Like all artists, writers frequently sketch and stretch their skills in notebooks never seen by the general public. The writing journal becomes that place for many word crafters, whether the prose, poetry, doodles or drawings they place there ever get published or not.
There are many blank notebooks on the market that serve this purpose for writers or those who simply want to record their thoughts or memories. One such book is sold by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and is called the “monastery journal.” Specifically, the item reviewed here is called the “Barnes and Noble Brown Monastery Refillable Leather Journal.” ISBN13: 9780641568916. Price: $39.95 US.
Perhaps the name comes from its appearance. The notebook itself fits in an Italian-made, plain brown leather cover that makes it look older, perhaps like a volume one might find in a monastery library from the Middle Ages. It is fastened with a tab and loop closure made of the same brown leather that also gives it an aged appearance, as do four ridges on the spine that suggest an antique type of binding. The cover and tab closure are stitched around the edges with brown thread. Two inside pockets hold the thick notebook insert inside, suggesting that the cover may be reused with other inserts after filling the one originally purchased.
The cover measures 8-1/2″ tall by 5-3/4″ wide. The notebook inside measures 8-1/4″ tall and 5-1/2″ wide. Including the cover, the notebook is approximately 1-1/4″ thick. There is no decoration on the front or back of the journal.
Inside, the paper is ruled in faint gray lines on cream paper — the cream is more of a yellow hue than beige. Lines are one-quarter of an inch apart, and there are 30 lines per page. At the bottom of each page appears a faint gray decorative accent; the pages are not numbered.
A writer seeking a thicker journal may enjoy the fact that this one has approximately 380 pages. Reviewers on the B&N website like the quality of the thicker paper; however, other writers may not. The notebook and pages do not lay flat on their own, though pages are sewn bound, not stapled.
A gold satin ribbon attached to the insert marks one’s place. The insert itself, however, is plain and not decorative without the leather cover.
The covers of the insert are made of a thicker card stock, and therein lay one of the problems with a journal in this price range. In trying to close the notebook, the cardboard cover rubs on the raw inside of the leather cover, rather than sliding back in easily. This causes the insert cover to bend and resist closing. It can take considerable fiddling with this to close the book.
Another problem with the insert is reported on the B&N website where customers discuss trying to find replacement inserts so that they may reuse the leather cover. They reported having difficulty finding the same insert at B&N, though one review claims to find a refill from another retailer. If one measured carefully, another, similar notebook might be used to replace the insert, or the leather cover might be taken off and used on another notebook entirely if one disliked the insert that came with it.
Pen tests of a Staedtler triplus fineliner, Pilot V5 Precise Extra fine pen, Papermate Flair medium, Pentel RSVP fine, and Bic fine point pens gave no ghosting or bleed-through on the pages. A Pilot Varsity fountain pen had no issues on this paper. A full-size, fine-point Sharpie marker in black left ghosting on the reverse side of the thick page; it took some pressing and lingering of the marker on the paper for it to bleed-through to the other side.
For writers seeking a lightweight journal to carry with them, this one may not fill the bill. The combination of the number of pages, the leather cover, and the thickness of the paper makes the book quite heavy. This, and the problem with the insert not closing smoothly inside the leather cover after each use, and the difficulties in replacing inserts making the price of the notebook perhaps more justifiable, might make writers want to consider this journal carefully before buying.