A Review of Five Journals

by Mike Shea on 23 June 2005

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 wrap 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.

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