Contributing Writer Greg Baldino Investigates the Cultural Staple, Field Notes

Contributing Writer Greg Baldino Investigates the Cultural Staple, Field Notes

The office of Coudal Partners is a functional space, yet elegantly so. On the third floor of an industrial warehouse northwest of downtown Chicago, the space loops around, encompassing desks, and conference table, and a storage/mailing room. Everything looks like work is being done, yet also as though some Feng Shui is at work, laying out an ideal design that works because you don’t notice that it works.

It’s much like their signature product, the Field Notes memo books. First produced in 2007 based off a design by Aaron Draplin, the pocket-sized notebooks are based off the design of old agricultural record books. The standard model is printed with a cover of textured brown paper, made across the lake by the French paper Company of Niles, Michigan, and printed by Service Graphics Incorporated in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. It’s an unassuming yet functional format, one favored by writers such as science fiction author William Gibson, the late filmmaker John Hughes, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage from Mythbusters, and internet messiah Warren Ellis (the one who wrote the new novel Gun Machine, not the one who plays in Nick Cave’s band.)

Looking at the books, the appeal of it becomes apparent. They’re slim, to be sure, but well-made, and being available in ruled, graphed, and blank paper makes them versatile for note-taking of various kinds. Adding to the character of the books are the interior covers, printed with useful information such as a 5” ruler, a guide to hobo signs, a history of shorthand, and "practical applications" for the books, (including, but not limited to, insect studies, magic spells, pirate names, hopes and dreams, and tree fort schematics.) It's easy enough to stick one in your back pocket before you head out the door in case you get any great ideas for a screenplay, or even stick one into the 700+ novel you're reading to keep track of the myriad cast of characters and to remember to look up "antimacassar" when you get back from the coffee shop.

The memo books come primarily in three different forms: ruled, graph, and blank; but part of the brands appeal comes from the many variations they've produced.  Past editions have included the "State Fair" run, which features facts and graphics pertaining to all 50 states of the union, the ledger-printed "Traveling Salesman" editions, and the water-proof/flame-resistant/acid-resistant/ electromagnetically-insulated "Expedition Edition"--which unlike, a smartphone, can still be used in the aftermath of an EMP. The latter edition was produced in conjunction with South Pole with a planned expedition in October 2013 by Ben Saunders and his team to Antarctica, following the path of Captain Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole and back on foot.

Which will mean that Fields Notes products will have then made it to all seven continents. Fans of the memo books have taken them all over, and specialty shops carry them fro sale in places as diverse as London, Dubai, and Réunion, an island off the coast of Madagascar no bigger than Lavaca County in Texas.

With their baseball-themed Day Game editions--dot grid pages covered with brown, green, and white--Coudal Partners has expanded the possibilities of the Field Notes bran into publishing, with Kevin Guilfoile's novella-length memoir about fathers, memories, and baseball. The story concerns Guilfoile's attempts to solve the puzzle that presents itself to him in his adulthood: Did his father (a long-time employee of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame, now now suffering from Alzheimer's) accidentally come into possession of the bat that made Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit and give it to the author when he was a boy? Trying to find an answer takes Guilfoile into his youth, his father's history, and the memorable personalities of baseball games from long ago. Fitting somewhere between the styles of Paul Auster and Michael Chabon, it's a captivating tale that appeals beyond the audience for baseball anecdotes. It's a memoir, it's a mystery, it's a story about what memory means and what happens when those memories change. It's about what fathers mean to their sons. Guilfoile, whose books include The Thousand and Cast of Shadows, has written a book that inspire recollection and reflection and writing.

And conveniently, it can be ordered right along with notebooks and pens to do so with.


Field Notes memo books and Driving the Gap can be ordered directly from

 Greg Baldino lives and writes in Chicago where he looks after a persistent succulent and an aggregating plethora of books and paper. He is a regular contributor to Newcity, Bleeding Cool, and Rain Taxi.




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