9TH FEBRUARY, 2024
I recently enjoyed Roland Allen’s entertaining book The Notebook: a history of thinking on paper (see Recent Reading below). One of my ideas for this year is to go a bit more ‘analogue’. I like the idea of having somewhere to potter with pen and paper, capturing passing thoughts and observations, playing with vague ideas, maybe producing the occasional fragment of text that might be developed further. Doodles might even be involved.
Almost two years ago, I treated myself to a gorgeous, long-coveted green leather notebook cover, ideally sized to enfold my notebook of choice, the hardback A5 Leuchtturm1917. But my perverse phobia of ruining notebooks by writing in them immediately kicked in, so my gorgeous notebook has been sitting unused on my desk ever since.
To overcome this ridiculous mental blockage, I began to collect quotes about analogue note-making from favourite writers and musicians. The idea was, once I’d gathered a few inspirational quotes, I could transcribe them with uncharacteristic neatness into my notebook as a way of breaking the ice:
I sat on a damp rock, took my notebook from my inner pocket, made earnest notes:
—Kathleen Jamie, Findings
Then there are the scores of notebooks, their contents calling—confession, revelation, endless variations of the same paragraph—and piles of napkins scrawled with incomprehensible rants. Dried-out ink bottles, encrusted nibs, cartridges for pens long gone, mechanical pencils emptied of lead. Writer’s debris.
—Patti Smith, M Train
I sat at a table near the open terrace door, my papers and notes spread out around me, drawing connections between events that lay far apart but which seemed to me to be of the same order.
—W.G. Sebald, Vertigo
Notebooks out, plagiarists!
—Mark E Smith, The War Against Intelligence
It didn’t work, of course. My untidy transcriptions looked like a bunch of random quotations about note-making. So I reassigned that particular Leuchtturm1917 to some as-yet-unspecified future use, slotted a new one into my leather cover, and, after much agonising, on 1st January this year, finally scribbled down a few bullet-points about how I intend to use the notebook in future. I didn’t try to write anything profound—that was the whole point—but it was a start at least.
(I haven’t written anything in the notebook since, obviously, but it can only be a matter of time.)
Some stuff I thought worth sharing
- Can your diary be a bestseller? (audio)
Talking of notebooks, an interview with author Amy Liptrot on keeping a hand-written diary, turning it into two memoirs, and having one memoir turned into a film.
- Vesuvius Challenge 2023 Grand Prize awarded: we can read the scrolls!
Thanks to high-tech scans, sophisticated software, and a lot of hard work, part of a scroll carbonised in the Vesuvius eruption on 79AD has finally been read.
- Ancient steppe herders brought higher risk of MS to northern Europe
A study of ancient DNA shows the bronze age Yamnaya people spread a gene that was presumably useful to them, but which carries an increased risk of multiple sclerosis in their European descendants.
- Petrifying juices: fossilised
On the history of fossils, how they were interpreted, how they’re formed, and how they’re looked after.
- The story of a drum
My mate science historian Thony Christie on a Vietnamese Đông Sơn drum that came into his family’s possession.
- Science and history cannot afford to be indifferent to each other
How scientists and historians would benefit from engaging more with one another.
- Learning to see goldcrests
Scotland-based Irish writer Chris Arthur’s charming essay on Europe’s smallest bird.
- A sudoku secret to blow your mind (video)
On the ‘Phistomephel Ring’, a hidden feature of all sudoku puzzles.
- Shadows & Reflections: Kevin Boniface (audio-visual)
For Kevin Boniface, 2023 was a year of plastic union jacks, decorative aggregates and golfing sweaters.
The Notebook: a history of thinking on paper by Roland Allen
An entertaining history of notebooks, their uses, and their users.
Thanks as always for making time to read this newsletter. If you enjoyed it, please tell your friends.
Take care, and see you next time.