My moleskin, that leather-bound notebook I used to write in, no longer inspires me – probably because everyone, it seems now, has one.

I see mothers with Moleskins writing down the number of naps their kids take. Guys at the gym tote around Moleskins to mark down their reps. I even noticed my shrink taking notes on a Moleskin. Moleskins have become the new Ray Bans.

Just the other day I spotted a person with one and asked if he was a writer.

“No.” he said.
“Why do you have a Moleskin then?” I asked.
“Are you a hunter?” he asked back.
“No” I said.
“Then why are you wearing a flannel checkered shirt?”

He did have a point.

There’s another problem I have with Moleskins. They’ve become so beautiful, I’m intimidated now to even write in them. Just recently, my editor at Vanity Fair gave me one marked Vanity Fair – words and things. I quickly brought it home and put it over the fireplace like a trophy. “Don’t open me,” it says. “Don’t ruin these wonderfully bound pages with your writing, John.”

It does have a point.

My American friends who visit are less inhibited. Moleskins have replaced Ladurée macarons as the first things they buy upon arrival. “When I’m sitting at a café and inspiration hits,” they tell me, “my Moleskin will come in handy.” I’m not sure what I’m more jealous of; their naiveté or the fact they might have inspiration.

Personally, sitting in a café and writing in a Moleskin is too cliché for me. It feels like I’m holding a baguette, wearing a beret, and Robert Doisneau is shooting me from across from the room. But that’s the secret behind Moleskin’s success. They somehow incarnate literary nobility. Since Sartre and Camus wrote in Moleskins we think, so can we. It’s like we want to dress up as a writer without going through the tough stuff. We want to be like F. Scott Fitzgerald without having to drink ourselves to death.

Also in this ephemeral digital age, writing in a Moleskin gives us a sense of permanence, an impression that our writing will have lasting value – something that can’t be lost on a hard drive or stolen on iCloud, and something which one day, hell, might even get published. If that’s the case, I’d love to see the book based on my current Moleskin. The first chapter would go something like this.

call Anne back
call guy about broken boiler
Work out
Diane -01 48786453
check bank account
—–idea animated dog thinks he’s Obama?
call bank about negative balance
loan and interest-1320
monthly charges -320
wifi code – 9876ryft5#22a

I know. I never thought I had a book in me either.

The insidious part about Moleskins is that you’re not allowed to throw them away. You can toss a legal pad sure; a Toy Story notebook yes, but not a Moleskin. And because of this, I have a tub of them sitting in one of those Barbes shopping bags somewhere in my cave.

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Perhaps long after I’m dead, someone will find this bag and read my Moleskins over with a flashlight. What will they say? Will they sit there ruminating over whether I really did call the guy back about the boiler?

The one Moleskin I actually do keep is my mother’s. She had a medium size one when she was living in Paris in the 50’s, and she used it to sketch friends or people in the park or people on the bus. She probably didn’t think much of it at the time either, but for me, it’s one of the things I most cherish. And the reason she probably didn’t chuck it, thankfully, was because…. it was a Moleskin.

That’s the thing about these Moleskins. They’re like paper time capsules, a Facebook movie in book form – something that comes over as personal and meaningful even though it’s mostly filled with crap and drunken nonsense – the same crap and nonsense I scratched down weeks ago, which actually lead to this piece about Moleskins. And here I was saying I wasn’t inspired.

Never judge a book by its cover, yes, but a leather bound Moleskin? Definitely.

click here to read the published version in Mediapart (in French)