Notebooks Are So Hot Right Now

notebook

No, really notebooks are so hot right now. As you guys may know, I’m a big fan of diaries, sketchbooks, notebooks and all things handwritten and vaguely journal-y. Last week I posted a wee photo album of my current notebook setup, and I often post pictures of my sketches and various doodles on my Tumblr and Instagram accounts. Unsurprisingly both these platforms are where the majority of attention for my work comes from due to the large artistic and image-sharing base of these websites. Sites like Penaddict, Tumblr blogs and online communities dedicated to discussing the art of diary and notebook keeping are becoming ever more popular. It all ties in to the hipster, thrifty new-age alternate lifestyle subculture that sort of rejects modern products and fetishizes the outdated and less efficient but nonetheless nostalgic & capable technology such as film cameras, typewriters, record players, paper notebooks & diaries, single gear bikes and other outdated items (obviously only to a point- we still need those fancy iPhones to update our Instagram and Twitter feeds to tell you all about the old stuff we use!). Basically, the kind of still that you might pick up in a thrift shop, see propped up in trendy bars or coffee shops, blogged about on new-age news sites, or in the skip behind an Artisanal Portland Kale Garden & Free Range Hemp Chickpea Commune. As much as I’m not a fan of a lot of the arrogance and pretentiousness that goes hand in hand with hipster subculture (though I think I probably despise the ‘cool-to-hate-hipster’ sub-subculture even more, if that makes sense), I am a bit crazy for all things old-fashioned and vintage. Growing up with a grandfather who has literally sheds of old tools, equipment and hoarded pieces of technology from the past 80 years that he still uses day-to-day, I have a bit of a fascination with ‘old stuff’ and trying to adapt or use it in everyday life. This entire movement is very heavily rooted in steampunk and dieselpunk too, of post-war technology and historically anachronistic designs that also appear in a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, something that I’ve always been very interested in. We’re focusing on notebooks today though, more particularly a style of notebooks people seem to love. Describing it is hard, but the consistent ideas and forms people seem to like most in my own notebooks are:

Pages that are overflowing with content– streams of consciousness and entire pages filled it up with drawings and tightly packed words, with no spaces left empty. This idea that paper is at a premium and that each space must be filled gives your pages a historical, valuable feel- as traditionally often paper was at a premium, and those with an expensive diary or notebook would not waste space or paper, or that on their travels it was the only book they had with them, and were forced to fill each square inch with as many observations as they could.

Excessively random or Obsessively neat and academic– both of these approaches emulate an academic look to your notebook. The first presents it as a constant stream of consciousness, an artistic approach in which all your ideas are spilling onto the page. It has an eccentric, artistic approach that you might expect to see from a traveller or explorer, filling up each page with observations and ideas coming in faster than there is time to writer. On the other hand, an academic, super neat approach speaks to the scientific- it’s sometime you’d expect to see in a maybe Mary Ward‘s journals, or the sketches of an inventor in the industrial age.

Annotations, Annotations, Annotations – notes, subnotes, references, margins, bibliographies, notes and observations, corrections and hastily pasted in notes from other journals- these are the hallmarks of observation and study. Old journals are stuffed with these, with hand drawn illustrations and diagrams then carefully annotated and explained. Not only does it make your journal appear like a work that can be studied and instructed, but it shows that it’s a constantly evolving work that isn’t a work of art but rather something used to learn and teach. Check out How to Train your Dragon 2– does he care if his notebook looks neat? Hell no! It’s stuffed full of notes and extensions and crudely pasted on maps- it’s a journal being used! Which leads me to…

Well TraveledWell Worn, Well UsedThis is something best described as “What Indiana Jones would carry in his satchel“, is something that applies not just to notebooks, but also to satchels and clothing. People like the idea of stuff getting used, worn out, hastily fixed and flecked with rust and grit. They want things not simply sitting on a coffee table waiting to be looked at but not touched, but things that have a history, that can make them feel like they got their hands dirty and worked at something. It’s all a part of the distressed, recycled and well-worn fashion that spreads from everything to clothing, automobiles or interior design. Your notebook should not be handled like a religious text, but shoved in bags and stuffed in your pocket, torn and ripped when the time suits it, and treated like apiece of equipment. You want your notebook to tell the story of where you traveled just by looking at it. Indiana Jones didn’t have time to worry if his notebook wasn’t getting scratched, he was busy fighting nazis! When he got wet, burnt or covered in grime & old mummies, he just dusted himself and his notebook off and got back to work!

