I am a highly non-linear notebook user. I usually have several on the go at once, for different purposes. I write on scraps and sticky notes much more often than is good for me. And I have a terrible habit of folding a letter-size sheet in half, writing on one side and then the other, and then opening it and writing on the inside, leading to a completely nonsensical succession of pages that spell nothing but trouble once I haul it out of a damp ass pocket, moulded into a semicircle, and try to transcribe it (provided it hasn’t gone through the wash).
I’m also totally, shamefully susceptible to trends in note-taking. I was about 19 when I snapped up the first Moleskine I ever saw in a Halifax shop, and I rode that bandwagon like I thought it was heading straight to a hazy, idealized version of 1960s Paris, like in that movie with young Michael Pitt and incestuous siblings and labyrinthine apartments with bathrooms as big as my kitchen. I abandoned the halfsize hardcover Moleskine as my standard a few years later, due to its severely unmalliable cover but I still use the full-size, soft-cover cahiers. And I swear by Moleskine planners. The x-large, soft-cover, 1-week-per-page, 18-month agenda changed my life: with a whole page of note space for each week, I don’t feel like I need to haul around a whole other book to put my grocery lists and doodles in.
For all you other notebook junkies (I’m looking at you, Mr. Hiltz!), here’s an excellent review and critique of major notebook brands. And here’s a blog called “Notebook Stories” by a self-described notebook addict who posts on all things notebook-related. (For the record, my notebook of choice is MUJI’s kraft A5, which is not sold in my unadventurous, backwater country.)
And here, as promised, is a list of iconic notebooks that have appeared in film that have not only piqued my trend antennae, but have actually changed the way I write in my own notebooks. (And nobody comment that I forgot to mention the film “The Notebook”, because I haven’t seen it and I don’t care.)
Also: spoilers ahead.
1. Harriet the Spy.
If you have not seen this film, go watch it right now. This film still influences my style — only last year, I spent months searching through thrift shops for the perfect yellow rain coat without quite knowing why, as if the Nickelodeon production team were piloting my brain, turning me into a pawn of the lamest and most inexplicable plan for world domination. Anyway, the most iconic part of this underrated and very iconic film is Harriet’s classic marble notebook with “Private” written on the cover. In this film, notebooks store secrets and Harriet’s secrets lead her to a confrontation of who she is, what she is capable of and what it means to grow up.
The marble notebook was never part of my elementary school studies (we had these), but when I found one in a dollar store soon after I watched the film, I was once again at Nickelodeon’s mercy. Nowadays, I find the rules on the page too far apart and am annoyed by the sadly inflexible cover. But I pick some up whenever I find them, because the Mr. loves them and doubles up his rows of cramped and scratchy penmanship between the lines like some sort of crazy person…
The most disturbing of David Fincher’s films (with, perhaps, the exception of Gross Reverse-Aging Brad Pitt) features the same marble notebook as in Harriet the Spy. Except there are hundreds of them. And they are filled with doubled-up rows of cramped and scratchy penmanship, written by a psychopathic sadist serial killer. In Se7en, the notebooks do not store a secret so much as a manifesto, something meant to be found. But they also serve to ground a faceless, nameless evil within a human being, rendering the killer even more terrifying. That an eerily cool homicidal maniac would inscribe his canon of madness within the pages of a child’s copybook is a contrast played to great dramatic effect, and only one of many such excellent demented touches in the film. (Go watch this one too. Except you, Mom. You should maybe watch “The Notebook.”)
3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The wear and overuse of a decades-old notebook, its pages saturated with dried ink and dust, leaves crammed with scraps and souvenirs, is something that I think would be pretty hard to fake. But the production team did a whopping good job of it with the Grail Diary in this film. The notebook in this film is a record, a chronicle of a lifetime of work, a hoard of esoteric knowledge jam-packed with drawings and notes on age-stiffened paper, the covers pockmarked and the spine creased so that it lies open on its own (a very necessary virtue for a notebook). It looks like the type of old-school, hard-wearing book manufactured in the last century that Howard Carter might have had in his saddle-bag when he discovered Tut’s tomb.
(At around age 12, I discovered a notebook of similar consistency in an Asian gift store in the Penhorn Mall. And you better believe I scribbled a stylized map of the Valley of the Crescent Moon, stuck a golf pencil in there, slapped an elastic around it and carried it with me wherever I went. But that was NOTHING compared to French artist Fabien Palmari’s page-by-page reconstruction of the Grail Notebook.)
Amelie is about overcoming the fear of engaging in the unpredictability of life. So there are tons of examples of notebooks and note-taking buried within the film, and all represent the anxiety of those people who would rather record events in life, second-hand, than deal with them. Amelie’s landlady pines for the man she imagines her long-lost husband to be, wallowing in his old letters. An old man, coming home from the funeral of his best friend, erases his friend’s address from his address book. Joseph, the man in the café who dates Georgette the hypochondriac, habitually mutters into a tape recorder, afraid that Georgette is having an affair. Amelie tasks her stewardess friend with photographing the garden gnome around the world and send the photos (visual records) to her father to encourage him to travel. L’Homme de Verre paints Renoir’s Luncheon over and over and makes video mix-tapes. And of course there is Nino’s scrapbook, where he compiles found photos of people he doesn’t know. And happiness is only found for the characters of the film when they come out from behind their notebooks and photographs, risking disappointment and failure for a chance to participate in the joys and trials of life.
The notebook in this film is, of course, Guy Pearce’s (sexy, sexy) body, upon which he tattoos important information about his life to compensate for his lack of short-term memory. In Memento, the “notebook” not only functions as a means of keeping record, but also as highly visible art. For most of us, the contents of our notebooks are hidden, private and not anywhere near beautiful enough to inflict on the public. But this is not the case with American conceptual architect Lebbeus Woods, whose notebooks are veritable works of art and have been displayed in exhibitions.
If there’s any lesson I’ve learned about keeping a notebook, it’s that no topic, no subject is too insignificant to record, and to record beautifully. But it takes self-discipline and patience, two virtues dependent on method and organization towards which I am baby-stepping, one mangled to-do list at a time.
Hey readers (that’s right, all five of you)! If you think of any other examples of iconic notebooks in film, post them in the comments!