Both my bullet journal and my OneNote notebooks are organizational books that question traditional ideas of what a book is and can be. A bullet journal, though it is in the form of a conventional codex, is sequential, and is sized like a normal book, is unique in that it intermingles art with words to truly capture the rich entanglement of the human mind. A OneNote notebook, on the other hand, does not adhere to the conventional codex form at all. It does not, in fact, even exist outside the realm of OneDrive and the laptop. Yet, its content resembles that of a book. Although it is written in, it is made primarily to be read. Like the bullet journal, its primary reader is also its author, as it is facilitated in a way that prizes organization of one mind in particular – that of its creator. My bullet journal and OneNote notebooks both capture the organizational tendencies of my mind and creating a loading dock for memories and ideas. They reach this goal, however, in completely different ways.
From the outside, my bullet journal looks suspiciously like a book and so I easily view and read it as a book object, although its content is non-conventional. It has a hard cover, a spine and corners, front and end pages, a fly leaf, and so forth. Its binding is very traditional and gathers all the pages together under a single cover. It does not appear to test the boundaries of the book form. Instead, it conforms neatly to traditional ideas of a codex and what it should look like. Ulises Carrión, as quoted by Amaranth Borsuk, contends that “bookworks take on greater importance when the codex itself seems to be imperiled” (Borusk 145). This is not the case for my bullet journal, which I chose for its unassuming and conventional nature; its importance is at the personal, not public, level. Its blank cover, indeed, is a blank slate for creativity.
Rather, a bullet journal toys with the entanglement of text with artistry. In fact, mine has very little text so far, though I envision adding more in the future. Its very form is ideal for artistic creation, albeit a creation that is bounded by the conscribes of the codex’s covers. The paper is thin and dotted, not lined; the dots imply a sense that the book is unfinished – which it is, as the book comes sold without any text added other than that of the introduction and table of contents (and which itself plays with traditional ideas of language as it is written simultaneously in German, English, and French) and without any art added yet. This type of book, one that is intentionally unfinished at purchase, reminds us that “reading is an exchange, and one that is only completed when we arrive” (Borsuk 154). Indeed, many of my bullet journal’s pages currently lie dormant, awaiting the flowing vitality of a pen and human hand.
Unlike most traditional books, the bullet journal is personal. It is not made to be read by others, but rather to record the innermost thoughts and outward mundanities of its owner. In that sense, for a bullet journal-er, “everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book” (see Borsuk 134 and Mallarme’s notion of the book). The table of contents works hand-in-hand with the journal’s purpose to organize thoughts and ideas that would otherwise remain unorganized and even chaotic. To this end, the bullet journal exists as its own, self-contained world. The cover ribbons, moreover, concretize this notion of “closure” and “self-containment.” Yet, there is also a sense of transcendence and temporality alike, found through the thinness of the paper. Not only can the reader, holding the paper up to light, see through to the next page and set of writing, but so too does the writing material itself bleed through, no matter the instrument. These writing instruments, furthermore, are not chosen for their functionality, but for their beauty, as the bullet journal is first and foremost a work of art encapsulated within the covers of a book. My own bullet journal, for example, combines several different types of pens, including the Papermate InkJoy pens, traditional thin-tipped Sharpies, and Zebra Mildliners. These pens are very stylistic of my own personality and feature often in my own life. Thus, even the materials used in the creation of the bullet journal are subtly personal.
The bullet journal differs most differently from the traditional codex because it is quite literally designed to be written and drawn in. Like with other books, the exchange of time and thought with the page is critical; yet, this process, in a bullet journal, does not occur through meditative reading but through vibrant, dynamic creation. In this sense, a bullet journal is akin to an artist’s book, although it does not often test the conventional structure of the codex. It draws the attention of its author alone and foster an expressive space on the page for them to exist and create within the world of the book, making even non-artists into innovative and original creators.
Although my OneNote organizational system contains many of the same strands of content as my bullet journal, it deconstructs traditional notions of what a book is at all. Unlike even the earliest of books, scrolls, it does not exist in the physical world. Yet, it can still be considered a book. Borsuk’s earliest definition of a book is “a portable data storage and distribution method” (Borsuk 1), and there is nothing as portable as the Internet cloud and the laptop used to view it. Moreover, like papyrus, OneNote is popular because “its greatest asset [is] mobility” (Borsuk 19). And, like traditional material texts, OneNote exists “largely for administrative purposes” (Borsuk 21), that of organizing my academic and personal life under a single roof. The names of its subsections – notebooks, sections, and pages – connote the characteristics of physical notebooks, which have merely been moved to the digital realm. Also like a traditional book, in OneNote, “writing’s form and materials developed in dialogue with one another” (Borsuk 24). I write differently in my bullet journal than I do in OneNote. OneNote celebrates multiple ways of writing, thinking, and reading as it allows me to type, highlight, and handwrite simultaneously, whereas a bullet journal celebrates primarily the aesthetic qualities of the handwritten and hand drawn.
My bullet journal and OneNote setup contain much of the same content, yet I am much quicker to categorize my bullet journal as a book than my OneNote. This is because of the digitization of OneNote. But, I consider an e-Book to be a book as much as a physical codex is, because there is often a palpable sense that the e-Book is merely a book uploaded online. OneNote, by contrast, originates online and does not function well physically. It draws on the capabilities of the technologies that house it to encourage a unique dynamic of constant exchange and modification, like the ideal book does between author and reader. And, indeed, OneNote shares many traits with a traditional codex, as outlined above. Because “writing develops alongside, influences, and is influenced by the technological supports that facilitate its distribution” (Borsuk 3), OneNote represents a shining innovation in what we deem a “book.” Its organization is different than that of a bullet journal because of its many sublayers, which are possible only within the digital realm. Within each notebook (Fall 2019, Spring 2020, etc.), are as many as twelve subjects, each with tens of pages within them. This level of organization mirrors the organization I yearn for within my brain and works in tandem with the artistic and aesthetic organization of thoughts and ideas within my bullet journal.
There is no glaring reason, then, for my OneNote to not be a book. In fact, it is perhaps more of a book than a physical book is because it can be easily modified, thus creating a space that simultaneously fosters the preservation of ideas while ensuring that reading remains a truly interactive exchange. Both my bullet journal and my OneNote notebooks record thoughts that would otherwise go unrecorded and organize ideas that would otherwise go unorganized. They differ in how they align with the characteristics of the codex – and the extent to which they align – but are nevertheless both deserving of the title “book.”
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.