In one of her novels George Eliot has a passage about how comforting it is to hang out with people who don’t intimidate you. She compares it to wearing your second-favorite articles of clothing, which are better than your actual favorite articles of clothing, because you’re not afraid of ruining them.
You probably have household items that fit into the first category. The nice bed linens stay packed away, unslept on, for fear of being destroyed. Or maybe it’s the fine wine, forever sealed in anticipation of a worthy-enough occasion. Or the nice shoes, the fancy soap, the silverware. Maybe someone has urged you to carpe diem and use the good stuff every day, but I don’t necessarily agree. There’s a pleasure in hoarding treasures and keeping them in mint condition. You sacrifice daily interaction, but the periodic check-ins have a hallowed aura. (“Look at these gleaming shoes, unscuffed and smelling of shoebox! Maybe I’ll wear them tomorrow! Or the tomorrow after that!”)
Because my job is to write I use notebooks daily and go through dozens per year. In Eliot’s formula my notebooks are “second-favorite clothes.” I use them as a reporting tool, journal, and to-do list receptacle, and I (literally) can’t afford to be precious about them.
In the past I’ve stocked up on whatever cheap-ish notebook hits these requirements:
1. Sturdy cover (won’t get dented in purse)
2. Opens flat
3. Good paper: ink won’t smear / bleed
4. Of a comfortable writing size
5. Decently attractive
These days, I no longer settle. There’s a better option out there. I’ve tasted the fine wine and I can’t go back. Luckily, the wine is priced at a reasonable $16. It is the Princeton Architectural Press Grids & Guides Notebook, and it is not like Other Notebooks.
My first one was a gift. Its cherry cloth hardcover and thick paper stock gave it a heft that communicated “THIS IS A KEEPSAKE, NOT A UTILITY.” I admired it for six months untouched and then ran low on my normal stock and cracked it open.
First, the basics. It satisfies the requirements above. The cover but not the back is subtly textured, so you can discern which side is which without opening it — a Sherlockian detail alerting us all that this notebook was made by someone with deep notebook affection.
But ah, the real beauty is inside. Each of the 144 pages is printed with a variable grid design. This pattern is simultaneously a constraint (because grid) and a mild creative prompt (because variable). You progress through the notebook not knowing which grid design will greet you on the next page. Will it be the gray lines? The blue boxes? The tessellated triangles? The evenly spaced dots? The grids are all bold enough to provide structure but faint enough to foreground your writing.
Every notebook also contains a handful of illustrated interludes — a page of Fibonacci numbers, a world map, a phylogenetic tree — or some other pleasing visual bonbon. There are just a few of these morsels to sweeten the deal; not enough to distract from the notebook’s duties.
If you’ve read this far, it means you’re a notebook fiend. So I’ll just make one last point. Think of other objects you use daily and consider the amount of eye-watering thrills they deliver. Does your car thrill you? Your refrigerator? Your reading lamp? No? Me neither. I can’t control those. But $16 is doable. And we all deserve organizational ecstasy.
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