I like notebooks. I buy lots of them. More than I can reasonably use any time soon. That leads me to the harsh (but entirely fair) realisation that I’m a hoarder. If it looks like it might have decent, fountain pen-friendly paper and is well put together, then I want one.
The need for good paper is a given, since I use a fountain pen every day. The construction is important to me because I like a book that opens easily and stays open on the page you chose. As a left-hander, the flatter it opens, the better. Anything resembling a small hill in the middle of a notebook is a right royal pain in the proverbial.
The one thing you wouldn’t normally find me rushing to pick up is a spiral-bound book. Most of my encounters with books of this sort haven’t ended well. The wire starts to unravel, and before you know it, the book is in bits in front of you. Not a good outcome.
With this in mind, I approached the Mnemosyne 194 with a bit of trepidation. Sure I’d read good things about the quality of the paper, but I wasn’t too sure how I’d get on with the book overall.
Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the nine muses. Precisely what this has to do with notebooks, I’m not sure, but it’s one of those things you feel you have to point out for the purpose of education and factual/mythological correctness.
I use a notebook a lot at work and have been searching for something sober enough to take to meetings, but which is enjoyable to use and can cope with ‘proper’ ink. Made by Maruman, the Mnemosyne 194 fits this bill well. It is bounded by two black plastic covers, with simple gold embossing on the front proclaiming the word ‘Mnemosyne’ and the model number which relates to the format (194 for B5, 195 for A5, 199 for A4). These examples are all side-bound, but there are also a couple of top-bound books in the range. The front cover also bears a sticker giving some technical details about the book (page layout, number of sheets etc.). You could remove the sticker to further tidy up its appearance, but so far I haven’t bothered. The covers are thick enough to provide a decent amount of protection, as well as being quite flexible.
I tend to use A5 books for journaling and most of my other writing, but I’ve made the switch to B5 for work and so far I’ve liked it. B5 is somewhere in between A5 and A4 (apparently B sizes are calculated from the geometric mean of adjacent A sizes, which I think you’ll find explains things nicely). I like the added real-estate without the full-on bulk of an A4 book. From my limited experience, it seems that the majority of B5 notebooks available in the UK are Japanese (Mnemosyne, Life, Apica, Swallow etc.). That works just fine for me because I love Japanese notebooks. The only non-Japanese B5 book I’ve tried was a Leuchtturm 1917 softcover book. I don’t know where Leuchtturm get their reputation for good notebooks as this proved to be a fully paid-up, card-carrying pile of rubbish. Aside from a disintegrating binding, I had major paper quality issues – with inks feathering and bleeding through without the slightest provocation. It was an out and out horror show. If you take nothing else from this review, DON’T BUY THE LEUCHTTURM!
Back to the Mnemosyne. Under the front cover is a very cheery, bright yellow front sheet, embossed with ‘Mnemosyne’ in gold at the bottom. On the reverse of this are some cartoons with captions and some additional text. The only two words in English are “Basic Style” which, as statements go, should win a prize for irony. The rest is in Kanji (which I’m afraid I can’t read).
Once you’re past the front sheet, you’re straight into the book itself. You get 80 sheets (160 pages) in each notebook. There’s no index and no page numbering, although there’s also nothing to stop you numbering pages yourself and creating an index. That’s not something that bothers me, but if you really need a ready-made index you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
Each page is ruled with separate date and title boxes at the top. Line spacing is quoted at 7mm and measures exactly that. Lines are pale grey and pages are sub-divided into 3 sections by darker grey lines. Each sheet is micro-perforated, should you want to remove any.
On to the paper itself. It is a pale cream colour, exceptionally smooth and a joy to write on. I’m well into my second 194 and they have both been great. The paper is perhaps a little more forgiving of some pen/ink combinations than others, so you may need a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you. I’ve had no disasters, but some combinations were slightly harder work than others.
The paper has coped well with a range of inks and shows off shading pretty well and sheen to some extent. I found that Sailor Jentle inks, for example, only sheened with broader, wetter nibs. Blackstone and some of the new Organics Studio inks will sheen on pretty much any paper, so it’s no surprise that you’ll see sheen from them on the Mnemosyne paper.
That said, the paper isn’t completely flawless. However, the overall writing experience has been such that I can easily forgive the minor issues that have cropped up.
What about those flaws? You get some show-through when writing on the reverse of a page, but that tends to be with darker inks and wetter nib/ink combinations. I don’t find it too intrusive and it’s far from the only paper to show this. Where things get a bit more tricky is that on some pages, I’ve encountered small areas where there has been some feathering. I’ve put this down to inconsistencies in the paper coating/finishing process as it has only occurred very occasionally and has been a localised effect. I tend to doodle in meetings and where there’s a lot of ink put down on a small area you can get some bleed-through. I could easily solve this problem by listening more and doodling less!
What about my prejudice against spiral-bound notebooks? The Mnemosyne 194 has transformed my view of this type of binding. I think the fact that I’m omy second one of these books for work and am about to order a third says it all. What seals the deal for me is the price. I got my 194 from Cult Pens for the princely sum of £6.75 (the A5 size is £5.95), while The Journal Shop carries the 194 for £6.50. You can also buy it from Goulet Pens (among others) for $7.50. On a per page basis, this puts the Mnemosyne at around half the cost of a Life or a Swallow B5 notebook. The very existence of the B5 Leuchtturm becomes even harder to justify when you realise that its price per page is around 3 times that of the Mnemosyne!
Whatever your preferred paper size, the pricing of Mnemosyne notebooks makes them well worth checking out. The paper is pretty darned good and they are well put together. As for B5 as a format, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it works well for me.