Notebook Review – Nero’s Notes Basics

I have an interesting relationship with pocket-sized notebooks.  I like the idea and I seem to buy a lot of them, but using them has proved more of a problem.  That’s partly down to the way I use notebooks in everyday life, but it’s also down to an irrational fear of ‘spoiling’ them by writing in them.  The result is a hoard of pocket notebooks, some of which are exquisite in their design and execution.

It’s not a straightforward case of White Page Anxiety, there’s also awe and respect for the (often) handmade nature of books like those from Back Pocket and Dapper Notes.  I know that the people behind these companies intended their notebooks to be used, but I have yet to convince myself that this is entirely OK.

Back Pocket and Field Notes editions

When notebooks look this good, why spoil them?

To try to disrupt this mindset, I’ve decided to force myself to use pocket notebooks more. To help prevent backsliding on my part, I went all in and signed up for the Nero’s Notes pocket notebook subscription.  This means a bunch of pocket notebooks turn up at my door every 3 months and can only be interrupted by active intervention on my part.

Given the difficulties I seem to have using notebooks that feature amazing artwork on their covers, Nero’s came to my rescue – albeit unintentionally.  My first shipment included a set of 3 Nero’s ‘Basics’ notebooks and set of 3 ‘1857’ notebooks (Stuart Lennon who owns Nero’s, is also one of the hosts/presenters of the excellent 1857 podcast).

Structure and Format

The term ‘Basic’ can sometimes be synonymous with cheap and nasty, but not so with these notebooks.  As the information on the inner and outer faces of the cover tells you, these notebooks are handmade in the UK using 240gsm card stock for the covers and 70gsm dot grid paper for the 36 page interior.  The books are saddle-sewn (i.e. stapled), which is pretty common for notebooks of this size.  Corners are rounded, which is a nice touch.

Front cover of Nero’s Notes Basics notebook

Keeping it simple up front…

The outside of the covers is suitably simple – the front cover sports the Nero’s logo and the word ‘Basics’, while the rear cover has the company name, the notebook’s dimensions and a legend telling you that the notebook is handmade in England.  The inside front cover allows you to record some basic information about the contents, while the inside rear cover provides some space to record your details and details of the materials used to make the notebooks.

Nero’s Notes Basics inside front cover detail

Worth making a note of

Nero’s Notes Basics inside rear cover detail

I love the idea that someone might expect a reward for returning the sort of drivel I write in my notebooks

In Use

The term ‘Basics’ distinguishes this notebook from another in the Nero’s line-up – the ‘Ink Friendly’.  The clue is in the name, with the latter being heavier weight, coated and meant to be more fountain pen-friendly.  To be honest, I haven’t found much of a problem using fountain pens with the Basics notebook.  On the face of it, the Basics notebooks are cheaper, but the page count is lower.  When this is factored in, prices are pretty similar between the 2 sets of notebooks.

Testing the ink friendliness of the Basics paper

Testing the ink-friendliness of the Basics paper

Show-through

Show-through but no major bleed-through

The paper performed pretty well, all things considered.  Based on previous experience with notebooks like Field Notes, I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but there was nothing really to complain about at all with the Nero’s notebooks.  All the fountain pens I tried performed just fine, although I didn’t use any particularly broad nibs.  The only obvious sign of feathering in my (non-exhaustive) test came with a thick OHTO Graphic Liner.

There was a fair amount of show-through, with a Sharpie being the worst offender (no real surprise there).  The Sharpie was also the only pen that gave a hint of bleed-through.  Again, not entirely surprising.

Conclusion

Nero’s themselves describe these books as simple, practical and super-stylish.  The first 2 are undoubtedly true.  The third is a little more subjective, but I must admit I like the plain and uncluttered look.  It reminds me slightly of an old school exercise book.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the Basics notebooks have performed.  At £9 for a set of 3, they’re pretty reasonable value for money.  They’ve definitely helped me get started on using pocket notebooks, and I even left the house once with one stashed in my pocket!  That provoked another crisis about which pen to take with me, but that’s a whole other can of worms best left unopened for now.

 

Notebook Review – Endless Recorder

Front cover shot Endless Recorder

The front end(less)

At first second glance, the Endless Recorder looks like many other A5 hardcover notebooks, with faux leather covers in a range of relatively muted colours.  (The first glance highlights a cream coloured drawstring bag that holds the book.)  What (hopefully) sets the Recorder apart from the also-rans is that they’re put together around Tomoe River paper.  This paper has something between cult and legendary status in the fountain pen world but, even with some recent entrants to the market, there are still relatively few makes of Tomoe River-based notebooks out there (check out GLP Creations and Taroko Designs for some alternative offerings).

