At ABR, we use a notebook (our “black book”) to keep track of what we were doing for the hours we charge to our clients. I’d been using the notebook I made a couple years ago, but ran out of pages on Friday, so today I made another one. The coptic style is really great for this sort of thing because it will lie completely flat on the desk, and there’s no glued binding to break. Yesterday we went to If Only here in town and I almost bought a Moleskine sketchbook, but I put it back on the shelf because I wasn’t sure it’d lay flat. Their normal notebooks will, but the pages are much too thin for fountain pens unless you only write on one side of the page. So often it seems there’s no substitute for doing something yourself so you can make sure it’s done right.
The covers are plain, acid-free book boards that are normally covered with book cloth or leather, but I’ll just slip it into the leather book cover I used with my previous notebook so the boards won’t show until I’m done with the notebook. The paper is Mohawk Superfine, cut into short-grain pages by my supplier, folded into five 32-page sections (8 pieces of paper folded in half = 32 pages), and sewn together with linen thread using a sewing technique that’s several thousand years old. Last time I had trouble doing all the stitching with a straight needle so I bent a needle by heating it red hot over the stove, bending it into a curve, heating it to red hot a second time before quenching it in cold water. The tip could probably use some sharpening after the heat treatment, but it worked well as is.
The whole project took less than two hours and required very few supplies.
Still working my way through Against the Day. I'm averaging a little over nine pages per day (instead of twenty), so I won't finish the book in time for the Pynchon-L group read. In fact, I probably won't finish it until April. That's OK, though. I'm very much enjoying the book, and I think if I was reading it faster, I'd miss more of what makes the book great. I've been collecting quotes and character names in my notebook sections, and more of those quotes may appear in future posts. Here's a good one from page 415:
Once we came to understand the simple thermodynamic truth that the Earth's resources were limited, in fact soon to run out, the whole capitalist illusion fell to pieces. . . like religious Dissenters of an earier day, we were forced to migrate, with little choice but to set forth upon that dark fourth-dimensional Atlantic known as Time.
Serious stuff. Don't think the fourth-dimension is currently open for travel, though, so for the time being we're stuck with the world we've made.
There's also a lot of humor in the book, not the least of which is the names Pynchon gives to his characters. Anyone who read Mason & Dixon remembers the Reverend Cherrycoke. Funny character names from Against the Day include Heino Vanderjuice, the law firm of Somble, Strool & Fleshway, Dodge Flannelette, Tansy Wagwheel, Alonzo Meatman, Ruperta Chirpingdon-Groin, Thrapston Cheesely III, Yup Toy, and many others. Often Pynchon combines two words to make a funny sounding, and perhaps even meaningful name.
I wrote a little Python script to generate these sorts of names. You can download it here: (pynchon_names.py). Just change the value of the WORD_DICTIONARY variable to where the wordlist is on your computer. Some good ones it came up with: Tweedyblore, Untarnubbin, Quiapoundcore, Cuskgluteus.
Gotta go get my nine pages in before it's time to plow the driveway.
desk on my lap
When I started reading Mason & Dixon several years ago I spent the first half looking up all the obscure references, keeping track of all the characters; trying to figure out exactly what Pynchon was saying in the book. Eventually I got tired of this approach and just wanted to finished the damned thing. So I abandoned all my research and read it as I would read Nick Hornby or any of the other books you buy at the airport to get through your flight. But since I never really "got" the second half of the book, I want to re-read it again and catch up on all the things I missed.
Since that book, which I finished in 2000, I've read a lot of books with historical context, most recently William T. Vollmann's Europe Central. The Internets (tubes, not trucks, don't 'cha know), especially the Wikipedia, really bring a lot to reading books like this if you have the dedication to look up the historical references and learn the context surrounding the story the author is telling. For example, the Warsaw Riots were mentioned by one of the characters in Europe Central, so I read a little of the history. I also read Antony Beevor's Stalingrad to fill in those gaps in my knowledge. And the Warsaw Riot section of the Wikipedia linked the movie The Pianist (which I'd watched on DVD several years ago) to what I'd been reading. Dmitri Shostakovich is one of the characters in the book, so I downloaded his Seventh Symphony (part of which was written during the siege of Leningrad) and several Shostakovich pieces mentioned in the book. All of these connections were made because I took the time to look away from the pages of the book and fill in the details on my own. And now I have a much fuller understanding of what World War II was like and what the consequences were on the people who lived through it (or didn't, I suppose).
I'm currently reading Against the Day. Having a comfortable place to read the book, keep track of all the details, and be able to look stuff up will make getting through my twenty pages a day a lot easier. We've only got one comfortable place to sit in the house, so I'm reading the book on the couch, listening to music on the stereo. My laptop is next to me on the end table with the Wikipedia, an online dictionary and the Pynchon wiki open in Firefox.
