Habana: The Verdict

First the data:

  • Length of Service: 5.5 weeks (to date)
  • Number of Entries: 37
  • Number of pages written: 55 (27 sheets front and back, plus 1)
  • Types of pens used: 5 different models (points ranging from .18 to .38)
  • Two types of ink used: gel and pigment

Also included for consideration were two hiking expeditions where the Habana was pressed into service for field notes and related observational data [Saturday, October 6, 2012. —Ecological Preserve. 12:25pm. Mosquitoes bad. Very bad. Am bleeding to death out here. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.]

So after almost six weeks of putting the Quo Vadis Habana (4″x6″) notebook though its paces, I have reached a verdict, an informed impression of the notebook line, which is perhaps best summed up in the photo below:

The result of the Habana trials: rushing out to buy three more!

As the above photo might suggest, the quality and performance of Habana notebooks were such that I found it necessary to immediately procure three more. When it comes to good notebooks and pens, I’ve long thought it necessary to stock up just in case something untoward happens such as the product being discontinued, or enduring some disagreeable modification, or even something of lesser consequence like the fall of Western Civilization.

Quo Vadis’ Habana is an excellent notebook; it is by far the best I’ve encountered to date. Construction is of very good quality and even after some time with it in the field, I’ve seen nothing suggestive of the contrary: no loose pages, no ominous tears in the binding.  I’m rather looking forward to brining a Habana along on the next trip abroad, for it certainly seem durable enough to serve as a travel notebook.

Of the Habana’s many wonderful attributes, one of the standouts is the paper. Anyone familiar with this blog knows well the importance of paper quality to me; it can be the deal breaker for an otherwise good notebook. Habanas come equipped with 80 sheets of 85 gr ruled ivory Clairfontaine paper which provides a delightful and smooth medium upon which to write. The ruling is fairly  narrow (around 6mm) which works well, though a slightly narrower ruling (4-5mm) would be ideal for my tiny penmanship.

Every type of pen used during this trial performed flawlessly, especially the Sakura Pigma Microns (.20 point) which have long been among my favorites. There is *gasp* absolutely no shadowing on the back of a written page. While on occasion I will use a fountain pen, I have yet to try it on Habana paper, but given its good quality, I’m confident as to a positive outcome. And I rather like fewer number of pages in a Habana, as it provides less stress on the hand whilst writing, especially as one works their way down the page towards the bottom. This has always been an inconvenience with thicker notebooks. So in this sense, less is actually more.

I’ve long thought that the perfect size for a pocket notebook is 4″x6,” providing ample enough space for writing without feeling cramped and still remain portable.  After nearly six weeks of carrying the Habana here, there, and everywhere in my back pocket, jacket pocket, backpack, and camera bag, I’m convinced that 4″x6″ is indeed the ideal size for pocket notebooks. In terms of portability, it’s entirely comparable to the more widely available 3″x5″ sizes on the market. The cover of the Habana has a slight flex to it, which seems to facilitate portability. Initially I had a few reservations about the somewhat flexible cover as I tend to do much of writing on the go and was concerned as to whether or not it would provide sufficient support. I’m happy to report that it does.

So at any rate, I’m well pleased with the Habana experience and am satisfied that I’ve found a quality notebook line to use for the forseeable future. This is not to say that I’ve ceased the quest for the perfect notebook, nor that I won’t try other notebooks should they catch my eye. What I can say with confidence is that competitors have their work cut out for them if they hope to surpass Quo Vadis’ Habana line.

Advertisements

Habana: First Impressions

The end of summer was a dark time, marked by frustration and bitterness brought on by cheap-ass paper. Needing at that time a “carry-about” notebook, I had put back into service the pocket Moleskine used on-and-off for a portion of this year. Alas, by the beginning of September I was again over the garbage Moleskine attempts to pass off as “paper” and casting about for a suitable alternative.

While researching notebooks online one evening I ran across Quo Vadis’ Habana, a line with which I was vaguely familiar. This particular notebook caught my eye for a couple of reasons: first was the mention of Clairfontaine paper, which I’ve used previously and know of be of first-rate quality. The second eye-catching element was the size of the notebook: 4″x6″ which I’ve long considered the ideal size for a notebook, despite it being larger (and presumably not as portable) as the more common 3″x5″ size. Nonetheless, there was much potential with the Habana and the question of whether or not this notebook would prove a suitable alternative to Moleskine was soon one step closer to being answered due to the perilous ease of “one click ordering” combined with a singular lack of willpower.

The 4×6 Habana has been in my possession for maybe two weeks, but it was only tonight that I put pen to paper and began putting it through its paces. My initial impression? With the solid construction and quality paper It’s a good notebook. A VERY good notebook…

Habana notebook (4″x6″) by Quo Vadis. First entry.