Endless notebook storage bag

Are notebook bags your bag?

It’s hard these days to be truly innovative when it comes to design and construction of notebooks, and the Recorder follows a pretty well tried and tested design.  The faux leather hard cover I mentioned earlier comes embossed with the company logo on the front and “ENDLESS” on the back.  It’s all done quite subtly and without ostentation.  This leads quite nicely to the end papers, which feature an open dot layout with a blank space to fill in with the details of your choice,  There is also a repeat of the Endless logo, which adds a touch of class.

Endless Notebook rear cover

The back end(less)

Endless Recorder end papers

Subtle, stylish end papers

Perhaps it won’t set the world alight, but it makes the Recorder smart and subtle enough for use in a work setting, but the design accents are well executed and should satisfy the stationery aficionado.

The business end of the book is made up of small, thread-bound signatures, which help the book to open flat without the need to resort to coercion or physical violence.  Page corners are rounded (as are the corners of the cover).  There is a pocket inside the back cover.  It seems to be de rigeur for this type of notebook, but I can’t recall the last time I actually used one in a notebook.  The pocket is worth exploring when you get your Recorder, because there’s a small goody in there (I won’t give the game away) along with some promotional material.

Details of the binding

In case you lose your thread

There is no index and pages aren’t numbered, but I don’t find it that much of a chore to make my own index and number pages as I go.

Tomoe River 68gsm paper

Round corners, no page numbers

The ribbon and elastic closure come in a pleasantly contrasting turquoise colour.  I bought two Recorders, one in dark blue and one in red, and the ribbon and elastic are the same colour in both books.

The paper itself

There’s not much more to say about Tomoe River paper that hasn’t already been said.  In the case of the Endless Recorder, you get the thicker 68gsm paper, rather than the 52gsm you’ll find in things like the Hobonichi Techo or Seven Seas notebooks.  It takes pretty much any ink you care to throw at it from any width of nib, without feathering or bleed-through.  The coating means that dry times are not particularly quick, and I tend to have a piece of blotting paper to hand when I’m writing my journal.  It will also come as no surprise that there is some show-through, but this is just something you have to embrace if you’re going to write on Tomoe River paper.  It’s certainly less noticeable with the 68gsm than with the 52gsm paper.

Currently inked on Tomoe River paper

I’ll take any ink you can throw at me…

The paper in the Recorder is off-white.  I bought mine from Pen Venture in Romania, which gave me the choice of either blank or with a dot grid layout.  I bought dot gridded ones.  I used to think that dot grids were the best layout since whatever the last best layout was.  Over time, I’m less convinced of this, particularly when I’m using it for journaling.  I can see the merits in some applications, but I’m starting to come back to ruled or even blank for journaling. If you buy the blank notebook, you get a guide sheet included.  If I buy any more Recorders I might well try the blank version.

 

If you buy direct from Endless Works you get a choice of 4 layouts – blank, ruled, grid and dot.

I paid around €24 for each book from Pen Venture, rather than the £18 that Endless Works charge if you buy direct.  My reasoning was that buying from mainland Europe would be cheaper and less hassle than buying from the US.  It may have been less hassle, but my only option was some DHL priority service which added substantially to my bill.  Maybe I’ll buy direct from the US next time.

Practicalities of ownership

I’ve finished one of the two books I bought and didn’t experience any major issues.  I found that there was a little bit of lift on one corner of the cover material cover where it’s gathered and folded over.  My Endless Recorder didn’t travel further than between my desk and the living room sofa, but if you were to take it further afield maybe this points to it being a bit less durable than desired.  The ribbon page marker has also ended up looking a little fluffy and ragged.  This doesn’t bother me too much, but if you like a book that remains pristine looking through thick and thin, you might want to think more carefully.

Beyond that I had no issues with the Endless Recorder.  The book opened flat and the binding has never shown any indication of falling apart.  I mentioned the absence of page numbers or an index.  In practice, most notebooks I’ve ever bought haven’t had page numbers or an index and I haven’t felt like there has been a hole in my life as a consequence.

The Tomoe River paper does its job as you might expect.  I experienced no problems beyond the show-through, which I was expecting.

It’s not a criticism of Endless, but I wish someone would take this approach to notebooks, but with the 52gsm Tomoe River instead.  Whether it’s a cost thing or the sheer hassle of dealing with a paper that creases when you look at it, I don’t know, but I can’t believe there wouldn’t be a demand for it.

I’d certainly buy some.

Update

Since I published this post, Endless Works got in touch to let me know that they’ve recently updated the Recorder so that it now has an index and numbered pages.  There is also a block of perforated pages that allow you to remove them easily, if needed.  I’m happy to set the record straight. 😀