and random thoughts. The writer's notebook can be the writer's most important and useful resource. You have to have a place to put your thoughts, your observations, and most importantly, concepts you're working out. 

It's always best to write these down in a place where you can keep them for as long as you need them, but it's best if it seems like a transient place, on paper you don't feel compelled to keep. So the writer's notebook must do two things at once: be impermanent enough so that you don't take it so seriously that you feel you need to preserve it (like I do with something I write on good paper) and yet be something that you care enough about to keep long enough to get what you need out of it. 

I have found that ever since the inception of the laptop in my life, however, the word "notebook" has come to mean computer, not paper, and I write directly onto my computer. Now, this disappoints the part of me that enjoys the visceral experience of writing with pen, ink, and paper. Where did my enjoyment of those materials go, I wonder? Lately I've thought more and more about the intricacies of hand-made book bindings, with hand-typeset printing, and varied colored inks. I used to spend hours at a time in stationery stores, poring over different colored inks for the many styles of fountain pens I owned. 

I have a dream of one day owning a bookstore where I would employ someone who would run a letterpress for me. I don't think I would ever operate it myself, because I'm not terribly handy with things like that, but a very long time ago, in a library at one of my alma maters, was a hand-made book on display, Moby Dick, which had been created with pale blue paper, navy blue ink, and dark blue leather binding; the illustrations were all hand-crafted etchings. The book was created in a very small run and was sold as a rare book. I will always remember it, for it was one of the most beautiful books I ever saw, and I remember thinking that someday, I would like to produce individually-made rare gems, produced for a discerning client with an artistic eye. 

There is something in us that rebels against the norm, and if the norm is the computer, there will be a part of us that needs to return to the past, when writing and publishing had rituals that were more intricate and beautiful than they are now, it seems. There are schools that teach the fine art of traditional bookbindery, and there are antiquarian booksellers on the net and not just in obscure corners of big cities. The computer will never take over completely, I hope. We need to be able to touch books, don't you think, not just read them online? 

1 comment:

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