I used to love writing in these things in graduate school — I have an entire independent study with Henry Glassie in one of these notebooks — but they were impossible to find outside of one little corner store in Bloomington, Indiana. I eventually found, and embraced, Moleskine notebooks and now the Leuchtterm notebooks, which are slightly wider in a way that still discomfits me.
[European Paper now has them](http://europeanpaper.com/brand/apica/?aff=dcE6IO6VGI4GLBJA47UDRSZSDDDE).
As anyone who occasionally browses this logbook knows, I have a serious interest in notebooks. (We’ll leave aside other possible descriptors, like, for example, fetish or obsession, for now.) I have a kept a daybook of some kind for almost twenty-five years now. For the past eight years, I have used almost exclusively the large Moleskine notebooks, the ones that measure 5″ x 8″ (13cm x 21cm).
While I acknowledge that a great deal of the technorati have switched to the really nice Field Notes brand, and while I find the smaller size appealing, especially for traveling, it’s been my experience that the 3″ x 5″ size just isn’t practicable for me. First, the page is too small to write a decent amount of prose when one is writing, and second, it’s also too small to do any kind of measured drawing, as well as too small for me to do the kind of sketching I sometimes do when thinking things out. If Field Notes were ever to introduce the next size up, I would certainly consider it.
But they may not have to because Make has done it. In my review of the first Maker’s notebook, I commented about the cover, but where the notebook failed for me, as a daybook, is in the size of the grid: it’s just too small for writing. while it excels at making measured drawings for builds:
As a comparison of the original Maker’s notebook, a Leuchtterm notebook, and the new Make: notebook makes clear, Make has also shrunk the new notebook back to the more common size of the large notebooks of Moleskine and Leuchtterm. This is neither good nor bad, on the surface, but for someone who has grown accustomed to a notebook being a particular size, this is a really welcome change. (It’s hard to discern how closely the new Make notebook and the Leuchtterm match in size from this photo, but they do.)
Also worth noting is that the ruling of the new Make: notebook is lighter than on the original notebook, while remaining blue. This makes it easier to read and easier to photocopy — faint blue lines tend to disappear in black and white imaging. The tinting of the ruling is a more critical factor to usability than many first realize, but having switched recently from Moleskine to Leuchtterm over precisely this issue, I can say that the lighter ruling really matters. The recent darkening of Moleskine rules was a purposeful change on their part, and something I protested. The dark lines make the grid paper especially hard to use when writing and reading text. (For more on this topic, see my notes on notebooks from last year.)
Here’s a comparison of the four rulings:
The new Make: notebook stands up really well in such a comparison. I especially like the slightly larger squares for writing text. The Make: notebook also has a perfect binding that lies flat. The only drawback, currently, from my perspective is that it has a card stock cover, but until I’ve had the chance to test its durability in daily use, I’ll give it a pass.
The good folks at _Make_ magazine opened the _Maker Shed_ a while back and they have regularly offered a lot of very interesting supplies. Their original notebook was a little unwieldy, but they seemed to have streamlined it and to have made it more affordable. In particular, they seemed to have recognized the importance of the thing lying flat when open:
If it looks interesting, [check it out](http://www.makershed.com/Make_Notebook_p/mkmnr.htm). The new price is $6.99.
**UPDATE**: See my longer review [here](http://johnlaudun.org/20120814-the-new-make-notebook-tldr-great/).
*I’d point to my review of the first notebook they produced, but there isn’t anyway to see any product reviews on the site apart from the average of the stars given. What’s up with that?*
My trial of the Whitelines notebook was short-lived. I had forgotten its one great limitation, which many may find a feature and not a bug: the spine is not designed to lie flat. The image above pretty much tells the story. In the middle is the Moleskine I use for fieldwork; on the bottom is the Whitelines. Great notebook. Great paper. But it doesn’t lie flat, no matter how much you flip through the thing and press down on the open pages in an attempt to get the spine to “break” a little. (Oh, the simultaneous shudder of bibliophiles everywhere as those words were writ.)
According to the insert that came with the Whitelines A5 Squared notebook I recently purchased:
> Whitelines(R) innovation is simple, effective, and gentle to the eye. The lines support your writing and drawing without the distractions from conventional dark lines and the background disappears easily when you copy, scan, or fax.
> Whitelines® has selected MultiCopy Original, a high quality totally chlorine free paper labelled with both Nordic and the European Eco-labels. This Swedish paper has amazing environmental performances — including also FSC and zero carbon monoxide emissions during production. MultiCopy is produced at Nymölla Mill, an integrated mill where the carbon dioxide from fossil files is 100% reused during the production process.
I have been using Moleskine notebooks, in various sizes and with various rulings, since 2002. I can’t remember now how I heard about them, but it could very well be that it was in an account of, or by, Bruce Chatwin, whose nonfiction work I admired when I was in graduate school. On occasion, I have tried other notebooks, but I almost always come back to the large Moleskines, if only because I am terribly used to them. Their weight, their feel, the rounded corners, the thickness of the pages: all have become a part of how I work.
I should note that at this point in my career I keep two notebooks: one for everyday use and one for fieldwork. In everyday use, anything that doesn’t have a particular place goes in the notebook. (Pretty much everything except research and writing goes into that daily notebook.) Ideas that pop into my head in the middle of driving. Notes from various meetings. Talks I go to. Sketches for a piece of furniture or home project. Anything that isn’t part of something larger, and here’s the important part, something larger in my own work. That is, I could imagine that a lot of people take notes at meetings—I do it to make sure I am paying attention—but then you have the awful problem of where to put those notes. I used to have a folder labeled something like “departmental poobah” that was essentially my catch-all for notes and other bits of institutional flotsam that didn’t add up to enough paper to deserve their own folder. I suppose one could have a folder marked “odd notes” or “daily notes” but why bother when you have a notebook and all you need to do is recall the approximate date of an event—which is typically easily done either with reference to a calendar or to the old-fashioned way of reckoning: did that occur before or after Christmas/some other event—and, presto!, you can flip to the notes.
I don’t think the fieldwork notebook needs much explanation: every field researcher needs one and it needs to be dedicated to that and nothing else. It goes in my gear bag and stays there. It comes out when I am in the field or when I come home, to transcribe notes and to transfer logged items like miles into the appropriate log, and then it goes right back in the bag. It’s perhaps the most important piece of gear in there. (And, yes, I write in pencil when I am doing fieldwork. Why? Because pencils write in all kinds of weather and pencil marks don’t run if you drop your notebook in a flooded rice field. There, I said it … and now you know.)
While I love these Moleskine notebooks, I don’t pretend that they are the only game in town, especially because it looks like either they have changed their inking strategy or their quality control has gone downhill. That is, as the new year approaches, my current notebook is not only beginning to approach the end of its pages, but the spine has also begun to fail. A quick scan of the web reveals that Moleskine has been having some quality control problems and that both the spine and darker inked rulings are things people have noticed in recent usage of Moleskines? Yes, that’s right, the ink used to rule the pages in the new Moleskine I purchased is considerably darker than that of my current notebook. Dark enough to be distracting, even when I am writing in black ink, never mind how difficult it would be to work with pencil.
It’s enough of an annoyance, that I decided to try using a Whitelines notebook again. I liked the quality of the first one, but its white cover quickly revealed that I take a notebook everywhere and since sometimes “everywhere” is a professional meeting, the remnants of the other “wheres” could sometimes be a bit ugly. Fortunately, they now offer a black cover:
And I couldn’t help but also pick up one the spiral-bound notebooks:
For those who don’t remember what the Whitelines difference is: