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Composition notebooks are those old school bound notebooks with the spakley things on the front. You know what I mean, even if you don't. The one I have right here claims that its dimensions are 9¾ In. x 7½ In, and there's no data on the number of sheets it contains, although I would bet that it's about 100 sheets or so. Standard comp notebooks are only about ½ in. thick, so it can't be that many.

On the inside front cover there is a place for you to put 6 days worth of 8 period schedule information, as well as a place for your name, address, and school. On the inside back cover is "Useful Information," including conversion tables, a multiplication tables, and a few other assorted tables as well as some other useful informtation, such as "An acre measures 208.71 feet on each side. A section of land is 1 sq. mile. A quarter section is 180 acres. A township is 36 sq. miles."

Most comp notebooks are bound with thin cardboard covers, into which paper is sewn. The spine is covered with book binding tape. The advantage of this is that it will lie flat, allowing you to compose freely. On the outside of the cover is the aforementioned speckly pattern. The front outside cover includes a plain white box with the word "COMPOSITION" in large letters along with a space for name, school, and grade. (Whether the 'grade' line is for your current grade level, i.e., ninth grade; as opposed to the grade on the enclosed composition, is unclear.)

The cover itself bears more mention. It's really a beautiful thing. Picture: <http://anotherone0.tripod.com/comp.jpg> It's a sort of marble pattern.

I like comp notebooks because they're just neat. They're just small enough to fit perfectly in the pocket of my favorite pair of cargo pants. Any time I want to, I can whip it out and write down whatever I want to. I write a lot of nodes in one, a battered generic deal with a big Airwalk sticker stuck to the front over the blank part and a big 'E' (for Evan) blacked out of the white bits of the pattern on the back. It's about half full of writeups, and on the last page is a list of things I want to node, and stuff I have noded already. The stuff I've done is neatly crossed off.

(The rest of the page is taken up by a largish, poor quality sketch of the mountain dew logo.)

Like most physical media it is virtually an anachronism in the 21st century when word processors and graphics applications and their host devices are so pervasive and well-supported. Yet the old medium has many qualities - summed up in one word, versatility - which make it more suitable or convenient.

  • cost: cheaper than a moleskine or similar brand of bound blank book, far cheaper than a tablet
  • availability: most stores that sell stationery carry this type of notebook, but university bookstores have the lowest prices and the widest variety - blank unruled, wide-ruled, narrow-ruled, grid-ruled
  • durability: the pages are stitched with heavy thread and the spine is wrapped with a kind of fabric material; the cover is stiff enough to bear down on for writing in the field yet flexible enough to fold in half if needed and still maintain integrity; it won't break if you drop it on the pavement or leave it out in the rain (things that would break a computer)
  • flexibility: paste pictures or draw on the cover to suit your taste; staple or paste extra pages, pictures, graphs, field samples to the existing sewn-in pages
  • longevity: barring extreme calamities, your comp book should last for centuries or even millenia; will never require electricity or any device other than your eyes to read it


Any of these potential benefits may be rendered irrelevant if you ever want to share your work, but if quality isn't an issue, scan it or take snapshots with your phone. But the kinds of writing best suited to comp books are the kinds you don't want to share:

Other good uses for comp books, things you might want to share:

  • lab notebook (often required for chemistry and biology courses)
  • hiker's journal
  • geocaching cache log
  • fake accounting books

The world is undeniably moving away from physical media toward digital media. But consider the immediacy and permanence of a comp book (or any physical media) for you next project; compare the cost to that of making a hard copy of a digitial work. Printer ink is notoriously expensive. It is much cheaper to go in the opposite direction, to make a digital copy of your physical work.

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