"He Woke Up Thinking" – Chatwin’s Notebooks

WE ARE all particular, I suppose, about not just the time, place or instrument we choose with which to write, but about the actual physical “place” we store the words. What feels like the best “receptacle.” I buy notebooks. All kinds. I’ve brought them home from London, Salvador, Bahia, Paris. I’ve purchased them them in Silver Lake, NYC, Seattle, Berkeley. Friends have handmade them for me out of pages that look like the Plan de Paris or the hard cardboard of Cuban cigar boxes. I’ve bought gorgeous ones imported from India and Italy. My favorite size tends to be 5×7 or a tad larger. I like to write in sketchbooks. I think it has to do with being able to have clear space as well as “fold” the covers back. Like running in a field. I do carry around a notebook (smallish) always — I could say that it comes from the reporting habit, but I can’t remember a time that didn’t. Strangely, so many of the fancy ones stand empty, while the plain five & dime versions get filled up quickly. Elizabeth Chatwin, wife of writer Bruce Chatwin, speaks here about “recording one’s impressions,” cameras, notebooks, etc. — her husband’s choice and why — and when and why he might put down his Leica and instead pick up a pen. How do we best get back to that image or memory, that moment of face: Photograph or words?

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