My way or the cahier

I have more than a few rough notes laying around containing thoughts on the humble cahier (“ka-yey””)style of notebook. Most are written when its new notebook time, and I start thinking about exactly what I might need. I guess the usual pro’s and the con’s type of thing. While far from exhaustive, the following outlines why the humble cahier more often than not fits the bill — at least for me.

As pen people, we all understand the joy of any writing instrument (fountain or otherwise) is inherently tied to the paper we’re using. Despite quality paper coming in many formats, we’ve probably all been in the “I can’t find the exact thing my ridiculously picky pen-nerding soul wants right now” situation more than once. At times like these a default go-to works more often than not, and for me that has long been a cahier of some kind.

While Dictionary.com tells us the cahier (ka-yey, kah-; French ka-yey) is, amongst a couple of other things, a notebook, paperback book, exercise book or journal, most know it simply as something like this:

There have been a few…

Start Here

Although the adage goes something along the lines of any journey begins with a single step — occasionally it’s a stumble. Though perhaps a little harsh, fountain pen users will know what I am talking about here. My first cahier experience? A set of three from Moleskine. I mean, back in those early days of my stationery exploration, that’s what people who cared about such things used wasn’t it? Well, perhaps according to shrewd marketing, airport gift shops and large department stores — however this soon ran contrary to my paper quality sentiment above.

Since those early missteps there have been quite a few more positive experiences. Familiar to many, there have been Clairefontaine, Rollbahn, Rhodia, Baronfig, Milligram, and currently a set from Lamy which I’m finding very pleasant to use. There are no doubt a good few others in my tried-those list which escape me at the current time.

I refuse to even start down the specifications rabbit hole, and with so many unique dimensions around the place these days, there is hardly a cahier “standard” of any sort when it comes to sizing.

To be honest that doesn’t really bother me too much, however the following would be the general description you would find from most sellers – here, the Dymocks bookstore Moleskine product page:

The medium-sized Moleskine Cahier is a beautifully made Moleskine exercise book. It’s a soft-cover notebook with a flexible cardboard cover and visible thread-bound stitching.

…The plain notebook is the perfect art notebook, university notebook or personal journal, with simple mid-sized blank pages. The Kraft notebook has a beautiful, natural-cardboard cover that will appeal to those who love earthy tones.

…perfect for students, designers and creative people who take a lot of notes. Each has 80pp with 16 perforated pages and an expandable inner pocket.

All shapes, sizes and colours…

Whether you are a stickler for specific definitions or not, a cahier to me is a thin, softcover notebook. Having used thread bound, staple bound, A5 (and A5-ish), B5 (and B5-ish), and up to A4 — my definition is fairly broad.

Cah-yay…

So, why this humble notebook?

A simple answer to that question is found in that sublime interaction of paper quality and utility. I’ve always found most manufacturers who produce quality, fountain pen friendly paper, generally have a cahier in their line up alongside the usual hardcover notebooks. So in most cases, there are numerous choices if paper quality lies anywhere within your key criteria. Again, if you are reading this, I assume it probably does, and if your fountain pen performs well on the paper, generally most other pens will too.

As for utility? Well we could just as accurately substitute mobility here. There is a certain lightness about the cahier which a hardcover notebook will never quite match. Here I’m not talking about simply mass in grams — more so the overall footprint. Absolutely, your typical cahier will weigh less than an equivalent hardcover, though beyond that, a cahier is generally unobtrusive in nature. Tucked beside your iPad or laptop walking to a meeting? In and out of a briefcase or back pack? Stacked on a bookshelf or corner of a desk? The cahier is an easy carry, straightforward in and out, and seamless fit for any space.

Ok, so in praise of this jack of all trades — what about compromises? Generally where significant breadth of application is apparent, we tend to sacrifice depth, or quality and performance in a few key areas. To my why of thinking, the question should relate more to fit for purpose than what may be lacking compared with an arbitrary list of criteria. Any criteria need to be yours don’t they? Further, they should indeed be very specific to you.

For me? Paper is a deal breaker, and I’m sure anyone this far into the post thinks exactly the same. As I’ve mentioned though, with the right brands, there aren’t any real compromises required here. The softer, card-stock covers? As long as they prevent the the front and back pages ripping off as it goes in a bag — all good. Further, they allow each half of the notebook to be folded back on itself — perfect for cramped desk spaces or perhaps when you have no desk at all.

While they perhaps don’t look quite as a good as a hardcover on ”my minimalist desk setup” posts, and may get a little scuffed going in and out of a bag, for my own purposes, I cannot really come up with any significant negatives.

Well that’s me. You? It may be all, all wrong, so thank heavens for the choices we have in this stationery caper, and as usual, that’s why we’re so often invested in the search.