Please Take It! A Giveaway of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man

joanna-russ-thefemaleman Joanna Russ (1937-2011),  a lesbian feminist science fiction writer who was as intent on challenging the male SF community as on writing novels and stories for women, won the Nebula Award in 1972 for her short story, “When It Changed.” She incorporated the story into her 1975 Utopian novel, The Female Man, which received a retroactive James Tiptree, Jr. award in 1995.

A male science fiction fan, not a female man, recommended this novel to me in the ’80s:  he read men and women writers with equal enthusiasm.  I enjoyed the postmodern structure of Russ’s text, and the Second Wave feminist ideas.   When I found a copy at Waterstones recently, I was thrilled to see it still in print. But…it is well-written but dated and dogmatic, like rereading one of those wild 1970s radical texts, Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. (She says women will be inferior till they seize the means of reproduction.)  Only, mad as The Dialectic of Sex is, The Female Man purports to be a novel. (The women in one of Russ’s worlds control reproduction.)

The heroine Janet lives in an all-female world, Whileaway.  All the men were killed in a plague and the women live in peace, reproducing by splicing the eggs of the two women (or something like that!).  It’s not a perfect world:  the women work at dull jobs until in old age they are allowed to sit down and work at creative or analytic work.

Janet keeps popping in and out of alternate timelines in different worlds. The women of other worlds have very different values:   Joanna’s world is a 1960s version of our 1960s, where men dominate and women hope not to work, and Jeannine lives in a U.S.  where World War II never happened and the Depression is still going on.  Janet’s acceptance that women are not limited by gender and that lesbianism is natural is radical in these alternate worlds.  At a party in Joanna’s world, women coo at men, act stupid, and hope to find a man. Janet finds the whole thing hilarious.  In the Depression world, Jeannine works at a low-paying job and dreams of wearing the new fashions (constrictive corsets, push-up bras, etc.) and dreams of marriage, which her boyfriend cannot afford and anyway he’s far from her dream guy.

I find all the spouting about sex roles very tiresome, because other feminist writers of that time–Erica Jong, Sheila Ballyntine, Nora Johnson, Sue Kaufman–did this better.  But Brit Mandelo at Tor loves Russ,  as I found on scanning the internet (and Tor is a very good website).  Go here to read her essay, “Queering SFF: The Female Man by Joanna Russ (+ Bonus Story, ‘When it Changed’).

So please take this book!  Leave a comment if you’d like my copy. It is award-winning.  And I do think many of you would enjoy it.

The Real Mad vs. the Literary Mad

Mr. Dick flies kites for therapy.

Mr. Dick flies kites for therapy.

I empathize with the mad. They suffer.  “I have suffered more than Jesus Christ,” a  friend said during a bout of madness.  Shocking, but I understood.  The mad not only do mad things, but remember their madness and suffer. My cousin was escorted by the police from a grocery store for singing in the aisles about poisoned air. After her meds were adjusted she was humiliated by the memory, even though her psychologist assured her the air IS poisoned and she had told the truth during her mania.

Fritz Eichenberg's illustration of Heathcliff.

Fritz Eichenberg’s illustration of mad, suffering Heathcliff.

If only, my cousin said, she had literary madness.  It is easier, we agree, to understand the Literary Mad than the Real Mad.

For instance,

  1. Mr. Dick, Betsey Trotwood’s lodger in David Copperfield, cannot concentrate on writing his “Memorial” because  King Charles I’s head keeps popping up in his own head. He flies a kite for therapy.  He’s a sweet mad character.
  2. Mrs. Bertha Rochester, the mad wife of Rochester in Jane Eyre, is one of the most violent of literary madwomen.  She lives in her husband’s attic, bites a visitor, and, during an escape from the attic, sets fire to Rochester’s bed curtains.  Jane’s discovery of the mad wife destroys her wedding, but gives Jane ample time to reflect on her love for Rochester and for Rochester to repent. In Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre, Bertha is not mad at all.
  3. The unstable Linda in Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City has been on meds for years and lives in pain in the basement of her husband Mark’s house.  Gradually Linda realizes the pills are killing her psychic knowledge.  When she is off the pills, she is able to use her powers.  She’s a good witch!  Only more realistically presented.
  4. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations lives in tatters and chaos because she was jilted decades ago.  She raises her ward Estella to hate men.  Monomania!
  5. Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights  will do anything to get revenge.  Rescued by the kind Mr. Earnshaw, he was a member of the family until Mr. Earnshaw’s death. Then  Hindley Earnshaw trampled him under and made him a servant, and Catherine Earnshaw married Edgar Linton even though she loved Heathcliff because it would “degrade” her to marry him now that he was fallen so low. Heathcliff goes so far as to kidnap  Catherine’s daughter Cathy and force her to marry his son.    Madness!