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I’m Writing a Story!

Well, trying at least. Look, grammar and spelling are my two pet hates in the world- I try to get things down on paper so fast with my imagination racing at a mile a minute that it leaves ample time to see if everything actually reads well. But I love writing, and I’ve always loved writing stories, scripts, poems or whatever takes my fancy. I’ve been working on a new idea for quite some time now, spending a lot of time both planning it (something I’m also notoriously bad at) and creating the world and setting that has both continuity and life outside of the story.

Pictured: Planning. Or Alternatively; evidence of an insane man.

Pictured: Planning. Or Alternatively; evidence of an insane man.

 

So, what I figure is posting the first part of my story here, as well as the rest of the story as I write it. It’s only a first draft, but I figure I’ll update it as I go on my blog so that I can keep track of it better myself. Since the story is presented a bit like a diary, I figure it works on the blog quite well. I don’t want to let on anything about the wider plot, but what I’m presenting is essentially the character of Jamie, his journey and an accompanying history of an Island. Give me feedback! I want to know what I’m doing wrong!

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EssRec- Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

EssRec! My genius marketing term for Essential Recommendations in which I rattle off essential recommendations; be it books, films, games, trailers or whatever. This is my very first ‘EssRec’ so I thought I would start it off with a bang! An unconventional, wordy and incredibly niche bang! but a bang! nonetheless. Allow me to introduce you to:

Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

by Brendan Keogh

Information at Goodreads, Available from Amazon, Gumroad.

Bang!

Art by Daniel Purvis

I’ve spoken before about how I believe Spec Ops: The Line to be one of the most important games in modern video game history. From its sweeping criticisms of modern game design, war, the effects violence and killing in both the real world and it’s portrayal in entertainment, a story line that deals with complex issues such as PTSD, war crimes and the current political climate and characters that are so real and developed you feel a definite, if at time strained and regrettable connection with, Spec Ops is bold, brash and unapologetic as it forces you to experience a spiral of escalation and ugly look at the true human condition. It’s a game I’d recommend everyone play and experience and please, please if you have not or do not know the story don’t read this book, and don’t spoil it for yourself! This game is meant to be played without any knowledge or expectation of what you’re going to experience. The ignorance and shock of going into this game fresh is its defining feature.

Anyway I’m not here to gush about the game, but rather this Brendan Keogh’s brilliant 177 page piece about it. He writes a book that is the perfect companion piece to the game and will keep you thinking about Spec Ops for years to come. He goes through the story chapter by chapter, missing nothing, questioning and analyzing everything. His criticisms, comparisons and references are spot on but also have a brilliant accessibility his writing isn’t pretentious or overly academic (which is, admittedly, what I thought I was going to be in for when I bought it)- Keogh writes like a true fan of the game, speaking honestly about his experiences with it- both good and bad. The best part is his charting of the characters journey- pointing out the flaws, mistakes and shifting intentions and mindset of the main character. Killing is harmless is a good remedy to a problem that plagues video games, especially ones as complex and detailed as Spec Ops– that of length. Games that run over dozens of hours and that potentially take you days to finish are hard to follow at times- understandably, how are you to remember the intricacies of a two-minute conversation after hours of gameplay and other scenes? There’s no ‘Previously on Knights of the Old Republic’ like you’d get on 24. Keogh’s piece bridged the gap nicely, and his in-depth look at the music and soundtrack was a particularly high point, as it was something I’ve been hoping to find discussed in depth for some time.

I don’t want to spoil anything else- either the game or the book, but I would recommend it highly. Well researched, fulled referenced and very well written, it’s great read if you’ve just played or enjoyed Spec Ops: the Line. The best way to enjoy it, I found, was to read a chapter of the book, then play that chapter in the game. You’ll see things you never noticed before, I swear.

