My favorite books

Most people who love to read, as I do, have a favorite section of the bookstore toward which they make a beeline every visit. It might be cooking, or new fiction, or self-help. I always head straight for the journals and blank books, and can often hardly tear myself away from them, especially if Moleskine has some new products out.

My pursuit of the next new blank book is just short of an obsession. I recently walked around my house and grabbed the blank books that were readily at hand–I know there are dozens more lurking around in boxes and on high shelves. Here is just a sample of my collection:

That’s 26 books.

Cloth-bound, leather-bound, spiral-bound, hard cover and soft cover, ruled and unruled, and of course the Moleskines because they are so cool. I have added content (writing, sketches, clippings) to nearly all of them, but there are a couple that I love so much just the way they are that I have not yet sullied their perfectly blank pages. I keep thinking that someday I’ll have some project or other that will require documentation and I will dedicate one of these books to that. Or not. I just love all that potential waiting between the covers.

I started keeping a journal when I was in junior high. So cringe-worthy to read now (and it is hidden deep in a box somewhere dusty and inaccessible, I’m sure). When I was in high school, I adopted the blank book I would use continuously going forward: a Mead 5-subject spiral-bound notebook. At 200 pages, it’s thick enough to last at least a year, although the very first one took me so long to fill that the cover fell apart.

I think I added the word “PRIVATE” for the benefit of my siblings.

Years later, I went back and numbered all my journals and added the dates they covered.

Each subsequent journal was less tattered than the last by the time it was filled, and eventually Mead starting making these books with plastic covers so they’ll never fall apart. Here is the current book:

I think I am up to the 16th or 17th volume now; it’s hard to be sure because journaling is not the sacred daily duty it once was so I don’t keep track of it the way I used to. I have lost interest in recording the events of my life by hand over the past few years; I don’t know exactly why. That’s a shame, because my journal has carried me through some very rough patches in my life and served as my trusted confidant and adviser after the fact that could always tell me where I first started to go wrong with something and often showed me how to find my way clear of it. I solved many a problem simply by writing about it.

My words were often melodramatic, misspelled, misguided and even ridiculous when viewed through the lens of long life experience. But at the time, they were the cries of my heart, my songs, my first shouting out to the world who I was and how I felt (and felt, and felt) about my life.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

I still feel the occasional urge to grab a pen and write a page or three by hand, but mostly I keep track of my life through the emails I send to friends and my postings on Facebook. But all of that is ephemeral until or unless it is printed out, and who does that? The “record” I think I’m keeping could vanish in an instant. I suppose my journals could, too, although the chances that they’ll still be around decades from now are much better than the chances that my Facebook feed will be.

My grandmother kept a page-a-day Standard Diary for most of her adult life, and she gave many of the books to me before she passed away. She usually wrote with a red ballpoint pen in a beautiful classic cursive script. There is no electronic substitute for these hard-bound tomes with their neat daily summaries, addresses and phone numbers, clippings from the newspaper, and human imprint of a woman who cared deeply about the details of her own life as she lived it. Here is the entry from the day I was born:

Clear – cold – sunny

At 3:30 this morning B’s [my mother] water broke so she and L [my dad] went to hospital and baby girl born at 7:10. What a wonderful thrill – so very thankful it came while I was still here. [She had come to stay with my parents 3 weeks prior because they were not sure when I was due. I was late, and intrafamily relations had become strained in the meantime.] She weighs 9 lbs 6 oz – named Lisa.

L got crib down and I washed it good. Cleaned and sterilized furniture in front room Took J [my brother] to get plants and a “potty” planter [??] for baby – few groceries.

Mary [a neighbor] over to visit. L and I called everybody to tell them about baby.

Sure am glad it came like this. B called tonight from hospital. She feels fine – baby fine and she has had her several times today…. I cleaned oven. A wonderful day.

Three days later, when my mother and I came home from the hospital, grandma reported:

Baby just beautiful!! She nurses so well and sleeps nearly all the time – Such a nice big baby. Looks like B too. I’m so glad about everything.

I still eat very well, sleep a lot, and look like my mother. 🙂

This is the only record in existence of that time in my parents’ lives and my own because nobody else in the house kept a diary, and if photographs were taken, they have long since been lost. I’m grateful for the words my grandmother wrote to help us all remember.

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