With the exception of Mr. Dick,  Linda, and Bertha in Jean Rhy’s novel, these are thoroughly unpleasant characters.  And we meet some of the unpleasant mad in real life.

Fritz Eichenberg's woodcut illustration of Bertha examining Jane.

Fritz Eichenberg’s woodcut illustration of Bertha escaped from the attic examining Jane.

I love my mad cousin, but then she is so pleasant. Not all are so  kind.  When I taught an Adult Ed Latin class for three terms, I had students who loved languages, students who never cracked a book but came to socialize, and one megalomaniac student who had simply run out of people to annoy.   Today I ran into him/her at a coffeehouse, and after ten second’s conversation fled. He/she pretends he has found errors in Wheelock’s Latin, the highly respected first-year textbook he/she never mastered. (It’s complete nonsense:  he/she knows nothing.)  My husband copes by glaring at him/her and not speaking. Why oh why can men do that and I can’t?

In a literary novel, would this student would be one of the Bad Mad or one of Dickens’ mere addled characters?

Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook & the BBC Radio Four Adaptation

The Golden Notebook lessing orig paperbackThe other night I listened to a brilliant BBC Radio Four adaptation of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, dramatized by Sarah Daniels.  If you loved the book, or if you have meant to read Lessing but never gotten around to it, this two-part radio play will inspire or revive your interest.  There is a vividness to listening instead of looking at a stage, though the voices of the heroine Anna (Susanna Harker), a blocked writer, and her friend Molly (Fenella Woolgar), an actress, are not as I imagined. Why?  Apparently I read Lessing’s books with an American accent!  Who knew?  But Harker and Woolgar bring exactly the right mix of trust and impatience to this long-standing friendship:  they are truthful (to a point) and intense, witty and observant, sophisticated and yet raw.  Much of the dialogue comes right out of Lessing’s book.

In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Lessing’s 1962 classic, I posted the following at my old blog about The Golden Notebook. This is a rerun.

Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning writer whose brilliant novels rely as much on her interpretation of history as on the delineation of the lives of modern women, has always denied it is a feminist novel. But for many feminists, its publication dwarfed other historical events of 1962: it had more impact on me than did the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Rolling Stones’ debut, and The United Nations General Assembly’s resolution condemning South Africa’s racist apartheid.

Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing

Her powerful novel centers on Anna, a writer and single mother whose life is fragmented because she somehow cannot write the truth. She has contempt for her best-selling novel about an interracial relationship in Africa, is disillusioned by the reports of communist torture and anti-Zionism in the Soviet Union, and seemingly falls in love only with men who cannot love deeply. But this painful, honest novel suggested alternative futures for women who had decided that society was breaking down, that marriage wasn’t viable, and that they needed to experiment. Lessing chronicles a collapsed society, broken by the trauma of war, fear of the bomb, and emotional frigidity.

So has The Golden Notebook stood the test of time?

It was my favorite novel when I was 15. For some reason, though I was a virgin and my giggling friends and I hung glittered tampons from trees in the yards of boys we liked, I identified with Anna. (A very immature Anna, I might add.)  When I reread it in my 30s I understood Anna’s difficulties with writing (I had sold out as a “pop-culture” freelance writer, and enjoyed writing trivial nonsense), her encounters with men (when you’re divorced in your 30s, you’re lucky if you ever meet a normal unmarried man again), and her radical politics.

