• Lisa Rivero
  • What's In Your Red (or Yellow) Spiral Notebook?
What's In Your Red (or Yellow) Spiral Notebook?
Written by
Lisa Rivero
April 2010
Written by
Lisa Rivero
April 2010
I don't know what I like more about Patricia Morrisroe's "More Than Enough Hours in Every Day": the author's mother-in-law's red spiral notebook filled with book lists, or the thought that I might need less sleep as I age and will have more time to do all the things I want to do.

I have a friend who keeps a similar book list, not only of books she's read (and when she read them and what she thought of them), but also books she wants to read. It's the kind of task that might seem pesky in the moment, especially for people who aren't natural list-makers or who feel they have precious little time to read books much less record them, but it can be very satisfying over time, like adding one penny at a time to a gallon jar. Even in the short term, such a project might give us more satisfaction than we might expect. Tyler Cowen in Create Your Own Economy suggests we can get pleasure from "mental-ordering," perhaps especially in our modern world of information overload. I've never thought of myself as very good at organization in general, but reading his book helped me to understand why I get an inherent joy from the work I do as a freelance book indexer. Starting with another's book manuscript, and pulling and creating order from it so that readers can find what they are looking for or curious about is the ultimate organization word game. Since reading Cowen's book, I have looked for ways to re-create that pleasure in other areas of my life, such as sometimes planning weekly menus rather than cooking whatever I can make with what is in the refrigerator, or putting together a calendar of writing tasks. But I think that the Red Spiral Notebook is another source of pleasure that we often overlook: Listing not what we want or need to do (which can become a source of anxiety and pressure), but listing what we have done (a source of accomplishment). Morrisroe writes of her mother-in-law:
"Having worked her way up through James Joyce’s shorter works — next to Darcy, she’s crazy about Stephen Dedalus — she has recently embarked on ‘Ulysses.’ 'Since all the action takes place over the course of one day, I do think it probably should be a little shorter,' she says. 'One thousand pages for 24 hours? What’s Bloom doing that’s so interesting?' At the moment, she has only reached page 12, because she’s determined to look up and record every unfamiliar word in a separate yellow notebook. Two pages are already filled up."
I'm reminded of another friend who told me recently that she and her 88-year-old mother read together Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, sharing a passion for words long-distance, in the words of my friend, "another way to homeschool." Life-long learning doesn't get any better.

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  • Lisa Rivero

    Cheryl and Deborah, thank you both so much! Soon after I posted this I left for London, then soon after on another trip to visit my family, and I didn't see these generous replies until now. They made my day! Thanks, again. (And hurrah for notebooks!)

  • Cheryl Wright

    What an awesome practice. I tingle over the notebook for recording new and interesting works because I too, have a notebook for capturing new words in the books I read. Again, what an awesome practice.

  • Lisa, I just found your post -- I will link to it in my mashup this Friday. I used the title "What's in YOUR Notebook" for my She Writes on Fridays post last week and then did a search just now and found we had a little mind meld! Great minds and all, haha. Loved reading this. Take care, Deborah