Finally, If you enjoyed Spec Ops or Killing is Harmless, I can also recommend a brilliant two part Extra Credits video on it (Part 1 is spoiler free, part 2 is all spoilers all the time!) and the review on Zero Punctuation (hint: he likes it!) as well as a pretty good analysis by Errant Signal. If you’re in a reading mood, this piece by Tom Bissell is very good. Enjoy!

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The Post-Apocalyptic (literary) Survival Guide

The combination of a recent buzz around the (now confirmed fake) ‘Survivor 2299’ website that was purported to be a teaser for Fallout 4, as well as my own new Fallout: New Vegas video series has made me realise my love for post apocalyptic fiction and settings all over again. If it came to nailing down a favourite literary genre, post-apocalypse rules the roost for me. The gritty survivalist and the under current of real fear for an end to society as we know it fascinates me and combined with the 50’s and 60’s technological optimism and concurrent, constant threat of nuclear inhalation is what drew me into the Fallout series of game so much. Apocalypse fiction often gets criticised as cliched, but I think that’s coming more out of the over saturation of ‘Zombie Culture’ that has been exponentially growing for the past few years (on a related note, I’ve left out World War Z from this as I think ‘zombies’ are pretty much a genre of their own at this point). The kind of apocalyptic setting I like the most usually harks back to the 1950’s- from things like the cosy catastrophes of Day of the Triffids to darker, bleaker works like The Road, A Boy and His Dog or The Earth Abides. The Zeitgeist of Nuclear war and global annihilation of the Cold War has always been a big draw for me creatively, and also fascinates me on a historical level.

Because of this, I thought I’d write up a list of what I think it some essential reading, watching and playing when it comes to post-apocalyptic literature. I’ll touch on my favorites as well as some that are essentially cornerstones at the foundation post apocalyptic fiction, and I’ll hopefully cover movies and finally video games later (and possibly in more detail). Either way, here we go!

1- There Will come soft Rains (1950)- Ray Bradbury

You MAY recognise this if you played Fallout 3...

A short story that is based on one of my favourite poems of all time, There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Tisdale. A very short story originally published in a magazine, it tells the story of a robot still carrying out its duties in a house that has been almost destroyed by nuclear way, to a family long since dead. Really thoughtful and touching book, and the reading of the poem is particularly fantastic. Must read if you have 15 minutes to yourself.

2- Earth Abides (1949) – George R. Stewart

Earth_Abides_1949_small

A true cornerstone of apocalyptic fiction (man, get used to reading those words!) that tells the story of a world almost wiped out by plague. The story covers an epic timeline and charts the rise of new cultures in a devastated world and is heart breaking in a personal level. Fallowing the main character and watching a new society rise up around him is told so incredibly, it’ll leave you wanting more. Brilliant book and very ahead of its time.

3- The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy

The-road

Brutal, terrifying and not for the faint of heart, The Road is an incredible story of survival in a world and humanity during its dying breaths but it’s heavy, bleak and very depressing. This however, only makes the small uplifting moments that much more wonderful. It was faithfully adapted into a movie 2009 and is a recommended watch, however the book is still leagues ahead. Also contains what is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying passages in any book ever (spoilers! Don’t read that article until you read The Road!).

4- A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) – Walter M. Millar

Miller 1959 - A Canticle for Leibowitz

Remember how I said Earth Abides was epic in scale? Yeah, compared to A Canticle for Leibowitz, Abides takes place in the blink of an eye. Taking place over the course of thousands of years, it charts the story of a group of monks protecting what knowledge remains of a world devastated by nuclear war and watching as the new civilisations begin to repeat the same mistakes again. I fully admit right now, I have never read Canticle– I have always had it on my list but never fully gotten around to it. That said, it is safe to say it is an essential read to anyone wanting to immerse themselves in both apocalyptic and science fiction literature.

