Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pocket Journals.

In my systematic quest for the perfect pocket journal, I bought the smallest size notebooks available from every brand I could find. Two years of hard testing later, here are my conclusions.

...
Moleskine Plain Reporter Notebook.
3-1/2 x 5-1/2, black only, $12.00.
I bought three different Moleskines, but this is the only one that saw significant use. The Moleskine dimensions are pretty good for a back pocket, and the slick, fake leather binding slides in and out easily. For writing while standing up, the Reporter sits nicely in your hand.

I'm not crazy about the Moleskine paper, which is thinner and yellower than the other brands, but I cope. Moleskine does a sketchbook with different paper for drawing and painting, and elsewhere on the internet you can find artists hotly debating the technical performance of paper under various media. All I really have an opinion about is how well it works as journal in my pocket.

I liked this one a lot initially, but after a while the cover started wearing badly, at which point I retired it. I assume the other Moleskines would wear in the same way. See photos below.

Other features: elastic closure band, expandable pocket.


...
Moleskine Japanese Album.
3-1/2 x 5-1/2, black only. $9.60.
One continuous, zigzag-folded page. I really love this and am saving it for use as a future travel journal. One reason I think the Moleskine Reporter Notebook wore out is that I took too long filling it up. But when travelling, I journal feverishly, filling pages like I'm on meth--I could fill this up in a few weeks before it had the chance to fall apart. Also, I feel like the continuous page would be conducive to obsessive, stream-of-consciousness documentation, a la Kerouac (or something).

And the paper is thicker and more durable, almost card stock.

Other features: elastic closure band, expandable pocket.


...
Moleskine Plain Notebook.
3-1/2 x 5-1/2, black or red,$12.00.
Not much left to say about Moleskines, but this one does come in red.

Other features: bookmark string, elastic closure band, expandable pocket.


...
Sparco Brand Reporter's Notebook.
The newspaper where I interned in 2008 had an unlimited supply of these. They do make you feel like a journalist, but what a hassle to use! Thin cardboard; ugly lined paper; floppy oversized dimensions that won't fit in any pocket. At least the cover folds back out of the way, which none of these others can do.

...
Hand-Book Travelogue Journal, Pocket Landscape.
3-1/2 x 5-1/2, many colors, $7.99.
Many artists swear by these sketchbooks. Even if you're just journaling, it's a tactile delight pulling an inky pen across the thick, toothy, bright, buff-colored paper. The construction feels robust and high quality.

But it's just a little thick to carry in your pocket every day. My wife eventually appropriated this one for Markie, our two-year-old daughter, who gets to put a sticker in it as a reward for using the potty.

Other features: bookmark string, elastic closure band, expandable pocket, reasonable price, many colors and configurations, including square!

...
Derwent Faux Suede Journal.
3-1/2 x 5-1/2, black or tan, $7.95.
This measures exactly the same dimensions as the HandBook brand sketchbook above--that is to say, a little thick for my pocket. I also doubt the durability of the faux suede cover.

And yet I really, really like this one. The tan suede with black details looks and feels great, construction is high quality, and the paper is extremely white (pickier artists may find it a little smooth). It's a smart, classy package. No surprise that my wife took it as her own. This would make a great gift.

It has the same bookmark string, elastic band, and expandable pocket as all the rest, as well as a second pocket inside the front cover. Reasonably priced.


...
Homemade Journal.
I used to always carry a folded sheet of paper in my pocket to jot down ideas and questions throughout the day. During my foreign study in college, I used this technique for journalling, and came home four months later with a crammed folder of embarrassingly disheveled paper scraps.

Later, after I got married, perhaps thinking my journalling habits could benefit from a little formality, I started fashioning staple-bound books out of card stock. I liked the DIY project, but these never fared well under prolonged pocket use.

Not particularly durable or pretty, but inexpensive and fun to figure out. I've made these in all sorts of sizes and arrangements. I didn't measure this one, but you can see that it's about as long as the pen. These were the inspiration for the pocket journal search.


...
Pentalic a la Modeskin Book.
3x4, many colors, $2.95.
The Pentalic has emerged as my journal of choice. 3x4 is approximately the size of my wallet--absolutely perfect.

It's crazy that Moleskine, HandBook, and Derwent aren't already doing their own 3x4's. The Pentalic construction and materials are unimpressive, compared with these other brands (though the paper is still thicker than than Moleskine paper). You can see in the photos below that the book is actually in separate pieces now. That's not normal wear--Markie did it--though I don't think she could tear apart a Moleskine, Handbook, or Derwent with the same ease. It bugged me at the time, but I've forgotten to care, since it just doesn't seem to matter. The elastic band holds everything together and I never think about it.

The cheap rubber cover is extremely durable and is showing the nicest patina of any of these books.

Other features: bookmark string, elastic closure band, expandable pocket, impossibly low price, many colors.
I'm ordering a bunch more of these Pentalics soon, in a variety of colors. With a new one that isn't falling apart, I have a plan to let it replace my actual wallet, with just my few cards and I.D. tucked into the pouch.

The pocket journal catches most of my stray thoughts and questions, as an aid to my unreliable memory, but I've fallen out of the habit of journaling seriously for the sake of posterity or nostalgia. When that inclination comes back around, as I know it will, the other journals will find use at my bedside or in my backpack.

They won't go to waste.

12 comments:

  1. Great post. I struggle with this same issue several times a year. I'm a long-time carrier of a stack of 3x5 cards which I've come to really enjoy, as they're such great kid distractions (paper boats/ airplanes/ drawing/ etc). They're excellent for one-off ideas, but not so great for journal entries or longer thoughts. I'll check out the Pentalic - looks cool.

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  2. Thanks Ben, that's great. We always keep a "special" book and toy in the car for Markie, to make outings more exciting. Simplifies packing for departure, too. :)

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  3. Excellent stuff, I'm in the market for a couple of journals as I'm off to South East Asia for 4 months in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the info!

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  4. For the past three years I have gone from fullsized notebooks to the smaller wallet sized ones but never had luck with durability. Because of that and starting to carry a planner I stopped the use but the Pentalic is intriguing. This is defiantly my next purchase.

    Thanks for the reviews!

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  5. Just ordered a orange and light green!!!

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  6. On their way: Pentalics in light blue, dark blue, and orange.

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