The experimental structure of the novel is bold. Lessing alternates sections of a short traditional novel about Anna, “Free Women,” with Anna’s writings in four notebooks–black, red, yellow, and blue–in which she tries to measure out the truth about her life of organized chaos, often writing in fragments, experimenting with different styles, chronicling her experience straightforwardly in the communist party in Africa, her marriage and love affairs, her difficulty with writing. She also writes a novel about an alter ego, Ella, who is more brittle than Anna, but undergoes similar emotional upheaval.

Musing on the post-war fragmentation, Anna observes:

But it isn’t only the terror everywhere, and the fear of being conscious of it, that freezes people. It’s more than that. People know they are in a society dead or dying. They are refusing emotion because at the end of every emotion are property, money, power they work and despise their work, and so freeze themselves. They love but know that it’s a half-love or a twisted love, and so they freeze themselves.

I recognize that emotional freezing.

Lessing newer edition the_golden_notebookIn some ways, this was a novel for its time. Anna’s quest for sexual freedom is commonplace in the 21st century, although it often occurs without intelligence or self-respect: just a “hook-up.” Freudian analysis–Anna has been in analysis with a psychiatrist she calls Mother Sugar, who keeps trying to get her to write–has been replaced by pharmaceutical remedies (at least in the U.S.). Anna’s portrait of her misogynistic gay lodger, Ivor, seems believable in the context of the book–he and his lover mock her, refer to her as a cow, use her makeup, and so she has to throw them out–but many would feel more comfortable if Ivor were rewritten as Paul Rudd’s character in that movie with Jennifer Anniston.  Which is true to the times?

Lessing’s Children of Violence series, about the heroine Martha Quest, treats similar material. The first three novels, Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, and A Ripple from the Storm are traditional in form, the fourth, Landlocked, is slightly experimental, and the fifth, The Four-Gated City, is so over-the-top that it makes The Golden Notebook look straightforward; parts of The Four-Gated City are science fiction. Martha is altogether a harder character than Anna–she leaves one unloved husband and daughter, then marries another man she doesn’t love just because they’re in the communist party together, works hard as a communist until the reports of concentrations camps come in, divorces her second husband, and then escapes to England…where I must say unexpected things happen.

Some of you will prefer The Golden Notebook. Political attitudes have changed in the last 50 years, and you have to respect those attitudes of the ’50s and learn from them while you inhabit the book.  Many of Anna’s experiences still ring true.

I can’t wait to reread the book.

Peter Stothard’s The Senecans: Four Men and Margaret Thatcher

senecans-stothard-51dv9clhtalAlthough I look forward to voting for Hillary Clinton (our first woman president, yes?),  I am not particularly interested in politics.

Unless it’s ancient politics.

And I am a fan of Peter Stothard, so I picked up his new book.

In this lively new memoir,  The Senecans: Four Men and Margaret Thatcher, he compares Margaret Thatcher to Nero and her advisors to Nero’s court, especially to Seneca, the Stoic philosopher who was Nero’s tutor and political advisor. As a deputy editor at the London Times, Stothard met often with Thatcher’s four main advisors, who gave him background for The Times’ political articles.  And they shared his interest in Seneca.

Stothard, an Oxford-educated classicist, former editor of the Times Literary Supplement (he retired this year) and  editor of The London Times from 1992-2002, is an elegant, lyrical, witty writer whose style transcends journalism.  He has written two brilliant memoirs, Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra (about his fascination with Cleopatra which I wrote about here and here) and  The Spartacus Road (which I wrote about here).

Even if you are not interested in English history and politics (and the only English history I know, she reveals self-mockingly, is the Tudors via Hilary Mantel and Jean Plaidy), this is a rich, complex, engrossing book. His account of the scenes behind the scenes of power are fascinating, if often grotesque, and I also learned much about the scenes behind the scenes in the newspaper business.  But the real hook for classicists and former Latin teachers like me? He organized a Latin class for the four men at a pub  and reviewed/taught conjugations and declensions and read and discussed Seneca.

Peter Stothard

Peter Stothard

The catalyst for The Senecans is a series of interviews in 2014 by a Miss R., a young historian researching the Thatcher era.  And Stothard was packing up his office for a move from Wapping, where he had worked for 30 years, so it was a good time for reminiscence.