To make it easier to take notes and read a book that weighs as much as a brick, I'm going to build a lap desk. Jefferson used one of his own design so he could write wherever he went, and wrote the majority of the Declaration on it. I've styled mine (with help from a fellow Galoot on the OldTools List) more along the lines of a Shaker lap desk. The photo shows the prototype I built from scrap pine. When I get around to building the real version I'll use some walnut that's been sitting in the garage for six or seven years waiting for the right project.
I also thought about what sort of notebook to use while reading. I could make a blank book, but I don't know how many pages I'll really need, so I'll make the notebook a section at a time, and after I've finished the book, bind the sections together. I used six sheets of paper, folded in half, and then sewn once through with linen thread. When the time comes to bind them together, I'll remove the existing thread, punch new holes and bind it. Because the sections are almost completely loose, they're easy to handle on the desk and lay flat for easy writing. I'm currently 60 pages into the book and have filled five pages. If I keep up that pace, I'll have a 90 page notebook when I'm finished (four sections). If you're thinking about doing this for your reading, keep in mind that you can't use normal paper for this because the grain of regular paper is going the wrong direction (up and down, or long-grain). You need short-grain paper in order to fold it in half and get pages that lay properly and won't curl.
Broken Social Scene and Swan Lake are cued up on iTunes, so it's time to get to my twenty pages. Last time I learned about the Haymarket Riot and Maxwell's Equations. I wonder what I'll learn today?
Today when I went out to take care of the neighbor's cats I noticed that I'd worn through the leather soles of my cowboy boots. I went upstairs and got my older pair and while I was slipping them on I remembered buying them in California as a pair of boots to go with my new motorcycle. That was in 1991, so those boots are more than 15 years old.
More and more I find myself coming across something that I've owned for more than a decade, or a memory occurs to me from longer ago than seems possible. I'm no longer in my 20's, and even though I know this, it still feels like I'm a young kid who has just graduated from college, just old enough to drink beer. Maybe not yet wise enough to know not to drink too many.
But I'm not that young kid anymore. I've been a lot of places and done a lot of things since then. A lot of it has been chronicled in my journals, or in the other pieces of paper and electronic records that are part of every person's life. I'm thinking it might be fun to make a journal book that would be a sort of lifetime accounting for the places I've been and the things I've done. My journal books are 192 pages, and if I put four months on a page, I can cram around 63 years into the book. With four months per page, that's around six lines per month, which sounds like just the right amount of space. I'll put the details of the book itself on my bookbinding pages.
June 1991: bought motorcycle and cowboy boots.
It's smart to be thoughtful when writing, carefully choosing your words, crafting perfect sentences, reading and re-reading to make sure you haven't written anything stupid. Did I use the same adjective twice? Am I too tentative with my words? Is it good, or worth anyone's time to read it? Especially when your words are out there on The Internets, carried by those imaginary trucks, err., tubes.
I've been thinking about this a lot, as I watch the date on my last post to this blog disappear into the distant past. May 21st? Why haven't I written anything since then? Is there really that little going on in my life?
I've been waiting for the perfect posting. I've been messing around with
graphviz, which will draw directed and undirected graphs (like in my Magnetic Fields Similarity diagram post), and have even written a Python script to automatically generate them for a particular artist. It's awesome. But it's not perfect yet, so I haven't posted, waiting until I've got it down.
In the interim I've gone dip netting (9 red salmon, 1 king, plenty of food for me and heads for the dogs), broke one of my ribs, got snowed on in June during the Monahan Breeding Bird Survey, cut and chopped more than a cord of wood, and finished hanging drywall on the inside of the watershed (not in that order).
And I've downloaded and enjoyed a lot of great music. Right now I'm really enjoying Alligator by The National. I had downloaded Mr. November (track 13) back when I first subscribed to eMusic, but didn't get any other tracks. I finally got the rest today, and it's been on repeat (with the occasional Tokyo Police Club listen, which I also got today) since then. I've got it on the stereo now (AirTunes rocks. . .) and it sounds even better filling a room than boucing around my head via headphones.
In my mind, it fits into a sonic class with Spoon, Interpol and Bloc Party, but I don't know how much of that would bear out in a similarity diagram or in a critical analysis by someone who actually knows something about music. Anyway, the band is tight, and I dig it.
Other things that I've really enjoyed since the last time I wrote are The Fiery Furnaces (can't wait for Matthew Friedberger's solo albums on Tuesday), Girl Talk, The Futureheads and Art Brut. Reading the blogs on the Pitchfork Festival really made me wish I'd taken a trip to Chicago to visit family and attend. Sounded like a blast.
So I started this post off talking about my reticence (I had to look that up to figure out the spelling) about just posting whatever, whenever. Well, here goes. Whatever.
But check out Alligator. It's good stuffs.