The Reader’s Toolbox

Clockwise from top right corner – a Circa Jotlet, Field Notes Byline Limited Edition, generic 5-1/2″ x 8″ softcover journal, Field Notes Sweet Tooth Limited Edition, Levenger business card magnifier, variety of wood pencils (including highlighter pencils), 2 pencil sharpeners, eraser, 3 x 5 Levenger index cards, pencil case, Book Darts, Gimble (hands free reading tool).


When I was in art school I discovered a deep love for the materials out of which art is made: the brushes, the differences in brands of paint pigments, pens and pencils and the cases made to store them.  Hours would go by at Pearl Paint on Canal Street spent looking at different types of paper. This passion for tools has crossed over into my reading life and I’ve accumulated a bunch of little accessories, completely unnecessary, which somehow make reading even more fun. My husband gave me a book bag last Christmas and I’ve taken to carrying it everywhere.  Of course there’s always at least one book (or three) tucked inside, but there are lots of other things too.  Below is a list of my reader/reviewer toolkit –

  • An assortment of notebooks. Of course you probably only need one but, as a friend once said to me, if you’re going in then go in big. I usually have at least two Field Notes notebooks on me at all times.  I like them because 1. – the small, booklet held together by three simple staples and 2. – I’m a bit of a label whore. The Byline Limited Edition is fantastic. It’s a departure from their standard notebook format and was designed with the help of John Dickerson of Face the Nation. I also keep a small Circa Jotlet in the side pocket of my bag. Both it and the Byline are bound at the top, so they flip open and can be held in one hand. It makes it easier to take notes reporter style. I tend to jot down a lot of notes during the day, mostly things I hear or thoughts I might have for a future post. I keep a larger, softcover journal for longer sections of writing, the drafts which will be eventually be incorporated into reviews. All of the notebooks I’m currently using are softcover. I’m less precious about using them and if they get roughed up or filled with scribbles it doesn’t bother me. Whereas there’s something about a hardcover journal that feels like everything recorded in it is for Posterity.
  • Knickknacks
    Clockwise from top left: Book Darts, Gimble (hands-free book opener), KUM Masterpiece Sharpener, M+B Double Hole Brass Sharpener, Staedtler Black Rubber Eraser
    Wood pencils, a handheld eraser & (2) sharpeners. Yes, completely analog. Eventually I hack it out on the Chromebook, but all my initial thoughts and early drafts are put down in longhand using old-school wooden pencils. The benefit of writing by hand is that it forces you to slow down to choose your words and structure your sentences. I also stop more frequently to read over what I’ve written.  To this end I have accumulated a collection of several dozen pencils. Japanese are my favorites. I like softer leads, which generally means shorter point retention, so I’ve also invested in two quality metal hand sharpeners. The KUM Masterpiece Longpoint is a German-made sharpener. It’s a two-blade system, which means you sharpen your pencil in part 1 to extend the lead, and part 2 to shape it into a point that could be used to shank someone. I keep a second, brass sharpener for the fatter, less lethal highlighter pencils that don’t fit into the Masterpiece (no bleeding through the page like markers). Add a colored pencil for editing drafts and at least one rubber eraser and my pencil case is complete. The Erasable Podcast and CW Pencil in NYC have been invaluable resources for putting it together.
  • 3×5 notecards. Ever since reading that Nabokov used index cards to draft his novels I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate them into my writing routine. The best use I’ve found for them is as bookmarks.  I also jot notes on them, usually nothing more exciting than quotes and page numbers. The Levenger cards are nice because of the vertical format, but pricey. Mine were a gift and I probably won’t replace them once they’re gone.
  • A magnifier. I haven’t needed one yet – but it seems like a good thing to have.  Another gift.
  • Magnifier2
    Magnifying Card
    Book Darts.  I am a Book Dart evangelist. These smooth, sexy, pointed metal clips that slide onto the edge of a page are fantastic for marking passages & quotes you want to reference later. IMHO the darts are vastly superior, and more environmentally friendly, than post-it-notes (which fold and become ragged over time). I cannot live without them.
  • Something to keep the pages of my book open. For those times when you need a page open and your hands free, like when you’re typing out a passage from a book.  The Gimble, which is what I use, isn’t aesthetically pleasing but it gets the job done for a fraction of the price of one of those fancy leather book weights. Plus it fits into my pencil case!

That’s it! Well… except for a confession: I’ve written this post for purely selfish reasons. As I was thinking about my own book bag I couldn’t help wondering if I’m the only one.  I am genuinely curious….do YOU have a favorite bookmark, or write on a vintage typewriter (or have a vintage typewriter sound app for your laptop)?  Do you collect fountain pens? write on stacks of yellow legal pads? put notes in the margins of your books? Please share what is or isn’t in your reading toolbox in the comments.


8 thoughts on “The Reader’s Toolbox

  1. Wonderful, wonderful – and I think you will find an avalanche of responses to this post! In my experience, readers and writers are also stationery lovers…

    I too like those little post-its or arrows that you can use to mark a page, but find that the cheaper supermarket own-brand ones tend to fall out or become unsticky. So I will keep an eye out for your Book Darts, as that sounds like a much better option.

    I collect all kinds of notebooks (some are presents) and always have one in my handbag, but my favourite for writing (because of the superb smoothness of the paper) is Rhodia’s classic pad. Plus, the bright orange means you never lose it in the depth of your bag.
    (I promise, I’m not paid to advertise for them).

    I don’t much like marking the books I read, even with pencil (although I used to do it all the time when I was a teenager), but I do like to write out key words, names, ideas in my notebook as I read. And for that I prefer the gel pens by Pilot or Uniball. Some of them come in glittery or fancy colours – which can help to highlight something I might refer to later. (Also very handy when I’m writing my own work).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marina! I think the Rhodia pads are beautiful, I love that shade of orange, but for some reason I have never owned or tried one. I’m not sure why that is…


  2. This is like one of those old surgeon’s kits for readers. I’ll have to go out and get equipped. I’ve always collected leather journals and pens (my dad started me on it when I was young). We travel so much, though, that I’ve resorted to trying to do everything digitally now with note keeping and such. It’s more convenient, but I wonder if the sacrifice of that pencil scratching out ideas on a piece of paper free from the binary confines of a computer system has really been worth it.


    1. Owen, that’s a good question. As I read your comment I was thinking how one challenge I have with the notebooks is creating an organized system of what I write in each. Right now it’s a free for all and unlike the computer you can’t easily move your thoughts from one folder to another. So I guess digital definitely has convenience on its side. 🙄


    1. Morning Stu! I am not a huge fan of hardcover notebooks, and I agree that the Moleskine are overpriced. I don’t think we have a knock-off version in the US, at least none I’ve seen. But Target stores here do carry really nice generic notebooks and, honestly, I don’t see much difference in the paper quality when compared to the pricier ones.


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