Of the four main advisors in Thatcher’s court, Frank Johnson, David Hart, Sir Ronald Millar, and Lord Woodrow Wyatt, Stothard was most fascinated at first by David Hart, a playwright and film-maker as well as a politician. Stothard compared him to the Roman novelist Petronius’s famous character,  “a fictional tycoon called Trimalchio, a creation of a satire by one of Seneca’s own fellow courtiers in the age of Nero, a generous host who terrorized his guests with the theatre of food.”

Sir Ronald Millar disagreed with Stothard about David and Trimalchio.

David was not like Petronius’ monster.  Nor, however, Sir Ronald had to admit, was he quite unlike him either.  I was keen on Latin novels then. There are not many of them to read.  Gaius Petronius was one of the first comic novelists (his grander fans included T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence) and he wrote about food, drink, flattery, death and defecation.  He was Nero’s ‘arbiter of taste’, pet prose master and eventual victim.  Or, at least, some scholars think that he was.  Some think that there was more than one Petronius.  Gaius may not have been the name of either.  There is always uncertainty in distant history, almost always too in the kind that is close.


    Loeb edition

(Petronius’s Satyricon, or Satyrica, is one of my favorite books.)

All the advisors had very different backgrounds.  Frank Johnson, another writer at The Times, disagreed wtih Stothard’s journalistic philosophy: he disliked Stothard’s investigations of political corruption and scandals and thought The Times should only publish analyses biased in favor of Thatcher and the right.  (Later Johnson became an op/ed editor.)  But it was Frank who wanted Stothard to teach him Latin:  the two of them saved the Loebs (a series of classical texts with the Latin or Greek on the left page and the literal translation on the right) from a dumpster when the Times Library discarded them.

Frank wanted to read Cicero, but Stothard chose Seneca as their  subject.  They retired to The Old Rose, a pub, to “do” their Latin verbs and read Seneca.    Ronnie, a trained classicist and veteran playwright,  joined their Latin classes because he saw Seneca as a model politician who manipulated people and had lots of experience with cover-ups.  Woodrow Wyatt, a political journalist and former Labour MP turned right-wing, showed up soon, as did Hart…  They discussed Seneca’s philosophy, wealth, politics, and hypocrisy.

Stothard also writes about Beryl Bainbridge, literary cocktail parties, and collecting first editions and manuscripts.  He recommends Alan Hollinghurst’s  Man Booker Prize-winning The Line of Beauty as the best novel about the Thatcher Era.  (I read it and loved it.)

And he connects this book to Alexandria with more about his childhood and his friend V, a radical girl who was the daughter of Mr. V, a right-wing fanatic who had a sculpture of Seneca made from balsa wood…

What a good read!  Really colorful and enjoyable.  You can read it for the writing or the classics or the history or the politics.

A Swedish Slap in the Face & Five Literary Links

                                                           Five writers who didn’t win the Nobel for Lit.

I love Bob Dylan.

I sang “Idiot Wind” in college during my period; had “Bob Dylan revivals” in my apartment; forgot him during his Jesus freak period;  saw him in concert in early 2000s; and clapped when he won Grammys and an Oscar.

But…I have to say…and I don’t want to offend Bob or any rock stars…  isn’t it a Swedish slap in the American face to give the Nobel Prize for Literature to an American musician?

Dylan wins the Nobel.

Dylan wins the Nobel in 2916.

We have a rich, vibrant literary canon. Think Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Sharon Olds, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marilynne Robinson, Ann Beattie, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Anne Tyler, Louise Erdrich, Louise Gluck, Charles Wright…and so many more.

Toni Morrison deservedly won it in 1994.  No American since.  Now Bob.

I’m flummoxed.

All right, just another bizarre Nobel decision.

And now for five Literary Links!

phone-0m7p7lxsd2w5rke1. Timothy Noah writes at Slate about “The Death of the Phone Call.”  Here’s an excerpt:

It’s a lonely business, this life without telephone calls.

I have a friend named Joe, whom I don’t see often because we live in different cities, and always have. He’s not a close friend, but I like him enormously. I used to phone Joe, or Joe would phone me, a couple of times a year. No particular reason—we’d just check up on each other, exchange a bit of gossip, talk about politics or journalism or our families. I saw Joe recently at a party, along with his second wife and their young son, and was caught up short when I realized that I had no idea what their names were. I had no idea because Joe and I had stopped phoning each other sometime around, well, 2007. When I introduced myself to Joe’s wife (her name turned out to be Dawn) I noticed that my name was no more familiar to her than hers to me.

