Early Autumn Notebooks.

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While walking around one of my favorite shops (Trohv) on Labor Day, I spotted Word. notebooks on the table near Field Notes books. We reviewed Word. books a few months ago, and you’ll recall the I loved them. I’m sure lots of Comrades are waiting for the new fall Field Notes to come out. But I needed some notebooks! And this orange is far more…earthy and autumnal in person than it is in most of the photos I’ve seen online. Paired with one of these pencils, it’s an early autumn Pocket Notebook Combination to put one in mind of chai tea and reading Poe outside under a light blanket.

Speaking of Trohv, there is a release party for Scout Books and some local Baltimore-based artists this Friday night, before Saturday’s Hampdenfest. Assuming that The Infant and The Toddler are behaving themselves, I’m hoping to go. Are there other Charm City Comrades who might be there?

(Pencils: General’s Kimberly; General’s Cedar Pointe; Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni — all HB. Also: Dig the Word. leaf and flower books! Hope they keep up making interesting new covers.)

Review of Rite in the Rain Notebook No. 373.


The good folks at Rite in the Rain were kind enough to send us a notebook and pen[cil] holder to review. After the “super storm”, we are finally ready to get our review out there. My better half prevented me from braving Super Storm Sandy last week to see how Frankenstorm-proof these books are. But! Boy, are they nice for pencil. Oh, and they are waterproof!

Everything made by Rite in the Rain is made in the USA, from the books, to the pens, to the accessories. It’s no secret that USA-production is a big plus around Pencil Revolution HQ. Green credentials are also wonderful, and Rite in the Rain doesn’t disappoint. Their paper can be recycled like regular paper (the coating is water-based), and the covers contain post-consumer materials. The paper inside is not made of recycled paper, however, since RiR says that it weakens the paper, which is designed to be durable. The waterproofing process is streamlined to be low-impact, environmentally speaking.

Rite in the Rain does sell all weather pens. They are made by Fisher (of Space Pen fame) but with specially designed ink for their paper. I haven’t tried the RiR pens (though I’d certainly like to), but my trusty 2002 model Space Pen performed pretty well, albeit with a little skipping. But that’s not what this amazing paper is designed for! Erin from RiR tells me that their paper was made for pencils, literally, since there were no special pens for use on waterproof paper in the 1920s, when their paper was developed.

We’ve touched on the archival aspects of pencils before. There is little shortage of archival-safe notebooks. But how many of them are also waterproof?

Rite in the Rain 20 & 32 lb. papers meet the archival criteria laid out by ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R2002). This means that it is an archival quality paper and will last several hundred years under normal use. So… not only will it survive the elements, it will survive the attic! All of our books and copier papers are made from these grades.

Pencil on Rite in the Rain paper might be the best way to save writing for posterity. Only fire, theft, or a nefarious individual (or Crack Team of Baddies) with an eraser would delete one’s notes.

Onto the actual review!

The notebook we tested is the No. 373, a 4 5/8 x 7 inch book with a double spiral on the side (coated for rust resistance). It includes a nice title page, with space for contact info and a few lines for  the “Project.” Flipping the page, we find a table of contents page, and then it’s on to the note pages. The lines are “encased” in a rectangle that does not allow for marginal notes but which made referencing a list of camping gear and procedures much easier for me. There are 64 pages all told (32 sheets), including the title and contents pages. For the cartographically inclined, each page features a scale at the bottom: “Scale: 1 square = ____”. The ink is a light blue, vegetable-based ink. The pages have rounded corners and are lined. Unusual to me are the dotted vertical lines running perpendicular to the “main” lines, allowing Comrades the option to use lined or graph paper. Rite in the Rain calls this their “Universal” page format. I like it a lot. The cover is a Stiffly Flexible yellow plastic. Combined with the pencil band, this book survived a camping trip in my daypack looking like I’d never used it at all.

This is a solid notebook, with thoughtful detailing and a sensible size. It’s not quite pocket-sized, but it fits well with other books and certainly into the smallest of daypacks. But my very favorite thing about this book is the paper, and not entirely because it’s waterproof.

