Through my years of school, university, working in journalism and simple personal writing, I’ve gone through a few notebooks (or journals for those of you that don’t like the moniker ‘notebook’). By a few, I’m guessing between four and five hundred. Working for various newspapers taught me more about paper than I ever thought I’d want to know. After all these years, I also know what I like and what I don’t. These are my thoughts on the various journals available on the market today.
And before we get too far, yes I have a fountain pen (a Mont Blanc) and I do not use it. Ever. Sure, they’re elegant and an old-world work of art. But they’re fussy, a monolithic mess and a general pain to use. Transporting them in a bag or jacket is a recipe for disaster, in most cases. So none of my observations are from the point of view of using a fountain pen. Ballpoint, pencil, gel ink or rollers are my usual tools of the trade.
Journals have to tick a certain number of boxes for me. They have to have a certain quality of paper. They must hold up well over time and extended use. Craftsmanship has to be at a fairly high bar, particularly when compared to the price (value ratio). I prefer a hardbound book for larger journals, or ones with page counts over 150 or so. I absolutely prefer a stitched binding, even with soft covers (as opposed to staple bindings). And I won’t use a spiral-bound notebook for all the rice in China… no matter how well it’s made.
Moleskine used to be my go-to brand. They were consistent, the hardback journals were very well made, and I never had any issues with them year after year. Then, something happened. I don’t know if it was profit margins, or if it was their rise to popularity driving demand that was hard to fill, or what. Maybe they sold out when they went ‘mainstream,’ or whatever. The craftsmanship started to falter here and there. The paper quality definitely fell a few notches, particularly with their smaller (as in, size as well as smaller page-count) books. That’s a real shame, as their trio-pack of Cahier journals was one of my absolute favorites. They had 80 pages, which was just enough, and the card stock cover weathered nicely over the course of using it. By the time the 80 pages was filled, the cover was about to the point it was distressed without being beaten up.
But as paper quality is my main focus of a journal, the Moleskine has fallen from my grace.
Field Notes are decent enough, but they never took hold of my heart. Granted, they are made in the U.S.A. (and, there’s something to be said in that for me). But the books are staple bound, which I find to not hold up as well as heavy thread over the time it takes to fill the 96 pages of a Field Notes book. The covers were thinner, and as such they didn’t fray and weather as nicely as the Moleskine. There was something I didn’t like about the paper feel, and it would bleed with some of my pens (meaning, the lines weren’t crisp – they got fuzzy as the ink soaked into or on the paper while writing). I do have their birch storage box that I admire and use constantly, however. I wish I liked their books more than I did.
Leuchtturm1917 is another journal I’ve tried. Their quality is really, really high. Paper is very nice with no bleed or show-through. And, the two I own have shown themselves to be true warriors of time with sturdy covers that have lasted and the binding showing no signs of breakdown. Pricing is very reasonable considering what you’re getting for your money (maybe a dollar or two higher than a comparably sized Moleskine). So winner, winner, chicken dinner, right? I wish. The A5 sizes (just smaller than a standard piece of copy paper) are simple to find, but it is shockingly hard to find the smaller pocket size. Like, I have to wonder if there’s some sort of conspiracy regarding the sale of the things…
Rhodia I’ve not had the chance to try, yet.
My current daily driver is the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. Granted, it’s more of a modular system: the leather cover is your permanent home and you add or remove various notebook inserts as desired. The size is a bit odd – narrow but long, almost like a pamphlet or brochure. I generally don’t mind since I know it’s Japanese, and their traditional writing was vertical. Yes, the notebook inserts are staple-bound, but the paper quality so far has seriously impressed me. The leather cover will surely hold up to time well, but I don’t have enough miles on the inserts to make a call.
But for a great pocket notebook, I’m still searching.
Featured image used under CC license from Pexels.