in Notebooks

Traveler’s Notebook: betrayal and reconciliation

After a while – in fact, on the 18th of October 2010, since I date my journal entries – the Traveler’s Notebook

  1. not lying flat
  2. having the knot at the back
  3. having the metal lump at the top
  4. not having a hard cover

were just a constant annoyance to me. I was looking around at other journals and eventually, after filling five refills (enough for one of their binders) I bought a small Habana notebook and started to use that.

Stopping using the Traveler’s Notebook was quite easily the most emotionally traumatic stationery-related experience that I have ever had. I felt guilty, like I’d betrayed a trust, like I was mistreating a loving and blameless pet. Like in Breakfast At Tiffany’s where she throws the cat out. I had to hide it behind things on the shelf to stop it looking at me with its wide notebook eyes, not quite understanding why it wasn’t being used but still sure that it loved me and I still loved it and soon we would be having happy notebook fun just like before.

Apart from the supremely tactile experience of just picking the thing up, and the way that it gradually molds itself to your hands and habits, the Notebook balances being refillable with being simple enough to feel like an intrinsic part of your writing.

Let’s start with the refillability: there’s a continuity of the physical aspect of your notebook, no matter how long you write in it. In fact, the dual refill structure is quite cunning – I found that I would finish refill #1, have another one behind it, start refill #2 feeling as if it was just a simple continuation of the previous one, then, after a little while, remove refill #1 and put blank refill #3 behind #2. In other words, you’re writing in a notebook with endless pages. I write an awful lot – observations, self-indulgent diarising, work plans, ideas for characters and games and widgets and plots, a lot of testing of pens and inks – and an average A5 notebook lasts me about a month if I am lucky – this is not enough time to really become attached to one, even something otherwise quite characterful (e.g. the Paperchase Noto which I should write about that at some point). I’m afraid that as good as Webnotebooks are they’re really not individually lovable.

Then there’s the simplicity and, er, intrinsicality. A ring binder or a Filofax is refillable, after all, and I could technically carry an A5 ring binder around and top it up with blank paper, but folders just never to me feel like they are all that connected with what they contain. They’re storage mechanisms rather than things to write in. As for Filofaxes, I admit that I’ve never used one so I might be underestimating their level of personal character, but they’ve always seemed like rather fiddly devices, with metal clips and thick covers and teeny tiny refills on thin paper half the size of the cover. The Traveler’s Notebook is so simple in itself that when you put a refill in it, the paper feels as if it has grown there. The word “refill” itself seems inappropriate. (Midori also encourage you to add things to the structure of your notebook and its contents, pen loops and pockets and such, just to tie you cruelly to their product line.)

It doesn’t hurt, incidentally, that the plain refills use the best paper that I’ve ever written on. I cannot think of a single aspect of it that I don’t like – it’s gorgeous. I prefer it even to Rhodia paper, which is saying something.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve gone back to using the Traveler’s Notebook regularly. I find that the leather has softened and become molded to a degree that means the knot is less bothersome, and the soft cover is not bothering me nearly as much as it used to. Also, it loves me. If only I could now ignore the looks coming from my OHTO Tasches.

  • Rhianon Jameson

    Great. Now I have to get one.

    I tried using Filofax on several occasions, and it never worked out. The 27 rings always hurt me when I tried to write (left-handed) (once I tried turning the whole thing upside-down to avoid the problem, but that was far too weird), the paper, as you noted, is terrible, and there’s no permanence to the system. I liked it for work-related notes that I could toss when outdated, but eventually migrated to a standard-sized binder.

    I’m currently using the Rhodia web book, or whatever it’s called, and I agree – it’s there, it works, but it doesn’t give the impression of an endless series of notebooks, and there’s no real love involved.

  • I suppose one thing about the WNB is that pretty much every one is the same, so you could become attached to the form and not notice the difference much when you changed books. Not quite the same though; all the little nicks and stains and scratches disappear. An eternal notebook but one that regenerates and doesn’t remember you.

  • The idea of an endless notebooks sounds awful to me. Two things that I love are: 1 starting a new notebook and 2 filling in the last page of an old one. I go through about one or two large Moleskine cahiers a week … I wish I used only one per month.  I was finding this post deeply satisfying since I sort-of dislike the travelers notebooks for the very reasons you mention… I’m sorry that you have gone back to the thing… but if you are happy I guess that what matters… I’ll be over here with all of the other no refillable, non lumpy notebooks sulking. (not really, I liked this post and will come back, good to find someone else who writes about paper…it’s an emotional topic isn’t it?)

  • ordinal

    I have to say that I am not actually using it at the moment – I used a few refills, and then moved to a A5 Webnotebook due to the page size, but started to dislike the paper in that, and then to a pocket Allan’s Journal which I am finding too small really. It’s an endless trial. I should probably write a post whenever I change.

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