5- The Stand (1978) (1990 complete & uncut edition) – Stephen King

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Everyone should read at least one Stephen King book, and if you do, let it be… 11/22/63 but if you read TWO then definitely read The Stand, one of King’s most famous (and longest) works. The Stand charts the odyssey of several characters as they survive in a world devoid of all but 0.1% of all human beings. In true King fashion though, dark powers are at work and a battle of good an evil soon begins to surface. An epic book in size and depth, King’s story is beautifully written and contains some of the best written characters in any of his work. While I think the story past a certain point leaves a lot to be desired, the initial depictions of the plague and helpless downfall of society is honestly terrifying. While it’s always been true that King is a better writer of characters than plots,  The Stand will still have you hooked by page five and leave an incredible impact on you.

6- A Boy and His Dog (1969)-  Harlan Ellison

A-Boy-and-His-Dog

Funny, dark, twisted and bizarre, A Boy and His Dog is one of my favourite books in the genre as it inspired so much after it (more on that when we get to Games). The story of a Boy, Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood, it charts his story across a brutal wasteland as they struggle to survive and, in the boys case, have sex by any means necessary. The books are controversial to say the least, but the brutal nature of the characters and their horrible, savage qualities make for some of the most believable characters in a post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read.

Well, that’s my essentials. I know I missed out a tonne, but I want to keep is just slightly concise. Have you got an favourites? Have I missed an out? Tell me in the comments or send me some recommendations! Next time- movies!

 

In Search of a Lost Love Affair

Did I ever tell you guys how much I love trailers? Film trailers, TV show trailers, anything. I love the idea of conveying and selling a film or piece of work in only two minutes or so, utilising the (now rare) art of getting across the plot and selling the film without ruining any of the story. You’ll probably see me post about trailers a lot in the future.

Anyway, my favourite trailer is the extended trailer for 2013’s The Cloud Atlas. It was one of my films of 2013 and an incredible piece of filmmaking in general.

In the aforementioned trailer is a brilliant line, uttered by one of the best characters in the story. Robert Frobisher cannot find the end of a book he was reading, and it’s driving him mad. He writes to his lover, Sixsmith: “Half the book is missing. It’s completely killing me. A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair.”. I always thought that line was brilliant, because it has summed up the feelings I’ve had in regards to an infuriating search for a book I read in high school.

I picked the book up when I was twelve or thirteen and too bored/scared/lazy to hit the playground in High School. From what I remember, It was about humanoid aliens who lived (or had settled) on a dystopian Earth after human society fell apart. Humans live in slums of ruined cities surrounding the alien citadel acting as servants, and are dismissed as primitive and unintelligent, serving as menial workers for the aliens. The plot was told from the point of view of a young female alien and (possibly) involved the discovery or cover up of a plan to kill/sterilise the humans on the planet or cover up their intelligence. That’s all I can clean from my memory of it. I have a feeling I never made it to the end of the book.

Some points I know:

  • The aliens had some kind of ‘halo’ above their heads.
  • There is a section where they discuss anatomy and I feel as if they were described as taller and fitter than the average human
  • They use flying hover cars
  • There is a plot point of either the protagonist or someone close to her escaping in a garbage truck that serves the alien citadel.
  • Another (possible) plot point involves the protagonist wandering the human slums at night, discovering they are more intelligent than she believes or possibly evidence of a more sophisticated human culture (which makes me think the plot involved some kind of repression or cover up of this fact)
  • There is another plot point where they fly to a doctors summer-house to find him dead (I also think he may have been human. There was something notable about him).
  • The cover featured (possibly) the protagonist flying over the slums of the city in aforementioned hovercar, heading toward the citadel. It had that made think it was from the 80s/70s? Possibly?)

I read this book on and off without much interest in high school and I believe I never finished it. However, years on that book seems to have had more impact and me than almost anything else I’ve read. Every science fiction book I read reminds me of it. I don’t remember particularly liking it, but the fact I remember it so vividly makes me desperate to find it and properly read it. I have a feeling it was the first true science fiction book I ever read. I’ve googled everything I know, I’ve scoured Wikipedia pages and TV Tropes entries, I have stopped at every bookshop and even tried to contact the old librarian that lent me the book, all with no luck.

Do you know if this book? If so, tell me! I’ll reward you with all the drawings you could possibly want! I can’t live out my days not knowing the conclusion of this book. A half-finished book, after all, is a half-finished love affair.