The Notebooks of Joan Didion

I just recently finished reading Joan Didion’s short new book, South and West. What’s interesting about this book is that it’s not really new at all; rather, it’s a series of selections from Didion’s personal notebook, written in 1970 while she was traveling through the American South with her husband, researching a piece that she didn’t end up writing (there’s also a short section, also from her notebook, about Didion’s thoughts on California during the 1976 Patty Hearst trial).

While the contents of the book have some excellent insights (most strikingly that the South has changed little in the last 40 years), what really struck me were the style and quality of Didion’s notes. Didion takes notes in such a way that many of them are more fully formed, more beautiful, than a lot of writers’ prose. In fact, much of what Didion observes in her notebooks is so detailed that, considering most of it was written at the end of the day or even days later, it simply can’t be accurate.

This isn’t a problem, though. It’s just Didion staying true to what she writes in her famous essay “On Keeping a Notebook“:

So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about “shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed”? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this “E” depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. “That’s simply not true,” the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. “The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn’t that way at all.” Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.

If, like me, you love peeking into the journals and notebooks of some of our best writers, then I highly recommend South and West.

5 Analog Tools I Can’t Live Without (and Why) — George Williams

5 Analog Tools I Can’t Live Without (and Why) — George Williams

This is an old article, but I just came across it. It’s a great list. I especially love the inclusion of a coffee press—it’s a nice reminder that analog has benefits in all areas of life, not just pen and paper. (I use a Chemex to make my coffee, and while it drips I tend to do some morning journaling and to-do list planning.)

Want to be more productive? Don’t go paperless. — Todoist Blog

Want to be more productive? Don’t go paperless. — Todoist Blog

Paper doesn’t require booting time, passwords, or fingerprint scanning. Pens and pencils don’t require charging. Field Notes don’t crash. Bic pens are ready to write at a moment’s notice, whether you have 4G connectivity or not. Cheap spiral notebooks don’t need a lightning cable or a power brick.

With paper, there’s no system to learn; no hot keys to memorize. Formatting is decided by the user and can be changed in an instant.

Where Fountain Pens Are Saved and Sold — The New York Times

Where Fountain Pens Are Saved and Sold — The New York Times

The Fountain Pen Hospital represents a bygone idea in an age of instant communication, but it still draws people from across New York City to its storefront at 10 Warren Street. Terry and Steve Wiederlight, who are brothers and the current owners, have watched the business established by their grandfather and father in 1946 ebb and flow through the industry’s sea changes.

I’m definitely visiting next time I’m in New York.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Howdy! My name is Shawn Mihalik.

Some of you may know that Patrick is currently on a year-long sabbatical, during which he’s refraining from publishing to the web (if that isn’t analog, I don’t know what is). I’m very excited about what Patrick is going to produce during this period, but as someone who finds a lot of value in The Cramped, I didn’t want to see the site sit stagnant for a year. So I volunteered to take over editing duties while Patrick is doing his thing. He was generous enough to accept my offer.

Here are a few relevant and fun facts about me:

  • Way back in 2014 I wrote a guest essay for The Cramped called “Longhand.” I’m happy to report that, since that essay was published, I’ve successfully written a book’s first draft entirely in longhand.
  • I’m the author of four works of fiction.
  • I’m editor-in-chief at Asymmetrical Press.
  • I’m a big fan of analog tools. My daily carry is a Baron Fig Confidant and Faber-Castel Extra Superfine PITT Artist Pens in black (I order them in bulk from Blick). I’m also a fan of the Superfine nib in sepia, but wish it came in the Extra Superfine option.
  • I read paper (that is, dead-tree) books almost exclusively. I even still subscribe to a couple paper magazines. My home library is both more extensive than and not as extensive as I’d like.
  • I have a cat named Worf, after the Klingon warrior.

I’m looking forward to sharing plenty of links, posts, and essays here in the coming months. I hope to add as much value to this site as it has added to me.

Review — Pacific and West Notebook


The Pacific and West Large RefillableNotebook.

I’ve long been a fan and user of disc-bound notebooks. Going back to my first Levenger Circa purchase almost 20 years ago. Such notebook systems are great for those cases where you need to be able to easily rearrange the pages. So, when Pacific and West reached out to me to ask if I wanted to check out their take on the concept I accepted the opportunity.

The quality is decent and it looks attractive. The disks are a solid brass which pairs nicely with the walnut wood cover. The cover was unexpected in that it is a very thin veneer that is sturdy yet very flexible. One can almost roll it completely up without feeling the wood is going to crack and it pops right back into shape when released.

In the model I received, the paper is blank and the paper quality is okay. Only okay, though. Fountain pen and gel inks feather a fair bit. Ballpoints, pencil, and non-gel rollerballs will fair much better. As a fountain pen user and paper nerd this is the most major knock against it. One other minor knock, that is some what related, are the dimensions. The large I received is 5.75”x7.7“. If it was, say, a more standard 5.5” x 8.5’, one could replace the paper easily with that from another manufacturer or easily cut their own.

Price wise, while it may seem high at first glance, it is actually on par with similar quality offerings from the other major players who make disk-bound notebooks.

In all, it’s an attractive initial offering. If the paper quality could match that of the other materials I’d be able to recommend it more highly.