A Review of Five Journals

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I love journals.  I love opening up a blank book and running my hands over the grain of the paper.  I love surfing the internet seeking new and high.  I love thinking about the great potential of a blank notebook.  I love knowing that the same construction for notebooks today hasn’t really changed for seventeen hundred years.  I love knowing that the words I capture may last another seventeen hundred years, to be read by a future I cannot even comprehend.  Few share this strange and often expensive drive, but those that do know exactly the feeling I mean when we open the cover of a new notebook for the first time.

We like to think how much greater computers are than the written word, but any archivist will tell you, the only way to preserve our writings is to store them in the only reasonable medium proven to last for thousands of years: paper.  Hard drives freeze.  CD’s rot under the corrosive gas we all breathe.  The internet runs on a delicate balance of precarious machines.  Anyone who has tried to restore data from as short as ten years ago knows how hard it can be to recover old information.  Yesterday I opened a book over fifty years old, seventeen years older than I am, and it looked as good as the day it came off the press.  Books are the only reasonable way to store information.

For the past two years I have been a great fan of Moleskine plain pocket notebooks.  I have carried one in my pocket for twenty four months.  I have filled twelve of these books from cover to cover.  I have a stockpile of nearly fifty blank ones, enough to last a good long while should the company ever change them or go out of business.

I have dabbled with other journals as well, however.  This writing
will describe my experiences with five different journals.  We will
start with my old favorite, the Moleskine.

Moleskine Plain Pocket Journal
180 Pages
$12 for a Plain Pocket Journal, cheaper in bulk.
7 cents Per Page

At seven cents a page, the Moleskine is a good value.  It is very
portable, very convenient, widely available in the US, and not too
costly.  The utility and durability make up for the heavy snob factor.
Though the marketing lays it on a bit thick (you aren’t Van Gogh no
matter what notebook you write in), the Moleskine is a favorite not
just for the snob appeal but for true practicality.

The Moleskine is thread-bound, acid free, and has 180 blank pages of
acid free paper though you can get grids, lined, and thicker sketchbook
pages as well.  It has an accordion pocket in the back and an elastic
fastener.

The Moleskine plain pocket is a favorite of mine.  In three months
of heavy use, I have yet to have one fall apart on me.  If I had to
pick only one journal to ever write in, the Moleskine would be the one.

Renaissance Art Large Journal
216 Pages
$85
39 Cents Per Page.

If snob factor is important, go no further than the Renaissance Art
Journal.  These journals use the soft-cover leather wrap common to
medieval style journals.  Pictures of the Nag Hammadi Library show 4th
century books using this exact same style.

The Renaissance Art Large Journal reveals excellent quality.  It
uses a 100% cotton acid-free paper called Arches Text Wove.  The paper
is very coarse but writes very well with a medium tipped fountain pen.
Each of the six codices, the sets of folded sheets, is bound using
waxed string through the soft leather cover.  A woven string wraps
three times around the book’s body to close it. Anyone choosing to
purchase this journal must get it in the hand-sewn gift pouch.

The Renaissance Art Large Journal may be the best journal in which
I’ve ever written.  My only problem, an important one at that, is the
price.  At 39 cents a page, it is nearly five times the cost per page
of a Moleskine, already an expensive notebook for most people.  Many
times I have a hard time writing in a Renaissance Art journal.  What
nonsense could possibly come out of my thick head that is worth 39
cents a page?

One should get over this mental trap, however.  The Renaissance Art
Large Journal with its rough Arches Text Wove paper is a pleasure in
which to write.  If you have the means, I highly recommend it.  If
eighty bucks for a journal is a bit too much, read on for some better
values.

Jenni Bick Italian Distressed Leather Journal
300 Pages
$85
28 Cents Per Page.

I purchased the Handmade Italian Distressed Leather Journal with
Deckled Pages from Jenni Bick because I wanted to try a hardbound
leather journal in a more traditional 18th century style.  This
hardback leather journal has excellent style and fine craftsmanship.
The spine has three ridges to resemble traditional bookbindings of the
18th century.  The paper is a cream colored acid free paper, though not
as nice as either the Arches Text Wove of the Renaissance Journal above
or of the handmade Amalfi paper found in their more expensive leather
journal.  Even I have trouble justifying $130 for a blank book.

