Moleskine notebooks … the best of their kind? Photograph: Alamy
No, despite what you may have heard, Bruce Chatwin never used them but they are still the best notebooks money can buy.
By Emine Saner
It’s the promise held in that unbroken spine, the smooth oilskin cover, the comforting rounded corners. But most of all in the pristine ivory blankness, ready to be filled with the beginnings of your first bestseller and sketches so groundbreaking they will require new ways of thinking about art. This notebook, the Moleskine pocketone you just paid £8.99 for, will deliver it all.
Apparently Van Gogh used one, and Picasso, and Hemingway – this history now rests in your hands. So long as you can find a spot in Caffe Nero and get to work. “It’s a masterful bit of excavation of the human psyche,” says Stephen Bayley, the design critic and writer – and user of Moleskines. “The stuff you’re writing in it could be the most brainless trivia, but it makes you feel connected to Hemingway.”
Except there is no real connection to Hemingway. Moleskine was created in 1997, based on a description of the beautiful, bound notebooks the travel writer Bruce Chatwin bought from a French bookbinder before it closed down. An Italian company Modo & Modo recreated it, sold it at a premium price and describes it as a “legendary notebook”. “It’s an exaggeration,” Francesco Franceschi, co-owner of Modo & Modo told the New York Times in 2004. “It’s marketing, not science. It’s not the absolute truth.”
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Real books will survive as they are status symbols, Joan Brady has said Photo: ALAMY
E-books are “worthless” and have become the preserve of soap stars’ biographies and soft porn, while physical books will survive because people use them as status symbols, a Whitbread Prize-winning author has said.
By James Hall
Joan Brady, who won the literary prize in 1993 for Theory of War, a novel about a young boy sold into white slavery in post-Civil War America, said that paper books will never disappear because people use them to “confirm their social identity” and want to be seen carrying them.
Meanwhile lowbrow “pulp” such as “celebrity biographies, Mills & Boon and porn” will “disappear into e-books”, she said.
“Your Rolex watch? It’s a statement. A four-wheel drive? A statement. That’s what the books in your house are too,” Ms Brady told The Daily Telegraph.
She said that the millions of Britons who proudly display Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time on their bookshelves but have not actually read it are “proof” that physical books are used as status symbols.
“Hardly anybody read it; people bought it to put on their shelves so other people could see it,” she said.
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When Trish Vickers lost her sight, she decided to make use of her vivid imagination by painstakingly writing a book in longhand.
But after hours of hard work and careful thought, she was left devastated when she was told that 26 pages were blank because her pen had run out of ink.
The 59-year-old mother feared that the manuscript was lost but the generosity of her local police force meant that it was gradually recovered using forensic technology.
Miss Vickers said she was “gobsmacked” when Dorset police officers agreed to help by sacrificing their lunch hours over five months to study the indents made by her pen.
“I could remember the gist of what I had written but there was no way I could have written exactly the same way again,” she said. “I am so grateful. It was really nice of them and I want to thank them for helping me out.”
Miss Vickers, from Charmouth, near Lyme Regis, lost her sight seven years ago through diabetes and turned to her imagination for solace.
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Cover story: a year of beautiful books
It is not just jacket design that has upped its game in recent years… Victorian letterpress blocks. Photograph: Alamy/Steven Heald
This year for the first time more ebooks were sold than hardbacks. Publishers have responded by bringing out exquisite new releases and revamps of classics.
By Kathryn Hughes
In his recent Booker acceptance speech, Julian Barnes did the usual polite thing of thanking his editors and his agent. But then, just when everyone thought he was done, he veered off in an entirely unexpected direction to pay animated tribute to Suzanne Dean, “the best book designer in town”, who had turned his prize-winning novel into “a beautiful object”. The Sense of an Ending does indeed come clad in a lovely cover, an elegiac visual riff on dandelion clocks, which darkens at the edge to black, an idea of mourning that then runs over the edges of the pages themselves. At least it does in the early editions. Such little touches are both fiddly and expensive (which comes to the same thing) so subsequent reprintings have left off the darkened page ends. It’s a decision, Dean herself admits, that is going to make the first editions of the novel just that little bit more desirable in years to come.
Whatever might be thought of Barnes’s novel, there was wide agreement that his public acknowledgment of the book’s designer was a “moment”, one that needed to be parsed for its implications. And chief among those implications seems to be that judging a book (at least partly) by its cover has become a legitimate thing to do. In addition to Dean at Random House, there is currently a whole slew of art editors, production directors and book designers who are going about their business with a new spring in their step. Nothing raises the spirits more than knowing that people are noticing your work, think it good, and want you to do more.
Publishers have started building their marketing strategies around form rather than content. The Everyman Library, which is coming up to the 20th anniversary of its modern relaunch, makes much of its books’ elegant two-colour case stamping, silk ribbon markers and “European-style” half-round spines. In 2009, to celebrate its 80th birthday, Faber republished a collection of its classic poetry hardbacks illustrated with exquisite wood and lino cuts by contemporary artists. Not to be outdone, Penguin will next year be reissuing 100 classic novels in its revamped English Library series in what its press release describes as “readers’ editions”. What other sort could there be, you might wonder?
Borders seems to have been in the business of making mistakes Alamy
An inside look at the real reasons for the once-beloved chain’s demise
By Ben Austen
In September, just days before Borders Group met its end, one of the chain’s last retail holdouts, in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tenn., was being liquidated, with prices slashed by 90 percent. It was difficult in the stark surroundings not to think of a battle waged and lost, of the armies of Kindle owners and e-book peddlars off celebrating victory while all around lay the carnage—two copies of a Paul Reiser memoir, the suspect Greg Mortensen book Stones into Schools, a still-brimming manga section. A couple of professional scavengers picked over the DVDs, cataloging them with their own scanners. Empty shelves were being stacked in the store’s growing hollows and themselves tagged with prices ranging from $25 to $50. The defeat felt so stunning because it seemed so nearly complete, not just for Borders but also for bookselling in general. A two-story Borders in Nashville proper, about 10 miles north, had shut its doors four months earlier. In November 2010, a 30,000-square-foot outlet of a bookstore chain called Davis-Kidd Booksellers, in business in the city for 30 years, had closed as well. With the shuttering of the Brentwood Borders, there wasn’t a store within 22 miles of Nashville that specialized in new books.
Nashville might seem like an archetype of the death-of-the-bookstore-everywhere narrative, but its story turns out to be different. The cashier who checked me out at the Brentwood store, Nancy DeVille, had transferred from the Nashville location when it closed, and she said both outlets were constantly packed with regulars drawn to the sight, feel, and smell of books. David Beddow, a supervisor at the Nashville store from 2005 to 2008, remembered costumed crowds snaking around the corner for the release of the latest Harry Potter.