User review: Tom Hall on the Habana

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Tom Hall is an IT lawyer, fountain pen aficionado, author, and frequent guest blogger round these parts. Here are his thoughts on the Habana — and a page from his newest work-in-progress

Some days we are lucky, and the mail carrier does not leave behind any bills. Other days we are VERY lucky and he or she leaves behind a fat envelope containing a sample from Karen at Exaclair.

A few weeks ago one of those envelopes arrived, holding a Habana notebook. I’ve been a bit slow to write about it. It is almost too nice to use, leaving me with a puzzle: What should I write in it? Daily notes? Class notes? To Do lists? Article drafts? Sketches for never-to-be woodworking projects? Probably not. All these are ephemeral, or, at least disposable. 80 sheets of 90 gram Clairefontaine paper is simply too good for Take out the trash, Fix the kitchen sink, and The Grate Great aMAmerican Novl Novel. Such transitory and inconsequential expressions do not belong in a notebook so well made that it, and its contents, may be around long after I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil. Besides, do I want the great-grandkids to know that I did manage to fix the sink?

Then I had an AHA! Moment. It would be a tremendous lab notebook. It is durable. At 6×9 and 80 sheets, it offers plenty of room to write. More, the pages handle fountain pen ink and even heavy pencil with aplomb. This image shows a few lines written with J. Herbin ink and my big Parker, Duofold, which lays down ink like a paint brush. Provided I did my part, the Habana would provide me with a permanent record, a record for the ages. I pictured myself handing it to my patent attorney, to document my claims to my world-shaking discovery, clutching it as I accepted, with suitable humility, my Nobel Prize. I imagined my descendants, many generations removed from now, gazing at it in admiration, in its place of honor beside the Declaration of Independence. But then Reality intruded, reminding me that I haven’t had a science course since high school, where I shared a lab bench with Francis Bacon. My last experiment (an attempt to brew a new ink) produced only bad smells and that I can hardly change a light bulb without running a very risk of electrocuting myself.

Only somewhat daunted, I returned to the conundrum: What does one write in a notebook that cries out to be written in, but which also demands quality content?

Perhaps, as an inanimate object, the Habana cannot cry out to be written in, but it is certainly a book I want to write in. It feels luxurious, without being decadent. The covers are a treat to hold, while pens and pencils simply glide across the pages. It is a book that I can write in at my desk, in the library, or when parked under a favorite tree. Opening and closing it will not wear it out. It will not fall apart, shed its cover or pages after going in and out of my œwriting bag a few hundred times. It will not turn into a mass of pulp if it (and I) are caught in the rain (or I spill something onto it).

I do have a niece due to be born in a few weeks. The Habana would certainly provide a fine record of her first year, but I tend to be picture happy, and the sewn binding is not designed to accommodate such bulk.

In the end, my solution was unremarkable, for me. I will use it to draft my latest yet-to-be-published novel. That is perhaps fitting, as the story revolves around a world-shaking discovery by a great scientist, long overlooked in his stack of fine black notebooks.

Others may find other uses. I believe Hemingway wrote about the terror of the blank page, discussing a writer’s reaction to a clean page and the challenge of filling it with interesting text. He might not have had that difficulty with a Habana, which urges one to Do your best.

What more can we ask from a notebook?

2 thoughts on “User review: Tom Hall on the Habana

  1. I, too, have felt the joy of having a package arrive from Karen brimming with the latest luxury in papers. The joy felt at the sight of the package is inexpressible. A true paper lover really ought to have the good fortune to experience the thrill of it.

    Too, I am like Tom in his review above. I received a red pocket Habana and a large black Havana. At first I couldn’t bring myself to write on the sumptuous pages, but once I finally broke down and started using the red Habana pocket notebook, I was instantly in love. The little red book has gone with me nearly everywhere I go.

    At that time I had still not yet experienced the New Rhodia Webnotebook (lrg), as I had inadvertently acquired a stack of the older 80 gsm paper books that have to be filled with words before moving to the newer 90 gsm books. I had heard that once one experienced the 90 gsm paper it would be impossible to go back to the 80. I started using the Webbies as my “Morning Pages” and still have three to got before the stack of nine are used up. (I’m currently on page 177 of 192 before starting the next one.) There is one of the new 90 gsm books waiting it’s turn on the shelf.

    After having brought myself to use the pocket Habana, I began to think maybe this book ought to be my morning pages. The pages of the Habana are similar to the Webbie, but the size of the Habana is a larger page format. The Webbie is about 5 1/2 X 8 1/4″ while the Habana is 6 X 9″. Doesn’t seem like that much difference when you look at the measurements, but the Habana has a wider line width for writing those big cursive letters some of us older writers like as our eyesight isn’t what it once was. Two other significant details are the Habana (available in four colors) has the bright white paper and a more flexible cover where the Webbie pages are cream colored with a sturdy hard cover (Orange and Black only.) The cost of each of these books is the same in most locations.

    Unless one is adamantly opposed to white paper the Habana is a valuable addition to anyone’s list of quality notebooks. As Tom Hall states above the Habana is quality at its best. From a personal perspective the only thing that would make it more luxurious would be real leather binding which in this reviewer’s perception is not necessary.

    Thanks for the great review Tom.

  2. The secret, of course, is to buy a multi-pack from Brian at GouletPens. Then you have one for conference notes, one for research for your novels, and the rest for a good head start on the book.

    Be warned. Manuscripts are like potato chips. Once you finish one, you’ll start another. And another. And you’ll need LOTS of Habanas so you can work on them wherever you are.

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