As to how workable the Habana ultimately is will be determined after several weeks or months of use. I’ve always disliked product reviews where the author does little more than open the notebook, perhaps scratch a few lines with a couple different pens and then pass judgement. A proper assessment of a notebook can come only after a fair amount of service.  Is it durable? How about field trials- how does it hold up to writing on the go or being chewed by Sasquatches? As such this post isn’t a proper, comprehensive review, only a collection of initial impressions, with the following key points:

  • The Clairfontaine paper is very good quality which contributes greatly to a smooth writing experience.
  • The 4″x6″ size of the Habana notebook seems about as portable as pocket notebooks measuring 3″x5,” neither of which can comfortably be stuffed into the front pocket of a pair of jeans.
  • The cover of the Habana is firm, though not quite as firm as a Moleskine. How much support it gives to the writing process when on the go has yet to be determined.
  • Overall construction of the Habana seems solid, but again this is something that will be determined over the next few weeks or months.

Thus far I am altogether impressed with the Habana, but its ultimate standing is yet to be determined. In a month or so I’ll write a follow-up post as to how well it stands up to wear and tear and a variety of pens. So stay tuned….

Moleskine Rekindled

While out running errands this morning, I dropped by a local Barnes and Noble, with the purpose of killing time until a nearby market opened at 10am.  After taking a very close look at Nook eReaders (which one can’t help but do since the Nook display is SO IN YOUR FACE AT THE FRONT DOOR that patrons are all but forced to climb over it to come inside1), I made a circuit from history to biography, then to travel and the discount books near the front before concluding the literary promenade in the journal/notebook/accessory area.

On the Moleskine display was an assortment of mini notebooks  I initially  mistook for those two-pack Volants which I’ve used from time to time. Upon closer examination of these notebooks, I noticed the curious presence of elastic closure thingies and hard back covers. Volants these were not.

“Ahhhhhhhh! Oooooooooh!,” I drooled.

“Can I help you?” croaked the shriveled yet helpful gnome peering up over the counter a short distance away.

The mini compared to a regular pocket Moleskine notebook.

Politely declining assistance, I plucked one of the notebooks from the shelf and examined it closely. Of the same style and construction as the regular pocket Moleskine (and presumably containing the same cheap-ass paper), these notebooks were appreciably smaller than their more familiar counterparts (measuring only 2 1/2″ x 4″), meaning a truly portable pocket notebook. As I fondled the mini-notebook, turning it this way and that and assessing its weight, there immediately sprang to mind 374 wonderful uses for the mini. A short while later I climbed back over the Nook display then ambled out the store, clutching tightly the bag of acquisitions: two mini-notebooks and one regular pocket Moleskine.

“What a hypocrite you are!” might exclaim a reader of my previous Moleskine post. “You wrote all those horrible and nasty things about Moleskine and two days later you’re buying more!” this reader might also say while hastily moving the cursor towards the little red X in the upper corner of the screen.

“My dear reader,” I might then reply.4 “I wrote no horrible and nasty things about Moleskine in the post you reference. Altogether my post was rather complimentary, save for the matter of paper quality which was merely an honest observation. As it seems you were not paying attention, I suggest you read that post again before progressing any further with this one. In fact I’ll place a clearly marked symbol immediately below to help you find your place when you return. Now run along and click the “home” button in the lower right corner of the image above. See it? Good.  Afterwards, on the next screen click on “The Moleskine Confessions” and this time please read carefully.”

[o.0]     <—-symbol, clearly marked

Now as I was saying, two of the mini pocket Moleskines came home with me today, despite those pesky reservations about paper quality. How and why a regular pocket Moleskine also accompanied me home…well I have no idea really, except for perhaps those reasons mentioned in “Confessions.”

“Well because you’re a notebook slut,” the reader of my previous Moleskine post might say.

“Oh you’re back,” I might then reply to the dear reader. “And this time you paid attention.”

But at any rate, as to the minis: I envision they will soon be employed in utilitarian functions for which paper quality may not be quite as important as journaling.  Their size and portability open up possibilities innumerable, though admittedly it would be interesting (or pathetic, depending on one’s point of view) to put one into journaling service with two or three lines of tiny written script per printed line.

At some future point I may write a modest review of the Moleskine mini pocket notebook, considering both construction and various utilities (though probably not all 374 of them), once I put them through their paces. Until the minis are pressed into service, they wait quietly on the bookshelf until the elements of form, function, and idea coalesce and spark a meaningful experience.

———————————————————————————

1 My angst here stems not from any sort of malice harbored against eBooks.2 While I understand that product placement is an important component of business strategy, I find the obstructionist placement of the in-store Nook displays rather distasteful in addition to being a tripping hazard.

2 I own a Kindle3 which I rather enjoy though it has yet to completely replace real books.

3 Which I’ve had for a number of years.

4 If Clint Eastwood can get up and argue with a chair on national television, surely I can engage here an imaginary reader in thoughtful and instructive discourse.

The Moleskine Confessions

From the journal entry (photo above) dated March 18, 2008 :

“…Now that the quest for the ideal notebook is over due to the discovery of Moleskine, the hunt has been reduced to finding the perfect pen…”

Thus was once my opinion of that popular little black notebook.  My relationship with Moleskine had sparked to life the month prior and with the coming of spring it blossomed and grew and much joy was to be had scribbling away.  Alas, happily ever after was not to be; the chill of disillusionment soon set in and the flame flickered, then grew dark.  Yet, curiously, a few embers remained, smoldering just enough to allow the occasional, brief reignition- this cycle of love/hate characterizes my relationship with Moleskine.

