How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

Most stationery blog posts focus on reviewing products and less on how people actually use all the paper, pens and inks that they buy. I thought I’d try to write a bit more about how I use my stuff, and not just on how cool is all the stuff I have.

This is my latest Field Notes, the Campfire Night. I use a binder clip to keep it closed as it bashes around in my backpack. Without the clip the pages get crumpled and torn after a few days of use. The clip used to be nice and copper coloured but now is just nice and worn silver.

Apart from my day to day to do lists, this notebook currently hosts my Tournament of Books trackers. There’s a list of books that are participating in the contest, divided per round. Those that I’ve read are marked off with blue pencil. This is for my personal use, so you’ll not see any Instagram level calligraphy here. I wasn’t planning to photograph this and blog about it when I created these.

This is where I’m logging who I think should win each round. When the tournament starts I’m going to log who actually won each round on the opposite page.

Since doing this challenge means reading 18 books in a very short period, I’m tracking my reading progress in this notebook as well as in my reading journal, just to make sure that I’m on track (I won’t finish reading these in time, as I’ve started too late, but my goal is to finish reading them all by mid April).

That’s it.

Kaweco Liliput Brass Fountain Pen Review

A certain famous young actress, whose work I love, was recently photographed while pensively holding the copper version of this fountain pen, and this summarises this pen perfectly: it’s very, very photogenic.

I got this pen at a close out sale in a local art supply store, and the only reason I was tempted to buy it was because it was so shiny and pretty and at bargain price. Even so, I should have left it to languish unloved at that store’s counter. This is not a good pen. It’s not even a usable pen. It’s a lovely prop.

As its name suggests, this pen is tiny. You can’t use it unposted, and even posted it’s far from comfortable to use. I have tiny hands and even for me the Kaweco Liliput, posted, is just a hair breadth above the Steinbeck stage.

How does the pen write? Fine, as long as it writes. This is a fine nibbed pen and it writes like a Japanese fine nib (despite being made in Germany), if the Japanese fine nib that you have in mind has serious flow issues. The nib constantly dries up. I used a Diamine blue black cartridge in it (there’s no really viable converter option for this pen), a good, middle of the road ink, and the Liliput behaved as if I was using the driest ink ever and had left it uncapped for at least 10 minutes before I started writing. I wouldn’t even call it a writing experience, as so little writing went on. Start, stop, shake. Start, stop, shake. Nothing but shaking would get it writing again for another letter or two.

The pen is already starting to show some patina, which is excellent (you buy a brass pen for the patina potential after all). This means that it will only look better with time. If you’re a petite actress trying to look pensive and sophisticated for a photo op, this is wonderful news for you — the Kaweco Liliput Brad’s is the perfect pen for you. Everyone else: spend your money elsewhere.

Tournament of Books: Call Me Zebra

I just finished reading the fifth Tournament of Books 2019 book, Azareen Can Der Vlier Ollomi’s “Call Me Zebra“, which is running against Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight” in the first round of the competition.

So Oloomi had a great premise — to write a modern take on Don Quixote with a young woman, an Iranian refugee, at its centre. That’s where the great parts of this novel end. Zebra, the main character, has none of the charm or pathos of Don Quixote. She’s insufferable – selfish, childish, bigoted, narcissistic, clinically cerebral, depressed and depressing. She also doesn’t change until the very, very end, much like Don Quixote, and her adventures are similarly repetitive, but without the humour and warmth of the original Cervantes. But what is worse is that Oloomi has piled so much literature on the narrative that it’s unreadable. It’s like reading a laundry list of quotes and literary factoids which you are expected to plow through to get to a glimmer of plot or dialogue.
It was so bewildering to me that “Call Me Zebra” got good reviews that I went and read them. It’s pretty clear that the reviewers didn’t read the book through – they just skimmed the first bits (the most interesting parts in the novel), and then just wrote the reviews based on that and the excerpt that they got.
I’m reading this as part of the Tournament of Books 2019, and the book has managed to make it to the first round (against the almost equally terrible “Warlight”), while excellent books like “America is Not the Heart”, “Speak No Evil” and “A Terrible Country” are languishing in the play-in round. In the end I couldn’t care less if “Call Me Zebra” or “Warlight” win this round (“Call Me Zebra” is marginally better because of the first part of the novel, the description of the family’s exile from Iran), but I do wish I knew how they got selected to participate in the first place.

Oh well, the next book up won the Man Booker prize in 2018, so I am expecting a better reading experience.

Moleskine Pokémon Charmander Limited Edition Review

Moleskine’s Pokémon limited edition notebooks are some of the most attractive and colourful ones that the company has come out with in recent years. Even if you aren’t a fan of the franchise you might want to pick one of these up, just for their design. Also, if you’re looking for a gift for the Pokémon fan in your life, look no further. Even if they aren’t a notebook fan they’re bound to love these gems.

The cover design, with the paper wrapper still on, is fantastic. You can see little Charmander dreaming of when he’ll be all grown up and a Charizard. It’s cute, perfectly aligned with the wrapper, and the colour contrast with the black background really make Chaemander pop.

Dreaming Charmander
The back cover. I love how understated Moleskine’s logo is.


The cover looks great even without the wrapper, which is a thing because Moleskine has created designs in the past that look much better with the wrapper on than they do unwrapped. The only thing that could make this cover better is if dream Charizard was embossed on the cover, adding a little texture to it. On the other hand, that would have almost certainly made the design less durable over time, so I guess that’s it’s good that Moleskine went for a simple print this time.

