Paper Review: Maruman Mnemosyne N195A Special Memo Notebook
It's easy to avoid being adventurous when it comes to paper. When you find something that works for you and your fountain pens, you may not want to stray away from it. That's certainly true of me and Rhodia paper, but after hearing so many good things about Maruman, I knew I had to see if I was missing out on something special.
Materials & Construction
The N195A comes with a simple black plastic cover. It features "195 | Mnemosyne" in gold text at the center of the right side, but apart from that the cover is generally unadorned. The back cover is virtually identical to the front, but is devoid of any text. Though I appreciate the minimalist aesthetic, some may find it to be a bit too austere. With that said, the no-nonsense design of the cover certainly makes it well-suited for use in professional or academic settings, and I'd have no problem using it at school or in the office.
The plastic feels sturdy but it's finished in such a way that it's rather gritty. It's the type of plastic that emits an unpleasant sound that will make you cringe if you scrape your fingernails against it. The corners of the cover are rounded, but the rounding itself is somewhat poorly done; the cut isn't especially graceful and results in edges that aren't quite "sharp," per se, but nevertheless feel a little rough.
The N195A is spiral-bound with a twin-ring construction. Though I'm generally not a fan of spiral-bound notebooks, the binding on the N195A seems sturdy enough and for the most part it hasn't warped or deformed during my testing for this review. The top and bottom rings have bent slightly inward, but that hasn't inhibited my ability to turn pages easily.
One benefit that spiral-bound notebooks do provide is a completely lay-flat design, and the N195A is no exception. I've encountered no ergonomic challenges when using this notebook, whether it's wide open or folded over on itself.
It only takes a bit of perusing Maruman's website to learn that they are serious about paper. The company has developed what they call the "Maruman Paper Series," which is essentially a variety of different types of paper that are suited to particular applications. The "D" line is intended for drawing, and the "W" and "C" lines are meant for watercolor painting and croquis, respectively. The "N" line of paper featured in the N195A is specifically intended for notebooks, and Maruman touts the paper's suitability for all kinds of writing instruments, including fountain pens, ballpoints, and pencils.
The N-series comes in a variety of weights ranging from 60-90 gsm, and Maruman features its 80 gsm variety in the N195A. It's acid-free, and pH neutral, meaning it should do well if used for archival purposes. Maruman emphasizes smoothness in its N-series paper, and they aren't kidding. It doesn't feel as glossy to the touch as Rhodia paper, but it's certainly slick. The paper has an ivory hue that complements the notebook's "professional" aesthetic.
Inside the N195A we're met with 80 sheets of micro-perforated pages with a ruled layout. As some of you may be able to discern from my previous notebook reviews, I am quite fond of having perforated pages in my notebooks and it's no surprise to say that I enjoy them here. The perforations are sturdy enough so as not to compromise the integrity of the sheets when you want them to stay in the notebook, yet they tear easily when you want to remove them.
The front and back of each sheet features a ruled template with dedicated spaces for "DATE/NO" and "TITLE" at the top. I have mixed feelings about this design. On the positive side, the 7mm ruling and 24 lines provide ample space for writing. I particularly enjoy that every 8th line is a solid line that's slightly bolder than the other lines, which divides the total writing space into thirds. This feature can be convenient if your writing application lends itself to being divided into sections. However, if you don't care about that and just want to treat the ruled area as a single writing space, the solid lines blend in well enough so as not to be distracting or prohibitive to that use case. Maruman has struck a nice balance in this regard.
On the negative side, the area that's allotted for the date and title at the top of the page doesn't seem like the most efficient use of space. The date cell is a bit narrow, which means you can only record the date in numerical format unless you have small handwriting. Moreover, in my opinion, the cells for these spaces are taller than necessary; I rarely have a title that requires the full space that's been provided, and if I did, I would appreciate having an extra line in a cell this tall to help align my writing. Sure, these observations may be a bit personal and nitpicky, but I can't help but feel that I'm wasting about an inch and a half at the top of every page.
To say that the paper in this notebook performs admirably would be an understatement. It has met or surpassed my expectations in almost every respect. I would be remiss if I didn't start this portion of the review by commenting on the paper's resilience to bleeding and ghosting. In short, it defies both with aplomb. During my testing I did not experience even a drop of bleeding (except when using Sharpies), and show-through was about as faint as can be. I've been able to use the reverse sides of pages with confidence and without any worry of marring or obscuring the writing on the opposite side.
Much of that resilience is the result of the paper being rather nonabsorbent, and that same nonabsorbent quality also affects certain aspects of writing with fountain pens. Specifically, shading and sheen properties of inks are not diluted on this paper. The N-series paper is rather similar to Rhodia in the sense that the paper will demonstrate shading and sheen, but they won't be quite as overtly obvious as something like Tomoe River.
Of course, the inherent downside of having less absorbent paper is dry times that are longer than average. During my testing, inks often required as long as 35 seconds to dry, and even then some inks still smeared a little. That's quite a bit longer than what I usually experience with Rhodia paper, and I can imagine it may be a deal-breaker for some.
As of the time of this writing, the Maruman Mnemosyne N195A Special Memo Notebook can be had for around $7 on Amazon. If I'm being honest, I was a bit surprised to see just how affordable this notebook is. I received this notebook as a gift from my wife, so I was unaware of the price going into this review. It was only after I completed the majority of this review that I finally saw the price, and I was expecting to see something between $10 and $20.
After using this notebook, I can't help but compare it to the Rhodia Meeting Book I reviewed around this time last year. Though the Meeting Book is more obviously marketed as a business notebook, the N195A's design fulfills many of the same needs. The two notebooks have the same number of pages and similar performance, yet the Maruman can be had for less than half the price. Moreover, the page layout of the N195A may actually be more useful for other writing applications, as the omission of the "Action" sidebar results in more space for writing. With that in mind, it's hard to call this notebook anything other than a great value, as long as you can handle the relatively long dry times.
Final Thoughts & Score
N-series paper is resilient and staves off bleeding and ghosting
plastic cover doesn't have the best texture
ink takes a long time to dry
page headers don't make the most efficient use of space