Review: Myndology Bare Notebooks
Every now and then I get a notebook that's a joy to use. It could be for many reasons, including paper quality, design, sizing, ease of use, uncommon personal preferences, ideology, loyalty or --yes-- even the buy-in from marketing and advertising. Since I actually work in a marketing firm, I like to think I'm more skeptical in this regard than most, but the rest of the qualities can coalesce into a notebook that's a real pleasure to write in. The hunt for such a beast continues daily, and each week I try another handful.
When Jason from Myndology offered to send me a few samples of their "Bare" line of notebooks, I hadn't very high hopes. In fact, because they were designed from the ground up to be "environmentally responsible," I was prepared for the worst. Several other recycled products sent to me for review have barely seen a line of ink before I passed them off to other less demanding users. Most of them are fountain pen unfriendly (to say the least), with excessive bleeding to the point where I can't use an overleaf. Glued bindings often become unstuck, the fibres of cover and paper start to fall apart in damp air, and some earthy but impractical thing gets in my way, e.g., a scratchy hemp bookmark, a brittle dried flower, or --heaven forbid-- an actual acorn or pine cone hot-glued to the front. Plus, the design generally falls into one of two categories: recycled book covers (usually random, but you're more likely to get a low-budget Harlequin knockoff than "A Farewell to Arms"); or a piece of cardboard that looks like the back of a cheap steno pad. Given past experience, and that Myndology is currently a sponsor of DIYPlanner.com, I was a little concerned that writing a Bare review might prove precarious....
When I first received the Bare notebooks, the carefully wrought design immediately caught my eye. Although it was clear that the covers were fairly thin but sturdy cardboard in various earth colours (clay, pine and sand), there was some sort of 3D effect that took me aback for a moment. It turns out that the front covers are die-cut with hundreds of little random arrows in a geometrically consistent pattern, but with the cardboard folded back around and creating a shadowed effect through the arrow holes. This "double cover" is not only aesthetically pleasing but sturdy enough to write with if you're holding the notebook in your hand or on your lap. A two-inch high removable piece of paper wraps around the cover with the Myndology name along with several lines of mantra intoning the Myndology slogan (good thinking) with renewable energy and recycling. You'll also find the environmentally-attuned specs: 100% recycled, 30% post consumer, printed with soy ink, produced with 100% clean, renewable hydroelectric energy, chlorine free process, acid free paper. Adding to the philosophy of reuse, one can keep the covers and discs and purchase paper refills from Myndology.
The rounded edges of the notebook cover and paper evoke the discs used to bind it all together. From my understanding, these are Rollabind-style discs and --just like the Levenger Circa line-- permit pages to be inserted and removed very easily. The discs themselves are made of a translucent honey-coloured plastic and compliment the earth-tones of the covers quite well.
Truly, these are some of the most beautiful and professionally-designed notebooks in my collection. Kudos to the listed design firm Duffy and Partners, and to Myndology for producing the line.
Ah, but aesthetics are one thing -- how about quality and practicality?
First of all, the dimensions of the Bare line are fairly limited at the moment, with the two size options of Memo (3"x4") and Journal (6.5"x8.5"). The Memo is the perfect size for keeping in a shirt or bag pocket, and in fact that's where I generally keep mine. The Journal is a unique size for me, since I'm more comfortable with 5.5"x8.5" ("classic" planner size). In this, its proportions are more similar to the A5 used outside of North America. Still, that little bit of extra width was something I grew accustomed to, and soon preferred to a 5.5" page.
The paper... well, this was the moment of truth. Despite a great design, useful sizes and good construction, a notebook means nothing to me if I can't use my fountain pens. This has been a problem before. Each Chinese-made Moleskine I purchase seems to be a little worse than the one before, and sometimes Levenger paper bleeds like Snyder's 300. With a ballpoint or a gel pen, there's no problem, but try them with even a fine-tipped fountain pen and you may need to skip every second page. A quick-drying ink like Parker Quink or Waterman's Black helps, but forget about using most specialty colour inks (a.k.a, "boutique inks") in the majority of notebooks.
The Bare paper itself is a pleasing ivory colour, just a pale hint of beige. The corners, like the cover, are rounded on the outside edges. The texture is not completely smooth: there's just a subtle tooth there that can grip a pen's ballpoint or stimulate ink flow from a nib. Time for the acid test -- I took up a range of favourite pens and pencils with the following results:
- Lamy Safari fine nib with black Quink: perfect, no bleed or feathering, as expected
- Lamy 2000 fine nib (more like a wet medium) with black Quink: no bleed, barely visible feathering (you likely need a magnifying glass to see it)
- Parker 51 aerometric fine nib with Noodler's Polar Black: perfect
- Levenger True Writer Metalist medium-fine cursive italic with black Sheaffer Scrip: perfect
- 1918 model Waterman 52 fine flex with Waterman black: barely visible feathering and bleeding in the thick wet lines (very usual, even with better papers)
- 1927 Sheaffer Lifetime flat-top fine nib with Waterman black: perfect
- Parker 1927 Duofold medium (very) wet nib with Quink: minor feathering and bleed, as expected (this has bled on almost all my papers except Rhodia)
- Hero 616 fine nib wet, with Levenger Cardinal Red: minor bleed, feathering
- Parker 1927 Duofold mechanical pencil with ancient 1.1mm Autopoint B lead: nice and dark, very little excess graphite (thus little smudging)
With the exception of very wet wide nibs and dye-heavy boutique inks such as Levenger's Cardinal Red, the results were excellent, and very consistent with better quality paper. As can be expected, all my gel, rollerball, thin felt-tips and HB pencils wrote perfectly and demonstrated no issues. (Well, besides my lacklustre handwriting.)
Sporting innovative design, an eco-friendly manufacturing process and very nice paper, the Bare line of notebooks demonstrates Myndology's ingenuity within a marketplace seemingly dominated by plain exercise books on one side and Moleskine clones on the other. The prices are quite reasonable too, both for the notebooks ($5 and $9) and the refills ($3 and $6, 60 sheets each).
If you're a fan of disc-bound notebooks and are looking for something fresh, I can certainly recommend giving them a try -- at worst, you'll save a tree, and at best, you'll find a dependable alternative whose quality rises far above many of the other notebooks out there with poor paper, questionable construct and variable value. I truly think Myndology has a winner on their hands with this line.
Pros: Thoughtful, unique design; excellent paper for notebooks; inexpensive; environmentally friendly.
Cons: Disc-bound notebooks not for everyone; little holes in cover could catch on keys and pointy objects in crowded bags; paper sizing and cost of punch make it difficult to produce one's own paper refills; cardboard covers are less rugged than plastic or leather alternatives.
Verdict: With the environmentally friendly Bare line, Myndology has produced a veritable treat for notebook lovers that combines high quality paper with a novel design, certainly an excellent value for less than $10.