Even after the passage of four years and ample whoring about  experimentation with other notebooks lines, I am still occasionally drawn to Moleskine, despite telling myself that I’ve moved on, far better notebooks await discovery. Perhaps it’s due to Moleskine’s slick advertising (you know, the “you can be the artistic or literary heir to Picasso/Hemingway/or even Chatwin-whoever the hell he is”  thing), or their ready availability compared to other notebooks -whatever the reason, the spark rekindles, I’ll purchase a Moleskine for this or that purpose and put it to use for a time, then the fire goes out and I move on…until some future fling. Try as I might to forge a meaningful and committed LTR with Moleskine, there is an element about these notebooks that is, for the lack of a better phrase, a turn-off.

Moleskine is the perfect notebook in nearly every respect. Experience has proved time and again that construction and durability are, quite frankly, first-rate. Not once have I had a moment’s trouble with the binding, the elastic band thingie, or any other physical element of Moleskine and they’ve been through some rigorous situations. From daily being carried around in my pocket or jostled about in the bottom of a backpack, to surviving two long seasons subjected to a hot and humid greenhouse,  to various travels, including evading in Spain the peril of grasping Gypsies, Moleskines have always come though no worse off than the normal wear and tear one would expect. Add to their durability the wonderful fact that the notebooks lie lay lie remain flat when opened PLUS the sublime appeal of their minimalist design…well what’s NOT to love about Moleskine.

Yet despite these wonderful qualities, Moleskines are lacking in perhaps the most fundamental category: paper quality. This is inevitably the deal breaker, the fatal flaw that sends me out into the streets in search of better.  It’s altogether incongruous that bound within the covers of these otherwise first-rate notebooks would be such cheap paper.  While it feels cheap to the touch, the real test of quality comes when putting pen to paper. The process of writing feels disagreeable, rough and even with a fine point pen and light touch the resulting shadowing  is too apparent and distracting. Some of the joy of journaling is tactile and derives from that elegant and sublime interaction of a good pen on smooth, high-quality paper. Sadly, this is not the Moleskine experience. And woe unto those who attempt a fountain pen upon Moleskine paper; between the bleeding and feathering, the result can be more horrifying than the sight of the chicken who didn’t quite make it across the road.

As I was reflecting upon this post, I hauled from their quiet retirement a few pocket Moleskine journals; their duty done, their cheap-ass little pages filled.  As I thumbed though the volumes I considered just how close Moleskine is to being the perfect notebook and wondered when and if the company would see fit to remedy their Achilles heel. I suppose the reality is that as long as they have their spiffy advertising (and can claim the likes of Picasso and that Chatwin guy) and enjoy their wide availability, there’s probably little incentive to improve their paper.

I suppose from time to time I too get caught up in the ideas symbolized so well by  Moleskine and again embrace them with a hope that has yet to be realized.

Writing Tip Number 4*

A concern sometimes raised about micro-point pens is their tendency to skip. I’ve experienced this from time to time and it’s always frustrating to stop mid-thought to rectify the technical difficulty while the ephemeral flicker of literary inspiration, such as it is, evaporates into Ok..hmmmm…now where was I?  There appears, however, to be a simple solution to reduce the frequency of, if not eliminate entirely, the skipping problem.

Have a glance at the photo in the heading of this post. Featured is a Rhodia Webnotebook (with the uber awesome dotted pages) and a Uni-ball Signo DX .28 (brown ink). The frumpy piece of paper to the lower left? A guard sheet and the solution to the skipping problem.

A simple sheet of paper between hand and notebook page seems to reduce greatly the incidence of skipping when writing with fine and micro-fine point gel pens. As one writes, a fine residue of oils, and perspiration at times, from the hand and wrist can be left on the page, thereby creating a surface that’s seemingly problematic for micro points and can lead to skipping. A barrier placed between hand and writing surface keeps the latter in the pristine condition required for micro points. Of course the concept of a guard sheet is not new; I recall reading a few years ago of its utility in the calligraphic arts. The point here is that it’s just as  important a tool when using fine and micro point pens.

If you’re a micro point pen user and skipping is a concern, give the guard sheet thing a try. And as an interesting experiment: after a few days or a week of use, try writing on the guard sheet with a micro point. You’ll likely encounter more skipping than a 12th grade home room teacher during the final week of high school.

The guard sheet: an important, but potentially overlooked writing tool.

——————————————————————————————————–

* Number 4 you ask? This is a new blog so where are Numbers 1, 2, and 3? Well…George Lucas began his epic Star Wars saga in media res with Episode IV and we all know how that turned out. It is hoped that by beginning the Writing Tip series with Number 4,  Fine Points will likewise meet with an astounding success of perhaps a handful of page views and maybe a “like” before the author’s dilettante nature drags him elsewhere.