I’ve been thinking about “What makes a good notebook?” partly because, after years of teasing me about what he refers to as my 'book fetish', DH asked me if I had a spare notebook he could use. He wanted something really small so he could carry it around with him and it not weigh much. Of course, the Notebook Emporium (a large box of notebooks I possess) yielded the perfect notebook for him, but it left me wondering why so many of my notebooks were lingering unused in the Emporium.
I came down to three main qualities: functionality, size and feel.
Functionality and size are pretty linked. What is the notebook for? For jotting things down on the run, a large A4 Moleskine would not be the one you would choose, whereas for long, involved notes and plans, perhaps an A4 Moleskine would be perfect. To me, the sizes fall into three: pocket, handbag and desk, linked to their functions. To others, I guess pocket and handbag are one category, but I think a true pocket sized book is pretty small.
Other aspects of functionality would include – does the book lie flat (and does it matter if it doesn’t?). If it sits on a desk, be that at home, work or on a train/in a cafe etc, yes, it absolutely has to lie flat! If it’s for scribbling in on the run, not so vital. My filofax has to lie flat (but thankfully I haven’t had to resort to rocks to ‘train’ it yet, unlike Yvotchka and her pocket Finsbury!)
Then there’s does it have a page marker? Many nice notebooks do, but not all. Quite often I need to marks several pages, so in many ways it doesn’t matter as I have generally resorted to post-it notes anyway. For a diary/journal – yeah – you need a page marker.
Does it have a closure? And what’s the functionality of it? What do I mean – what’s the functionality of it? It keeps the book closed of course! Ah, but does it also hold a pen against the closed pages like the Ciak books do? If it’s horizontal, it can. But then you can’t open one cover out and slot it into the pocket of your filofax. If it’s vertical, it doesn’t hold loose papers tight against the cover securely. Do the closures get in the way of you writing? If the book is large, do they seem a little slack after a bit?
Loose leaf versus bound. This can be the killer. A loose-leaf book is useful for re-filing notes. Bound books are nice for posterity and keeping things securely together. But if you don’t use all the pages in a bound book before the project is completed, what do you do with them? Start another project in the book? I guess it depends on the use of the book. I don’t like to have lots of projects in one book, but I also hate having spare pages at the back of a book.
So that leaves feel. How does the book feel? How is it covered? Does it have a nice texture or colour or design? Is the cover hardback or softback? What’s the paper like to write on? Is it smooth, thin, thick, hateful to fountain pens, dreamy to write on? If the cover feels horrible in your hand and your favourite pen blotches and weeps through all the paper, the chances are the book will not get used.
So, why is the Notebook Emporium so full of intact notebooks? Well, DH would say that it’s because I keep buying them (and he would be right!) but also, although they are functional in size, most of them fail the feel test. I just don’t like writing in them because they are not beautiful enough and they don’t fill me with joy.