I have been using Moleskine notebooks, in various sizes and with various rulings, since 2002. I can’t remember now how I heard about them, but it could very well be that it was in an account of, or by, Bruce Chatwin, whose nonfiction work I admired when I was in graduate school. On occasion, I have tried other notebooks, but I almost always come back to the large Moleskines, if only because I am terribly used to them. Their weight, their feel, the rounded corners, the thickness of the pages: all have become a part of how I work.

I should note that at this point in my career I keep two notebooks: one for everyday use and one for fieldwork. In everyday use, anything that doesn’t have a particular place goes in the notebook. (Pretty much everything except research and writing goes into that daily notebook.) Ideas that pop into my head in the middle of driving. Notes from various meetings. Talks I go to. Sketches for a piece of furniture or home project. Anything that isn’t part of something larger, and here’s the important part, something larger in my own work. That is, I could imagine that a lot of people take notes at meetings—I do it to make sure I am paying attention—but then you have the awful problem of where to put those notes. I used to have a folder labeled something like “departmental poobah” that was essentially my catch-all for notes and other bits of institutional flotsam that didn’t add up to enough paper to deserve their own folder. I suppose one could have a folder marked “odd notes” or “daily notes” but why bother when you have a notebook and all you need to do is recall the approximate date of an event—which is typically easily done either with reference to a calendar or to the old-fashioned way of reckoning: did that occur before or after Christmas/some other event—and, presto!, you can flip to the notes.

I don’t think the fieldwork notebook needs much explanation: every field researcher needs one and it needs to be dedicated to that and nothing else. It goes in my gear bag and stays there. It comes out when I am in the field or when I come home, to transcribe notes and to transfer logged items like miles into the appropriate log, and then it goes right back in the bag. It’s perhaps the most important piece of gear in there. (And, yes, I write in pencil when I am doing fieldwork. Why? Because pencils write in all kinds of weather and pencil marks don’t run if you drop your notebook in a flooded rice field. There, I said it … and now you know.)

While I love these Moleskine notebooks, I don’t pretend that they are the only game in town, especially because it looks like either they have changed their inking strategy or their quality control has gone downhill. That is, as the new year approaches, my current notebook is not only beginning to approach the end of its pages, but the spine has also begun to fail. A quick scan of the web reveals that Moleskine has been having some quality control problems and that both the spine and darker inked rulings are things people have noticed in recent usage of Moleskines? Yes, that’s right, the ink used to rule the pages in the new Moleskine I purchased is considerably darker than that of my current notebook. Dark enough to be distracting, even when I am writing in black ink, never mind how difficult it would be to work with pencil.

It’s enough of an annoyance, that I decided to try using a Whitelines notebook again. I liked the quality of the first one, but its white cover quickly revealed that I take a notebook everywhere and since sometimes “everywhere” is a professional meeting, the remnants of the other “wheres” could sometimes be a bit ugly. Fortunately, they now offer a black cover:

And I couldn’t help but also pick up one the spiral-bound notebooks:

For those who don’t remember what the Whitelines difference is: