Moleskine Rekindled

While out running errands this morning, I dropped by a local Barnes and Noble, with the purpose of killing time until a nearby market opened at 10am.  After taking a very close look at Nook eReaders (which one can’t help but do since the Nook display is SO IN YOUR FACE AT THE FRONT DOOR that patrons are all but forced to climb over it to come inside1), I made a circuit from history to biography, then to travel and the discount books near the front before concluding the literary promenade in the journal/notebook/accessory area.

On the Moleskine display was an assortment of mini notebooks  I initially  mistook for those two-pack Volants which I’ve used from time to time. Upon closer examination of these notebooks, I noticed the curious presence of elastic closure thingies and hard back covers. Volants these were not.

“Ahhhhhhhh! Oooooooooh!,” I drooled.

“Can I help you?” croaked the shriveled yet helpful gnome peering up over the counter a short distance away.

The mini compared to a regular pocket Moleskine notebook.

Politely declining assistance, I plucked one of the notebooks from the shelf and examined it closely. Of the same style and construction as the regular pocket Moleskine (and presumably containing the same cheap-ass paper), these notebooks were appreciably smaller than their more familiar counterparts (measuring only 2 1/2″ x 4″), meaning a truly portable pocket notebook. As I fondled the mini-notebook, turning it this way and that and assessing its weight, there immediately sprang to mind 374 wonderful uses for the mini. A short while later I climbed back over the Nook display then ambled out the store, clutching tightly the bag of acquisitions: two mini-notebooks and one regular pocket Moleskine.

“What a hypocrite you are!” might exclaim a reader of my previous Moleskine post. “You wrote all those horrible and nasty things about Moleskine and two days later you’re buying more!” this reader might also say while hastily moving the cursor towards the little red X in the upper corner of the screen.

“My dear reader,” I might then reply.4 “I wrote no horrible and nasty things about Moleskine in the post you reference. Altogether my post was rather complimentary, save for the matter of paper quality which was merely an honest observation. As it seems you were not paying attention, I suggest you read that post again before progressing any further with this one. In fact I’ll place a clearly marked symbol immediately below to help you find your place when you return. Now run along and click the “home” button in the lower right corner of the image above. See it? Good.  Afterwards, on the next screen click on “The Moleskine Confessions” and this time please read carefully.”

[o.0]     <—-symbol, clearly marked

Now as I was saying, two of the mini pocket Moleskines came home with me today, despite those pesky reservations about paper quality. How and why a regular pocket Moleskine also accompanied me home…well I have no idea really, except for perhaps those reasons mentioned in “Confessions.”

“Well because you’re a notebook slut,” the reader of my previous Moleskine post might say.

“Oh you’re back,” I might then reply to the dear reader. “And this time you paid attention.”

But at any rate, as to the minis: I envision they will soon be employed in utilitarian functions for which paper quality may not be quite as important as journaling.  Their size and portability open up possibilities innumerable, though admittedly it would be interesting (or pathetic, depending on one’s point of view) to put one into journaling service with two or three lines of tiny written script per printed line.

At some future point I may write a modest review of the Moleskine mini pocket notebook, considering both construction and various utilities (though probably not all 374 of them), once I put them through their paces. Until the minis are pressed into service, they wait quietly on the bookshelf until the elements of form, function, and idea coalesce and spark a meaningful experience.

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1 My angst here stems not from any sort of malice harbored against eBooks.2 While I understand that product placement is an important component of business strategy, I find the obstructionist placement of the in-store Nook displays rather distasteful in addition to being a tripping hazard.

2 I own a Kindle3 which I rather enjoy though it has yet to completely replace real books.

3 Which I’ve had for a number of years.

4 If Clint Eastwood can get up and argue with a chair on national television, surely I can engage here an imaginary reader in thoughtful and instructive discourse.

The Moleskine Confessions

From the journal entry (photo above) dated March 18, 2008 :

“…Now that the quest for the ideal notebook is over due to the discovery of Moleskine, the hunt has been reduced to finding the perfect pen…”

Thus was once my opinion of that popular little black notebook.  My relationship with Moleskine had sparked to life the month prior and with the coming of spring it blossomed and grew and much joy was to be had scribbling away.  Alas, happily ever after was not to be; the chill of disillusionment soon set in and the flame flickered, then grew dark.  Yet, curiously, a few embers remained, smoldering just enough to allow the occasional, brief reignition- this cycle of love/hate characterizes my relationship with Moleskine.

Even after the passage of four years and ample whoring about  experimentation with other notebooks lines, I am still occasionally drawn to Moleskine, despite telling myself that I’ve moved on, far better notebooks await discovery. Perhaps it’s due to Moleskine’s slick advertising (you know, the “you can be the artistic or literary heir to Picasso/Hemingway/or even Chatwin-whoever the hell he is”  thing), or their ready availability compared to other notebooks -whatever the reason, the spark rekindles, I’ll purchase a Moleskine for this or that purpose and put it to use for a time, then the fire goes out and I move on…until some future fling. Try as I might to forge a meaningful and committed LTR with Moleskine, there is an element about these notebooks that is, for the lack of a better phrase, a turn-off.

Moleskine is the perfect notebook in nearly every respect. Experience has proved time and again that construction and durability are, quite frankly, first-rate. Not once have I had a moment’s trouble with the binding, the elastic band thingie, or any other physical element of Moleskine and they’ve been through some rigorous situations. From daily being carried around in my pocket or jostled about in the bottom of a backpack, to surviving two long seasons subjected to a hot and humid greenhouse,  to various travels, including evading in Spain the peril of grasping Gypsies, Moleskines have always come though no worse off than the normal wear and tear one would expect. Add to their durability the wonderful fact that the notebooks lie lay lie remain flat when opened PLUS the sublime appeal of their minimalist design…well what’s NOT to love about Moleskine.

Yet despite these wonderful qualities, Moleskines are lacking in perhaps the most fundamental category: paper quality. This is inevitably the deal breaker, the fatal flaw that sends me out into the streets in search of better.  It’s altogether incongruous that bound within the covers of these otherwise first-rate notebooks would be such cheap paper.  While it feels cheap to the touch, the real test of quality comes when putting pen to paper. The process of writing feels disagreeable, rough and even with a fine point pen and light touch the resulting shadowing  is too apparent and distracting. Some of the joy of journaling is tactile and derives from that elegant and sublime interaction of a good pen on smooth, high-quality paper. Sadly, this is not the Moleskine experience. And woe unto those who attempt a fountain pen upon Moleskine paper; between the bleeding and feathering, the result can be more horrifying than the sight of the chicken who didn’t quite make it across the road.

As I was reflecting upon this post, I hauled from their quiet retirement a few pocket Moleskine journals; their duty done, their cheap-ass little pages filled.  As I thumbed though the volumes I considered just how close Moleskine is to being the perfect notebook and wondered when and if the company would see fit to remedy their Achilles heel. I suppose the reality is that as long as they have their spiffy advertising (and can claim the likes of Picasso and that Chatwin guy) and enjoy their wide availability, there’s probably little incentive to improve their paper.

I suppose from time to time I too get caught up in the ideas symbolized so well by  Moleskine and again embrace them with a hope that has yet to be realized.