The style is excellent.  The build quality is very strong.  I have
yet to write in this journal but I plan to as soon as I finish up my
current Moleskine.  If you are looking for a fine hard-back
leatherbound journal, consider this one.

Again, at eighty bucks for 300 pages, this journal isn’t cheap.  I
can only see writing my most valuable writings in a book that costs
this much.  However, from a style perspective, there are few nicer
books.

The Everyman’s Journal
400 Pages
$13
3 cents Per Page.

I found the Everyman’s Journal linked around by fellow Moleskine
enthusiasts and for $12, I figured I’d give it a shot.  The Everyman’s
Journal is very large.  The pages are roughly 8" by 10" and there’s 400
of them in the book.  It is a thread bound book with canvas covers.
The build quality is excellent.

My only problem with this journal are the lined pages.  I prefer the
freedom of blank pages although it is nice to have the pages already
numbered.

If the pages were unlined, I’d give this journal my highest remarks
simply for its excellent value and high build quality.  If you don’t
mind a lined journal and you simply prefer to write instead of ponder
and pontificate the justifications for an $85 journal, the Everyman may
be for you.

Cachet Classic Black Cover Sketchbook
212 Pages
$7.30
3 Cents Per Page.

I have not tried this book yet myself, but I felt it important to
dig for the best value in blank books.  From the look, this journal may
be the best overall value for daily writing.  At three cents a page you
shouldn’t have any problems writing any old thing you wish in them.
While the style is very basic, the thread-based binding will help keep
the book together for ages.  Plain white acid-free pages also help with
durability and usefulness.

As a bargain value, I cannot see any reason not to consider this inexpensive blank sketchbook.

Final Thoughts:

I love journals.  I love knowing that worlds can be created,
characters can be born, and lives can be lived.  I love knowing that I
can read the thoughts of a writer from centuries earlier and perhaps
one day a reader will read my thoughts centuries from now.

The five journals above can all help capture these thoughts and
preserve them for decades, centuries, perhaps even a millenia.  Some
may be very expensive, some may be relatively cheap, but all of them
serve the same purpose: capturing our thought for the eyes of the
future.

I would recommend any or all of the five above journals depending on
your needs.  However, two of the five leap ahead of the others.  I
recommend the Moleskine Plain Pocket Notebook for its value,
durability, and utility.  I recommend the Renaissance Art Large Journal
for more important writings and writing when quality outweighs budget.
Both are excellent journals and journals I enjoy using myself.

Above all, remember the one rule of writing, the one instruction
that is more important than any lesson any writer can ever learn:

Write.

The only way to be a better writer is to write.  No journal is worth more than the words they store.

Mike Shea
Moleskinerie Contributor
Visit his blog.

Image: dickblick

Print it in Moleskine MSK format
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7 Responses to A Review of Five Journals

  1. Sean Bosker says:

    I love your article. I feel the same way about journals. I have one that was really expensive but is an absolute luxury to write on:

    http://www.jennibick.com/classico–leather-journal.html

  2. One factor that you did not mention in the review of each journal is the color of the page. I would have liked a slightly deeper discussion of the feel and usability of the pages (for instance the distressing tendency for a plain Moleskine page to bleed through), but the color, to me, is key.

    I can not write for long on a pure white page. While I use the brilliant white sheets for my computer printer, I prefer a creamy off-white or occasionally greyish tinted page. My correspondence and the card stock I use for calligraphy all match my Moleskine by chance. The greyish off-white I like for an alternate color seems to be the same distance from white as well.

    This is why, despite a preference for unlined pages, I have never much liked sketchbooks as journals — the pages are too often a bright white.

  3. Great review, thanks! But I still haven’t found anything to tear me away from the simplicity, paper, and look of Moleskine. :-)

    Chris
    http://amateureconblog.blogspot.com/

  4. GrannyKass says:

    I enjoyed the review of the Five Journals. I have been an avid journal keeper for about 43 years. Yes, that dates me! Over the course of time I have used a multitude of different books, different kinds of paper, colors, lined, unlined, grid. I have even used a surveyor’s notebook book and cheap ‘Logbooks’ of U.S. Navy issue.