As I mentioned above, this paper was designed for use with pencils. The coating is applied over paper that seems to have a bit of a tooth, and the coating allows this tooth to come through, possibly adding some of its own texture. What results is a paper that “drinks” up graphite the way that some papers drink liquid ink. While this paper is by no means rough, those of us who prefer a dark line will delight with the Graphite Shearing Action of this paper. Points don’t wear away very quickly, but they don’t last forever — though Lovers of Dark Lines may even delight in the pencil sharpening required by this Marriage of graphite and paper.

Mr. A from the fantastic La Vie Graphite told me a few years ago that General’s Layout is a wonderful pencil for this paper, and he was entirely correct. I tested quite a bit of graphite in this book, and the slightly chalky Layout is my current favorite, bolstered by the American Heritage it shares with the book itself. Other honorable mentions include pencils with unwaxed cores (Paper Mate Earth Write), USA stock Dixon pencils, and USA Gold. While very smooth pencils performed very well, the slightly…more textured leads produced the darkest, neatest results.

This is some of the most smear-resistant and ghosting-proof paper I have ever used. Only on a blank page can one spot graphite transfer, and a person really has to rub her or his hands on this paper to get the pencil to smear. It goes a long way toward keeping the pencil writing legible over time. Erasing is not much different than with regular paper, although I noticed that less soft and more abrasive erasers didn’t seem up to the task. Soft erasers did a nice job, and I wouldn’t use anything else, at the risk of removing some of the coating that makes the paper waterproof.

The pencil strap is very well, made, with a long, thick, elastic strap and strong velcro. It holds a pencil more tightly than you’d think and does a good job of protecting both the pencil point and the pages of the book in a backpack. Made of black Cordura, it looks like it will last for years.

Many thanks to the folks at Rite in the Rain, and stay tuned in the next few days or week for our Rite in the Rain Water Test!

Review of Scout Books Composition Book (lined).


The good folks at Scout Books sent a set of their Composition Books over to Pencil Revolution HQ a few weeks ago for review. After a few weeks and pencil points, I have to say that these books are really fantastic! They invite comparisons to Field Notes (packs of three on craft paper, made in the USA), the way that Field Notes invite comparisons to Moleskine Cahiers (packs of three on craft paper). But I’d like to examine these books on their own, if possible, comparing them for size only.

Scout Books are made in Oregon, using recycled material papers from domestic mills and vegetable-based inks. While this often used to mean an inferior paper, this is certainly not true of Scout Books, as we’ll see. They come in three packs and singles, with different color options and interior options. Prices are similar to other high-end pocket notebooks, though the DIY option clocks in at only $8 a pack. And: FREE SHIPPING to the USA! We got our review set very quickly. You can also design your own Scout Books, which is an idea I’ve been pondering since trying these books out. (Hmm…) Perhaps coolest of all, you can get Scout Books that are actually BOOKS, with illustrations by contemporary illustrators, like the American Lit pack I’ve dropped hints to my wife about, which contains stories by Poe, Jack London, et. al.

Scout Books are about the same width [3.5 inches] as Field Notes (end of comparison), but they are shorter [5 inches]. This not only makes them incredibly shirt pocket friendly; the shorter height actually makes them feel larger in your hand than they are, since they come closer to being square. It could just be my square hands, but they are easier to write in than I would have thought, given the size. The covers are very heavy, and they make writing standing up a cinch because the back of the book is nice and stiff — but not too stiff for a pocket. I had no issues with covers wearing out or the binding giving up the ghost. If anything, my review books looked too new since I filled them up too quickly to really break them in. But that’s really nothing to complain about. Scout Books are unusual in that their “contact” info is on the back cover, containing places for your name, notebook start date and end date, and the front cover of the Composition Books has a space to write whatever you want.

The paper is where these books really shine! They reminded me of Eco Jot’s paper at first, with the dotted lines and nice color. But this paper is smooth! Pencil glides across the lines, and I’d filled one up in days, trying out different pencils. Ghosting is very light, since the paper is relatively stiff and thick, and smearing is very minimal, as much so as any other pocket notebook I’ve tried (and much much much better than others). To be sure, only the softer leads I’ve been enjoying this summer (Baltimore is muggy!) ghosted at all, while German HB pencils do not. The paper hits that sweet spot, where it’s certainly not glossy and certainly not overly toothy. While the page count is disappointing sometimes (32 pages), the satisfaction of filling up a book and moving onto the next one comes more often.

