When I was a little boy, my mother took me to the mall with her whenever she went shopping for new clothes. Mama, a much-too-young single mother, was a power shopper, a fashionista, the Denise Huxtable of our family. A shopping trip with her took on the tactical skill and physical endurance most armies display in combat. I tired quickly, and when she saw that my boredom was slowing her down, she gave me permission to roam the mall by myself. In later years, Mama said that she never worried I would get lost because she knew I would end up in Waldenbooks. Books held a mesmeric power over me; they still do. But blank books, curiously, enthrall me as no other books can. Anytime I enter a bookstore I feel myself pulled toward notebooks and diaries. Thick ones,...

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