    Not to long ago while searching for information about Noodler’s ink, I came across Mike Shea’s blog about the permanence of Noodler’s bulletproof Black ink. His blog lead me to Renaissance Art. At his recommendation I ordered one of their small journals – (4 ¾ X 4 ¾ ) – $19.00. It arrived with speed as if ordered in a RUSH and sent 2nd Day Air. This journal is of such fine quality and detail to workmanship that I find myself marveling at it. The paper is just smooth enough for a 00/.03 Rapidograph to glide smoothly over the pages.

    Over the past 10 years I have predominantly used Leather covered blank books from Crane’s with a lovely cream colored paper, blank, and exquisitely smooth surface. (Made by Graphic Images) (http://www.crane.com/prdSell.aspx?deptName=JournalsandBooks&SubDeptName=LeatherJournals&Name=JBLBLK_BlackLeatherBlankPageWritingJournal) I use it as my Morning Pages as described in the book ‘The Artist’s Way: A course in discovering and recovering your creative self’ by Julie Cameron.

    For bedtime writing about the day, I use a Crane refillable journal with the wonderful cotton rag paper which Crane is famous for, but is no longer available. (I bought a stock pile of refills when they announced it was being discontinued.)

    I am in love with the idea of fine paper in a blank book. I am a collector/user of fine fountain pens (FP) and what good is an excellent quality FP if you write on cheap paper. Moleskine’s have become my daily companion for anything that needs to be jotted down, from lists of things to do and things to shop for, to new words I need to look up, to quick thought jottings. It fits nicely into my pants pocket for work or a cargo pocket for walks in the woods. With the elastic band to keep it closed I can throw it in a purse or pack and not worry about other things bending pages. Nothing could ever replace it for the quality and size. I have stock piled quite a collection of various models, and a fine nib fountain pen does not bleed through the pages as other thin paper books do.

    A little over a year ago I purchased a book from Epic Imports. (http://www.epica.com/products/journals-distressed.htm) Now this book is about the finest quality one could find anywhere. But, it is not cheap. Hand made Amalfi paper with deckled edges give this leather bound beauty the quality of the ages. An 8″ X 10″ is $159. I have the 11″ X 15″ which arrived in a very nice cloth bag with tie string at the top. (I was fortunate to get it at a reasonable price from eBay.) It is such a fine book that like Mike Shea, I have not been able to bring myself to write on its pages. I will one day.

    An important thing to remember about any of this writing business is that it is not all about the book. It is about the thoughts you put into it. It is about the little pieces of you that will last ‘through the ages’ for the generations to come. With that thought, the only things you need to use regularly is a book with Archival Paper and a writing instrument that is Permanent.

    I use Fountain Pens, Namiki Vanishing Points, Pelikan, and Sailor pens with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Legal Lapis, and Eternal Brown. The later two are only available from http://www.pendemonium.com/ Tell them Kass sent you.

  5. Espera says:

    I’m looking for a journal for a friend, who likes pages that are lined only on one side and are blank on the other side, so that she can both write and sketch (she prefers to write on lined pages). Does anyone know where to find good quality journals of this nature? Thanks.
    (By the way, I also really enjoyed all the journal reviews. I’m a devotee of Moleskine myself.)

  6. Jaclyn says:

    I too was a Moleskin fan, and I still keep a stack of them handy for when I may not have any more pages in my Epica journal….

    That being said, I don’t think there is anything like an Epica journal. I stubbornly refused to write in it until I finished my other journal, but I eventually broke down and made it my main book. Now, as a result, I am a journal snob. I keep looking for something that I could possibly like better, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Sometimes I actually feel a little unworthy of such a nice book, like a master should be the only one recording his or her thoughts on the pages. Still, I have only 50 pages to go in my gorgeous journal, and I asked for three more different types of Epicas for Christmas. No one I know, including my fellow writer friends, has a book like this, and it’s a shame. Now all’s I gotta do is persuade Epica to make a more reasonably priced, smaller journal with latches on it, and I can die happy.

  7. Dilip says:

    thank you,
    This was an interesting review of notbooks. I work in the area of media so I use rhodia notbooks for taking notes and Moleskine for wirting more personal items (the reporter type). it is interesting to see that there are so many high quality notebooks on the market.

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