Given the ecocreds, stellar design, USA production (and free USA shipping!) and amazing paper, anyone who wants to try some new pocket notebooks would do well to grab a set of these. There aren’t a lot of reviews floating around; I’d love to hear what other Comrades think, especially as we tinker around with the idea of Pencil Revolution Notebooks. Thanks again to Taryn at Scout Books!

*[Footnote: I did try ink in these books, and nothing bled — not bold gel pens, wet rollerballs, wide fiber-tips, or fine fountain pens. I don’t think any of it even qualifies as show-through, to tell the truth. It was very very good.]

EcoSystem and Rhodia 2011 Planners.


In the packages from Rhodia and EcoSystem that we were lucky enough to receive this fall, there were two semi-large/medium black planners.  These are both the variety that start in the summer; so I have given these 6-8 weeks of testing (each!) personally.  And now, I am having trouble deciding which to use for 2011(and the Daycraft models we’ll look at tomorrow don’t help the decision).

EcoSystem 2011 “Advisor“, flexible black cover.

This is a great (and green!) EcoSystem notebook, printed with the days of the week on the left and lined note pages on the right.  The paper and binding are top-notch, and the entire book is eco-friendly to boot, featuring 100% post-consumer recycled paper, organic cotton elastic and bookmark, etc.  There’s the usual information one finds in the beginning of a planner and a nice pocket in the back to boot.  I’ve actually beat the heck out of this thing since early November, and it’s come out looking practically new.  If you’ve had a Moleskine in the soft-cover variety that’s had the “moleskin” and cardstock cover materials separate, fear not.  In my own experience at least, this flexible and matte cover is as tough as a hardcover.  And I really like the tacky material of which it’s made.

The printing is nice and unobtrusive, and the binding is tight.  Maybe I need to just crack it, but the binding was tight enough that this book’s biggest flaw (which is, to be sure, slight) is that it doesn’t sit quite as flatly on one’s desk as some other books do.  Still, the elastic is snappy, and the bookmark is beefy.  “2011” is debossed in the upper right of the cover, and it’s classy-looking.  This is definitely a planner that will last through the year intact.

In some ways, EcoSystem’s planner functions like a Moleskine, only, well, better.  (I’ll talk more about that when we review the pocket “kiwi” EcoSystem book in the new year.)  This might be worth mentioning for some Comrades: this book has the best moon cycle symbols I’ve seen.  If you follow the moon (like I do), you might appreciate this.  The fonts and inks are definitely a plush for this book.

Rhodia 2010-2011 Academic “Weekly Notebook“, black flexible cover.

This book is actually an academic (summer-summer) planner, but the 2011 model seems to have the same features.  This Rhodia planner has the week on the left, and heavy graph lines on the right, on very very very white paper.  The 6 x 9 inch dimensions render it rather large, but it’s actually very thin and carries well.  It opens completely flatly on the table, all by itself.  The elastic even “closes” into a straight line along the back cover when it’s open, helping it to both stay out of the way and help the book lay down well.

If there’s something I wasn’t crazy about regarding this book it’s that all the printing and graph lines are a little obtrusive and darkly-printed.  One thing I always appreciated about Moleskines was that the printing inside was grey and out of the way.  Using pencil, the heavy lines took some getting used to.  This is probably a person thing, though.  The colorful inks and well-planned fonts make up for it.

The Rhodia planner has great information about holidays around the world, not merely a mention that there is a holiday in a certain country on a certain day.  It also has the best maps I have seen in a planner.  We usually find one global map with timezones on it, sometimes even country outlines/labels.  But the Rhodia has a total of seven pages of detailed maps!  If maps and/or geography interest you, you might agree with me that this is a great thing.  With the holiday listings and detailed maps, one might expect this planner to be unwieldy.  But, as I mentioned, it’s thin and light and very portable.  With the nice paper and great contents, don’t ask me how Rhodia pulled this off.