Monday, August 25, 2008

Habana notebooks

[Orange notebook art. Click for a larger, orange-ier view.]

4" x 6 7/8", 96 sheets, 27 lines per page
6 1/4" x 9 1/4", 80 sheets, 25 lines per page

When Quo Vadis offered interested parties the chance to evaluate its Habana notebooks, I promptly raised my hand. As a regular reader of Orange Crate Art already knows, I love "supplies," a primal love that goes back to my childhood interest in my dad's art materials.

My acquaintance with Quo Vadis products goes back to my grad school days, when a Quo Vadis page-a-day planner became my tool of choice in the neverending battle to stay organized. ("That's what all the yuppies use," a saleswoman in a Boston stationery store told me when I looked at a Quo Vadis. I bought one anyway.) Quo Vadis planners have always been well made, with superior paper sewn in signatures and flexible but sturdy covers. So it's not surprising that these Habana notebooks are beautifully designed and made (in the U.S.). Their soft, leather-like, scuff-resistant covers (black, orange, red) are a wonder. (Any further description will have to sound like adspeak: buttery, rich, sumptuous.) The Habana's paper is by Clairefontaine, what Quo Vadis confidently calls "the best paper in the world for writing." Writing on Clairefontaine with a fountain pen is a pleasure: the paper takes ink without feathering or bleeding through. The Habana stays flat when open, so that one can write and ponder and ponder and write. The elastic band that keeps the notebook closed leaves no bumps beneath the back cover — a very nice trick. And there's a secret compartment — well, an envelope — on the inside back cover, to hold a spare bill, receipts, tickets, and a sentimental paper item or two. My review notebooks are without placemarking ribbons, though online descriptions of the Habana mention a ribbon.

Anyone who cares enough about notebooks to be reading this post is likely wondering how the Habana compares to the "legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin" (none of whom used the notebooks made by Moleskine Srl). The Habana is not a Moleskine knockoff. The notebooks differ in size from Moleskines; the covers extend beyond the paper's edges; and there's that unmistakable Quo Vadis insignia (front cover, bottom right). Anyone who buys a notebook for its mythology ("Here I am, in a café, just like Hemingway") will be disappointed. (Imagine buying a typewriter to be like Kerouac, or a pencil to be like Nabokov!) But anyone who regards a notebook as a handy tool of thought will be delighted by the Habana. It's built for thinking and writing.

comments: 9

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I will have to look around for them.

j said...

(Imagine buying a typewriter to be like Kerouac, or a pencil to be like Nabokov!)

That is the basis for modern advertising. There goes your corner office on Madison Ave. :)

If not Hemingway, you could be like Orwell- piece in the Times today about his diaries.

gelci72 said...

Ah, another delicious post! I sigh and luxuriate...

Anonymous said...

A few hours later - I have seen one. It doesn't state the country of manufacture, nor is the paper like that of any Clairefontaine notebook I've seen. Perhaps there is more than one variant?

Michael Leddy said...

Someone asked Quo Vadis about the paper. The answer: "Here's some further clarification about Habana paper: the notebooks that are produced at the Quo Vadis plant in Carquefou, France are made with Clairefontaine PEFC ivory 60gr paper. These notebooks are sold in Canada, Europe and Asia. The Habana notebooks that will be sold in the U.S. are made at the Quo Vadis plant in Hamburg, NY with Clairefontaine PEFC white 90gr paper." The paper, by the way, is thinner than that of the Clairefontaine notebooks I've used.

The U.S. version of the Habana has a paper band with various details about the notebook.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael, that would explain it.

Chaser said...

Ok, but not everybody who uses a Moleskine is a fool or a poseur as you seem to suggest. Do you think all those people who buy Super Glue do so because they think they can emulate that guy hanging from a hard hat? Or because Super Glue is really useful for a lot of stuff? (Yes, it's been some time since I've had a tv.)

I buy and use Moleskines and Moleskine knock-offs because I need a notebook, they're a good size for me, they're sturdy enough to cram and in and out of my backpack, and I can buy them with a short walk down the street to a local bookstore. They are a good, middle-quality notebook. If I buy something too expensive, I find myself unable to write in the notebook because what will appear in my notebook will be scratchings, poorly written and generally crappy. A cheap spiral-bound notebook feels sleazy. So my best option is something that isn't so expensive I put it in a drawer for that "someday" when what I write is going to be good or so cheap that writing in it isn't pleasant.

Finally, I can easily imagine buying a typewriter to be like Nabakov. What's so wrong with an aspiring writer wanting that? You don't need to tell me that the tools do not make the artist. Everybody who is a creative worker knows that. But I have taught a lot of kids in studio classes, and I watch a clear progression for some (not all) students. Many students need to take on the materials of their role--what they think an architect has or looks like--as part of the process of taking themselves seriously. We all know at the professional level that you can make a good design on a napkin. But when you are starting, you don't have 50 projects under your belt to assure yourself that you are what you want to be; you have dreams, and you try to make those dreams work all the little ways you can control--such as getting the tools of the trade. Nope, nothing really substitutes for the hours spent learning the craft. Yup, buying the materials doesn't make you what you want to be, but I have seen how the material components of the craft can help cheer some through the lonely, frustrating, difficult, and rotten times you go through when you are just learning. As long as that posing doesn't become too much of a distraction, I think it can be very healthy, even if those of us farther along find these premature attempts at shortcutting legitimacy to be mawkish and bit silly. Those who are committed and who find joy in really doing the work will stick; and those who won't, won't, and I've never noted a correlation between posing and quitting. Plenty of people would rather be writers or artists than actually do the work, but that desire to be something can and does discipline many of my students into the hard work that it takes to learn a craft, and eventually to the discovery that the work is really the thing, not the role. For me, I honestly don't care. If somebody has to smoke a pipe and pretend to be Faulkner, why not? Light a candle? Rub a lucky dead rabbit appendage? Fine, dandy--as long as that the first step, not the only step.

Ok, that was long. Sorry.

Michael Leddy said...

Chaser, I didn't say that "everybody who uses a Moleskine is a fool or a poseur." I use Moleskines, and I've written about them any number of times (here, for instance, and here, and here). I like Moleskines despite the commercial mythology (which the company, to its credit, has toned down, at least on its website), because they're beautifully designed tools of thought. I like the idea of wonderful and inspiring tools (I've been using the same fountain pen for the past ten years!).

The Habana, as I see it, is a wonderful and inspiring tool too. But it has no mythology. So I'll stick by what I wrote: anyone who buys a notebook for the mythology will be disappointed. Anyone who regards a notebook as a handy tool of thought will be delighted.

Speedmaster said...

Nice review, and I love the orange color. ;-)