Moleskin Notebooks

As both a writer and reader I am attracted not only to books, but also to cool notebooks, stationery, and pen and pencil sets. On a recent trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon I finally found the notebook I had been seeking for a long time: Moleskin Notebooks. Moleskins are without a doubt the best notebooks available.

Moleskin Notebooks have a heritage that includes being used by Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, and Vincent Van Gogh. Moleskins have made cameo, uncredited appearances in movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Da Vinci Code," and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Moleskins just fit the hand making it easy to take notes. That is unless the writer has a broken wrist. so one can take notes while holding the notebook in the other hand. Or at least they could until they broke their wrist. I still use mine even with a broken wrist but now like I do everything, just a little clumsier.

Moleskins are available in a variety of formats; plain, lined, and in squares. I have horrible handwriting so I prefer the squares. When I use my Moleskin I print and force one letter into each square. This makes my notes legible, at least for the most part. There are slightly less than 200 pages in each notebook with approximately one fourth of them perforated for easy removal. There are a couple of interesting features: in the back is an envelope pocket for keeping loose papers. Also included in the notebook is an elastic band that circles the entire notebook to keep pages from getting beaten up when in a pocket or purse. Moleskin also features a daily diary with many of the same features.

'Losing my passport was the least of my worries, losing a notebook was a catastrophe'.
Bruce Chatwin

When in doubt, sit down, be quiet, and read a book.


Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is the best book I have read in a long time. Amir, the first-person narrator of The Kite Runner tells of his life, first as a boy in Afghanistan then later as an adult émigré in California. At times I felt frustrated with the characters in the book and wished they would behave differently. I experienced frustration not because the book was badly written, but just the opposite. I found the book so well written I felt fully engaged with the characters and suffered with them just as I would with my own friends and family members.

In Afghanistan Amir lived with his father Baba, and their two servants Ali and Hassan. Baba and Ali had been raised together and continued as master and servant throughout most of their adult lives. Similarly Amir and Hassan were of similar age and Hassan devoted himself to serving his young master.

The Kite Runner if refreshing in that Amir is not the all-good main character that so often appear in first novels. Amir has character flaws and suffers because of them. Hosseini builds a world where the reader can identify with the flawed Amir and feel both encouraged and strengthened when Amir tries to overcome his weaknesses.

The Kite Runner provides a poignant fictional account of a life in a part of the world that has become a part of our daily life in recent years. When Amir returns to Afghanistan as an adult and revisits people and places he knew as a child his reaction to the changes resulting from the long Afghani-Soviet war and the later rule of the Taliban is particularly affecting.

I am pleased to give The Kite Runner an A or 98% and strongly encourage all of you to read it. I can't wait to read his newest book A Thousand Splendid Suns.


"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
- Helen Keller


Book Review: Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

I really struggled with The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse: both reading it a writing about it. I kept waiting for there to be more. After all the book was a National Book Award Finalist and Erdrich is a highly regarded author. I love the premise. A woman lives most of her life pretending to be a Catholic priest among the Objiwe Indians. The book begins as "Father" Damien writes to the Pope to tell what she has done and to discuss the possible canonization of Sister Leopolda. Damien knows her to be a violent murderous but has been reluctant to expose her because she knows that he, Father Damien, is really she, Agnes Agnes DeWitt.

Possible outcomes from such a scenario abound. Unfortunately Erdrich hasn't seemed to be able to find any of them. Instead of the angst one hopes for from the story of an ersatz priests who has lived a lie, there is very little introspection. Instead there is a good deal of description of who happens, but the reader never learns why. The action and description, although at times well written, provides a poor substitute for the mental anguish one would expect of Damien/DeWitt.

Prior to The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse my only experience with Louise Erdrich is the short story "Red Convertible," the often anthologized short story read in high school and undergraduate lit classes. It too suffers from the syndrome of promise of much in the premise he did. Little Motivation. This book is one of several by Erdrich dealing with this imaginary Objiwe reservation. Perhaps taken together the effect is better. On its own I give this book a B- or 82%. The book is currently available both in trade paperback and as an audiobook.



Book Review: The Google Story by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed

With The Google Story David A. Vise and Mark Malseed write a non-fiction book that takes the reader "inside the hottest business, media and technology success of our time. The story of Google begins when one of the co-founders Larry Page arrogantly tells his doctoral adviser at Stanford University that he plans on downloading the Internet into his personal computer. He adds that he thinks it won't be that difficult.

This remarks leads him and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, also a doctoral candidate at Stanford, to begin working together "mining" data and looking for the best possible search engine to make their analysis of data simpler and easier. Soon they become disenchanted from available search engines such as Yahoo, Altavista, and Excite and begin to work on developing their own.

Vise and Malseed tell the Google story with near reverence. They describe the philosophy of the Google founders "don't be evil" and "have a healthy disregard for the impossible" as if the company can do no wrong. Their descriptions are interesting and well-written. The book reads quickly. However Vise and Malseed fail to recognize that as Google grows it is naturally changing from the Grateful Deadhead-dormroom atmosphere from which it developed into a corporate model with more in common with so-called evil computer giant Microsoft.

Despite this near disciple-like devotion to Page, Brin, and Google, The Google Story is recommend, especially to those of us in our fifties who sometimes feel baffled by recent computer innovations. If nothing else, Appendix I that features twenty-three Google search engine tips should be read and followed. I rate this book a good solid B, or 86%.


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” - Charles W. Eliot


Book Review: Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat

I've been reading many books about the Middle East for the last few years. I view this as a good thing for many reasons. If more Americans had been reading about the region for the last fifty years, perhaps there would be more stability and less violence there. Who knows, maybe not.

The most recent book is Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat. Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster published the book this year. It is the story of Marina Nemat, an Iranian expatriate living in Canada. Marina was a sixteen-year-old public high school student in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Shah was deposed. During the following religious and political repression she was arrested as an enemy of the state because she had led a strike in her high school demanding the math teacher stop issuing the Khomeini approved propaganda and begin teaching calculus. Because of this and similar actions she was arrested and sentenced to execution.

Prisoner of Tehran is the story of her life in Evin prison and her resulting immigration to the United States. Despite the events occurring more than twenty years ago Prisoner of Tehran is a poignant story because so many similar things are done on a daily basis throughout the world today.

I recommend reading Nemat's book. At times it seems like the story of an adolescent from anywhere in the world trying to grow up. Other times her experiences warn the reader against the extremes of any religion or political group.

I encourage everyone to learn about the Middle East. If your attention has not been focused there yet, it should be. The role the Middle East will play on the future of the world is uncertain, but it is likely to be significant.

Here are some links to Prisoner of Tehran and other books I've read about the Middle East and Afghanistan.