Inside the front cover you are greeted by a multitude of very happy Charmanders, and that design continues in the back.

Just look at the perfect alignment of the print on the back pocket. Also, way to go Moleksine for fully embracing the cute.


Instead of the usual specially designed sticker set, this edition gets Pokéball bookmarks. Again, these are super well designed, but like all bookmarks of this type, they’re not likely to hold up to much use.

The B-side of the wrapper shows the various evolutions of Charmander (Charmeleon, Charizard), which is nice, if not Moleskine’s best B-side idea yet.

There are two more notebooks in the Moleskine Pokémon limited edition set and I’ll review those later on. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a cool gift (that costs less than a Nintendo Switch) for the Pokémon lover in your life, this is definitely it.

A few journaling tips

Notebooks are meant to be used, and I use many of mine for journaling. Here are a few journaling tips that I’ve found useful over the years:

  • Don’t constrain yourself to pre-dated or restrictive formats, just pick a not too fancy lined or blank notebook (or dot grid or squared). The notebook just needs to be nice enough and special enough for you to want to crack it open and write in it, but not too nice to be intimidating.
  • Start with a title and a date. The title is a neat way to get yourself writing, and to help you search through previous entries later on.
  • Even lined notebooks can be doodled in.

  • Stick bits and pieces of things into your notebook to make it come to life. Business cards are great for this (restaurants usually make their cards extra interesting and colourful), as are ticket stubs, clothing tags, labels, etc. Write a little something about what you put in, or just let the graphics speak for themselves.
  • If you just feel like writing a line or a paragraph, then do it and don’t beat yourself up about it.
  • If you’re having an extra busy day that you want to remember but don’t have time to fully log, bullet points are your friend. You can always go back and flesh them out later if you feel like it.
  • Write 2-3 things as topics for each day to avoid describing your breakfast and what you did at work. Just document a few things that made the day memorable, special, interesting, fun, unique, or even just a thing or two that are on your mind right now and you want to hash out.
  • Did you see a TV show or movie you liked? Read a good book or went to a good restaurant? Write about it as a way to relive and capture your good experience.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Put cringeworthy things elsewhere, or you won’t want to open that notebook again. I work through pain and loss in my journaling sometimes, but never anger. Obviously your milage may vary on this one, just be careful not to make yourself be afraid to open a pandora box that you created with your own writing.

Tournament of Books 2019: Warlight

I just finished reading the fourth Tournament of Books 2019 book, Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight“. It’s in the first round of the competition, running against Azareen Can Der Vlier Ollomi’s “Call Me Zebra“.

This book should have been named “Utter Drivel”. It’s not a bildungsroman, not a war story, not a spy story, not a story about post WWII London or Britain. It’s not a story at all, just a collection of unbelievable and uninteresting scenes, repeated again and again, and connected by wild circumstances that are yet again, unbelievable. The characters are, you guessed it, unbelievable phantoms with nothing to make them feel real, likeable, or anything really. It’s as if you’re wandering in the fog with Ondaatje, neither of you having any sort of clue where you are and where you’re going. It’s not even truly bad, it’s just boring and pointless, which is what makes it so frustrating.

I’m surprised that it was published, and even more surprised that it made it into the first round of the Tournament of Books 2019, while excellent books like “Speak No Evil”, “A Terrible Country” and “America Is Not the Heart” were left to battle it out in the Play-Ins. I haven’t yet read “Call Me Zebra,” but it’s going to have to be terrifically bad to lose against this pointless book.

Tournament of Books 2019: America Is Not the Heart

I just finished reading the third Tournament of Books 2019 book, the final play-in contestant “America Is Not the Heart” . It’s up against “Speak No Evil” and “A Terrible Country“, which are both excellent books that I highly recommend that you read, and I’m pretty sure that it’s going to win.

“America Is Not the Heart” is an immigrants’ tale, a romance, a family saga, and a bildungsroman met in a Filipino restaurant and “America Is Not the Heart” came out.
Ignore the reviews that say that this is a difficult or confusing read. The characters have flashbacks every once in a while. That’s the big challenge of reading this fascinating book, full of rich characters and interesting glimpses into the history, culture and lives of Filipinos both in the Philippines and in the US. It’s a also a touching love story (with some pretty graphic sex scenes), a story about the importance of family, especially the one that you create for yourself, and a story about women overcoming PTSD (whether it’s from growing up starving poor or from being held captive and tortured in a military camp for two years). What’s amazing is that the result is an interesting book with a lot of heart that you just can’t put down, despite the tough topics it deals with. It’s a testament to the skill of Castillo that she manages to pull all that off, and in her first novel too.


This Week’s Long Run: A Day Early

It was supposed to rain heavily on Saturday morning (of course it only drizzled), so I pushed my weekend 10k from Saturday morning to Friday evening. There was a very brisk wind and I could see the storm clouds gathering as I ran (it did rain heavily throughout the night), but otherwise it was perfect running weather, not to hot, not too cold, and dry.

There were a lot of people out and about in the park, so I had less wildlife photo-ops than usual. An Egyptian goose taking a nap at the riverbank:

The “sea scouts” taking their distinctive green boats out:

Cormorants getting ready to sleep on a eucalyptus tree:

All in all it was a good run, even though I still prefer to get my long runs in in the morning. And to those who listened to this week’s “This American Life”: Tootles!