Well, first, you can use them with fountain pens — especially fountain pens with fine nibs with ink suited for poor quality paper. But honestly, that’s not really the main thing for me.
Here’s what I like about Field Notes.
The size. They are perfectly portable. In your purse, in your pocket, or even your hand.
The look. A Field Notes memo books is attractive in an unpretentious and utilitarian way (usually).
The utility. They are user notebooks (usually) and they take a lot of abuse. I end up bending them; I write on the covers; I wind up with mysterious spots on the kraft paper covers, bent corners and gouged spines. A Field Notes book doesn’t seem to mind. They bend, but they don’t break.
And Field Notes offers enough variety even for my short attention span. There’s a range of cover choices. When it comes to the paper inside, there’s blank paper, graph paper and lined paper available in the regular memo books.
One of my Field Notes packs has a wood laminate cover. I thought I’d like that cover more than I do, but it turns out I prefer the kraft paper (more bendable and mussable). But I still adore the wood ones, because of my favorite detail ever: copper-colored staples.
Then there are the limited edition Field Notes, which come out quarterly. You can subscribe, or you can just buy the ones you like. It’s these limited editions that caused me to qualify some of my comments above with the word “usually.” Because the limited edition Field Notes can be very different than the usual Field Notes.
That’s the last limited edition, called the Byline. It’s not a memo book, but a long, thin tribute to an old-fashioned reporter’s flip notebook. I think it’s the bomb.
Field Notes put this together with a journalist, and it references the reporter’s notebook of Hollywood legend. I happened to have been a reporter back in the notebook era. And, honestly, the working reporters I knew didn’t use these. We were furiously copying down quotes, writing hastily and messily. We needed wider notebooks — usually large steno books.
But where’s the romance in that? This one is so much better looking. It even comes with a dictionary of newspaper terms that is both accurate and a thoughtful improvement on real reporter’s notebooks, whose blank covers were equally lacking in instruction or whimsy.
The Byline comes with helpful reminders, too, on what you need to focus on.
There’s even a tiny fake newspaper with tiny fake news.
Well, I love the Byline special edition. It’s a terrific creative piece and a loving tribute to newspapers back in the day. But the normal Field Notes memo book is what I really use day to day.
I just like the way the normal memo books are designed. The basic books are well-thought-out and practical. They are visually attractive and nicely made. They also are a little quirky and a little droll. Reading Field Notes text is like being around funny, intelligent, interesting people with great visual sense.
I know some of the Field Notes folks must be fans of typefaces and fonts. Because Field Notes do solemnly declare that they “only” use Futura.
Normal people might be like, um, what, and so? But as a fellow typeface fan, these are my people.
Field Notes puts “specifications” on the back cover of every book. This is from a recent wood-cover Field Notes (the one with the coppery staples).
It’s cute, that level of detail. But it also gives me the sense that Field Notes does sweat the details. Making memo books is their work, after all, and I get the feeling that they take pride in doing that work well.
Nonetheless, outside of those specs, Field Notes isn’t particularly serious. They aren’t making pharmaceuticals. It’s a memo book. So they make it attractive. And they make it fun.
But of course nothing is perfect. There are some things I don’t like about Field Notes.
Mostly, the paper. It’s not bad paper. It’s just not (usually) fountain-pen friendly. The special editions vary, and have better papers, but the regular ones use thin, absorbent paper. Fountain pen ink tends to show through, so I can use only one side of a page.
A lot of fountain pen inks will feather, spread and look duller on the absorbent Field Notes paper, too. Using fine and extra-fine nibs helps, but you can still get feathering with many inks.
On the other hand, even the lowest level paper works well with ballpoint pens, pencils, rollerballs and the fine markers I use. Plus, my favorite fountain pen and ink combination works perfectly on Field Notes: a Lamy Safari with fine nib and Pelikan Brilliant Black.
But honestly, I’ll use any ink. I don’t mind some feathering in notes to myself. The idea is to write something down to remember it, not to admire. And the lower-quality paper is fast-drying; for quick notes that’s useful.
That said, a more fountain-pen friendly paper would be welcome to many people, and I wouldn’t be upset either. It can be done: there’s the wheat straw paper, and I even have a similar, inexpensive memo book made by Molekine that has great paper for fountain pens.
That Moleskine memo book, which is very good, reminds me of one last little thing I don’t like about Field Notes memo books. Sometimes it seems as if everyone else has decided to put out a similar product. There’s a crowded field of little memo books.
But that’s just my grumpiness. So what if the memo book aisle looks like the cereal aisle at the grocery store? I use Field Notes because they are a pleasure to pick up, leaf through and use. They make me want to jot things down. Some other memo books have better paper for fountain pens. But it’s only Field Notes that makes me want to carry around a memo book.