2. Top 10 books about intelligent animals at The Guardian.

3.  Michael Dirda writes about Ursula K. Le Guin at The Washington Post: “At 86, Ursula K. Le Guin is finally getting the recognition she deserves — almost”

4. Mary Beard considers  Cicero and Clodius, among others, in “What Is a Demagogue?” at  “A Don’s Life,” at the TLS.

5. Gubbinal at Slouching towards Senescence writes about The Fall of the Magicians by Weldon Kees, a Nebraskan poet I’ve never heard of.   She says, “Kees was one of the stranger blokes of the 20th century poetry world and also among the best.”

I love Nebraska lit and can’t wait to read this!

The 1947 Club: Pamela Hansford Johnson’s An Avenue of Stone

1947-club-pinkKaren of Kaggsysbookishramblings is a voracious reader, a sociable blogger, and an indefatigable co-organizer of “The 1947 Club.” What is the 1947 Club? Bloggers and other readers agree whimsically to read and post on books published in 1947–any and all books published in 1947!

It is not so much that I’m unsociable as absent-minded, so I was pleasantly surprised this year when I managed to read a couple of Viragos for Virago month and two books for Women in Translation Month. “So, Go for it, Kat!  You can read a book from 1947,” I told myself.  So It’s  halfway through the 1947 week, and I was about to embark on a book published the wrong year. Yup.  I have this thing:  dyslexia with numbers.

Now that I’m on the right year, I would like to recommend one of my favorite books of 1947 (and of all time), An Avenue of Stone by Pamela Hansford Johnson.

If you don’t know Pamela Hansford Johnson’s stunning novels, you are missing out.  Best known as Dylan Thomas’s girlfriend and C. P. Snow’s wife, she had enough talent and merciless observations to put those two boys in the shade.  A few years ago  I interviewed her biographer Wendy Pollard here.  I appreciated Pollard’s serious work and hope it revived interest in Johnson.  And it is a very good sign that Bello Pan has reissued Johnson’s books in paperback and as e-books.  (Unfortunately the e-books aren’t available in the U.S.)

avenue-of-stone-johnson-my-picture-img_0067-copyingAnd now I am going to cheat a bit by posting old notes on An Avenue of Stone from 2009.

Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Helena trilogy, of which An Avenue of Stone is the brilliant centerpiece, shows Johnson at the height of her powers.  The first book in the trilogy, Too Dear for My Possessing (1940), is a coming-of-age novel:  Claud, the narrator, bickers with and competes against his beautiful, controlling, often wicked stepmother Helena.  After his father’s death, his life is inextricably intertwined with Helen’s, for better or worse.

an-avenue-of-stone-johnson-ebook-9781447215578an-avenue-of-stone-400x0x0To read the second novel first, An Avenue of Stone (1947), is both an advantage and a liability.  Each novel is self-contained, so the order doesn’t matter.  And I loved An Avenue of Stone so much that I went on to read the other two. Johnson says in the introductions to the American reprints that she was learning her craft when she wrote the first book, Too Dear for My Possessing (1940).  The second and the third novels, An Avenue of Stone and A Summer to Decide, published in 1947 and 1948 respectively: “So, between books 1 and 2, I had seven years of learning to write…

She continues in the intro to Avenue, “I was no longer giving way to a too-easy romanticism; I was able to give the book a rather more solid structure.”

An Avenue of Stone is an unforgettable masterpiece. In this brilliant novel, set at the end of World War II, the narrator, Major Claud Pickering, an art historian and writer, describes the volatile relationships of his stepmother, Helena, amidst the deprivations of rationing and the disintegrating class boundaries of the postwar society.

The novel begins with Helena’s ramblings about class.

