Review: Back to school with the Taroko Design A5 notebook

As I lay myself down on the therapist’s couch, a quiet voice next to me begins to speak.

“Where do you think your addiction to stationery stems from?”

“I guess it goes back to my school days,” I whisper.

“Interesting. Now let’s go deeper. Describe the images that come into your mind,” the therapist continues.

“A Parker fountain pen with watery blue ink… lever arch files stuffed with revision timetables and covered in Tipp-Ex graffiti… homework diaries with crinkled corners, shatter-resistant rulers used as swords, highlighters and pencils… and, of course, exercise books. Lots and lots of exercise books.”

“Hmmmm. I see,” says the therapist, frowning and making notes.

Exercise books are, for many of us, our first exposure to “useful” stationery (in other words, not colouring in as kids). The memory of those books is strong and visceral. And I guess that’s why we’re seeing a resurgence in exercise book-style notebooks, like those from Clairefontaine and Silvine.

There’s a certain charm to the format: practical A5-ish sizing, thin enough to be floppy, soft covers and cheap stapled binding. What’s handy and functional to shove in a schoolbag is also ideal for toting along to meetings now that we’re in “big school”.

Of course, traditional exercise books have utterly terrible paper. Any self-respecting stationery addict would look at the ink feathering and run a mile.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s review: the Taroko Design A5 notebook. It’s the unpretentious exercise book format, crossed with Tomoe River paper. Is it an unstoppable tag-team? I put it through the wringer with some schooldayz doodling to find out.

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I’ll be honest. My pens weren’t this nice in school. But my handwriting was just as bad. Note that I still can’t draw cars to save my life.

Outside, there’s a paper cover (not even really card — it feels about 150gsm to me), silver staples, nicely rounded corners. Inside, Tomoe River paper, available in dot grid, lined or plain.

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Ruled paper rules OK

Here I’m testing the dot grid (rust-red cover) and lines (brown cover).

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Dull covers hide the fun inside.

There are no page numbers, bookmarks, internal pockets, tables of contents, or any other additions or adornments. It’s straight in to the paper. Which is a good thing, too. It’s the star of the show, as I have said many times.

The paper is the slightly heavier version of Tomoe, at 68gsm. It’s of the white variety, which is not eye-searingly white, still slightly warm tinted. Covers and all, the notebook is no more than 5mm thick, yet you get 64 sides of paper to play with.

With the covers and paper being so thin, and the construction so loose, the notebook happily lays flat and stays open.

As always, the writing experience is fantastic. At the cost of a little ghosting and slow drying times, inks look beautiful, with no feathering and an abundance of sheen and shading.

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Slow dry times mean plenty of smudging. Just like the old days.

It handles anything you can throw at it. Sharpies barely bleed through; massive fat brush pens and permanent markers only a little.

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Red line is Sharpie; black line is BIC Marking 2000 permanent marker

The line spacing is neat and broad; whatever your handwriting and pen, it should fit here just fine.

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The old ones are the best.

Back in the day, exercise books cost pence. Even now, the fancy Clairefontaine exercise books cost a couple of quid each, with 96 pages. This bad boy comes in at £7.95, four times the price (see, I studied maths at school).

I believe the premium is worth it. Tomoe is the best fountain pen paper in the world. I’ve used Taroko’s big A5 book, the Enigma, and several of the Field Notes sized pocket notebooks too. The construction and design holds up great. And right now, this is the only exercise book style notebook to use Tomoe paper. So if you want to bring back memories of school (without the terrible paper or juvenile humour) or just want a super slim and light notebook for your minimal work carry, this is your best option. Start saving your pocket money.

This lined notebook was provided free of charge for review by Bureau Direct. I have previously purchased other copies of this notebook with my own funds, including the dot grid one shown in the photos.

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