kottke.org posts about notebooks

Holding on to the blank pagesJun 06 2014

A short profile of writer/editor Roger Angell, still coming in to work most days at The New Yorker at age 93:

Angell saw Babe Ruth in his prime, but he never writes sentimentally about baseball, a sport that has inspired many sports-writers to produce reams of awful, faux-poetic prose. His habit of telling it straight is what makes his nine books hold up and keeps him relevant today. "I don't go for nostalgia," he says. "I try not to. It's so easy to sentimentalize the good old days, but I don't ever do that. I'm aware that things have changed, but I try not to go there. It's very easy, and you get sort of a mental diabetes. All that goo. I am a foe of goo, maybe too much so."

Angell's extended essay "This Old Man" offers an extended dose of that lucidity.

Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry [Angell's fox terrier] died, Carol and I couldn't stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.

Anyone who's been writing for a long time has tools they like and come to depend on; one of Angell's is a discontinued Mead three-subject notebook:

The best notebook in the world. David Remnick and I talk about how you can't get anything to replace the Mead notebook, which is unavailable now. They take ink perfectly. There is a great flow. All the other notebooks are coated with something so your pen slides along.

"In recent years, when he goes on reporting trips," Angell's interviewer notes, "he has resorted to making use of old Mead notebooks that still have blank pages."

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