“As a class,” Helena said, “we are doomed…”

avenue-of-stone-johnson-american-4616293Helena, a former chorus girl who married into the upper class and has established herself as a glittering hostess, loves to talk about the rebellion of the proles. As the novel begins, the sixty-something Helena is entertaining guests with outrageous complaints about the collapse of society, illustrated by exaggerated anecdotes about rude bus conductors and insolent shop girls. After her second husband, Lord Archer, dies, leaving the majority of his money to Helena’s daughter, Charmian, and, shockingly, to his former lovers, Helena can no longer live on the grand scale to which she is accustomed. She is persuaded to let her hunky chauffeur go and move into an apartment with Claud and Charmian. Helena, unused to living without admiration, becomes vulnerable to a kind of asexual love affair with Johnny Field, an irritatingly self-denigrating young man, whom Claud introduces into the household, assuring her that Johnny needs rest and “does nothing but read.”

At first she uses Johnny as a lackey to pass appetizers at parties and install linoleum at her cottage , but later she is fascinated by him and insists that she can’t live without him. Claud and Charmian can’t bear the situation and move out. Johnny the unlikely gigolo, is, surprisingly, a magnet to older women. One of Lord Archer’s former lovers, Mrs. Olney, a lamp shade maker, also tries to lure him to live with her.

Claud’s observations of this unlikely triangle are the center of the novel. But his wry observations keep him in the forefront, and it is for his voice that we read. This very slightly reminds me of Anthony Powell’s novels.

In Which I Discover I Have the Same Notebook as Miss R in Peter Stothard’s “The Senecans”

senecans-stothard-51dv9clhtalI am  behind on book blogging, as some of you may have noticed, whether because of the recent trip to London or the waning of light–who knows?  And I am also behind on reading new books.  (I do intend to read one a week.).  Right now I am in the midlle of Peter Stothard’s engrossing book, The Senecans:  Four Men and Margaret Thatcher.

Stothard, a former editor of the Times Literary Supplement and The London Times, is not only a journalist but also an Oxford-educated classicist who has written two other  brilliant books, Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra and On the Spartacus Road. I come to this book through my love of classics, but many will be drawn to the history and politics.  In this gracefully-written memoir,  he recounts his fascination with Nero and Seneca and compares Thatcher to Nero and at least one of her advisors to  Seneca.  (As a young editor at the Times, he met with them regularly.)

The catalyst for the book is, in part, a series of interviews by a Miss R., a young historian researching the Thatcher era.  She questions Stothard about his journalistic relationships with Thatcher and her advisors Stothard’s prose is always sharp, observant, and often lyrical. (More about this next week.)

He is also witty and often very funny.  I burst out laughing when Miss R. shows up at Stothard’s office with a new notebook labelled Seneca..

When Miss R arrives today she is most pleased by her own notebook, smug I would say but don’t.  This is not a new electronic device.  She holds it so that I can see the printed name, with a stamp from Foyles bookshop, SENECA, its cover page orange and the next place lemon, both colours faintly silvered.  The printed letters of the name are blue-black, the colour of her nail varnish.  SENECA belongs to one of the bookseller’s SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT.

I have the same notebook!  Well, almost.

I couldn’t seem to get out of  Foyles. I bought two  of these small School of Life notebooks. Why?  They remind me of the blue books we wrote exams in. (I always liked the look of those blue books.)

I didn’t find Miss R’s Seneca notebook, but I have Heidigger and Caulfield.

I love notebooks.  I have so many.

Here are some other notebooks I have loved:

The Semikolon notebooks are a tiny bit bigger than the School of Life.  They also fit in a purse.  I used the purple when I tutored a Greek student.  And I took notes in the orange notebook during my mother’s hospitalization a few years ago: “She seemed depressed today.  She didn’t want to cooperate with the PT.  She stopped in the hall after about 10 feet and said she wanted to rest.  The PT said, “Two more rooms and we can rest, okay?”)

I love the paperback Apica notebooks.  The “Ideas for blog” notebook had a a few ideas for a blog, then turned into a bicycling journal.

I used the Miquelius 4 notebook to prep for an adult ed Latin class a few years ago.  (I am teaching indirect statement–which you can see if you can read my indecipherable writing.  And if you can read it, I’ll give you a free book.)  The smaller one is full of lists.

I have so many notebooks.  Too many notebooks.  What is your favorite notebook (if there is a brand)?