It's hard to believe now, but many years ago I lived in Orange County. In fact, it was so long ago that not only had the internet proceeded no further than a glimmer in Tim Berners-Lee's eye, but absolutely nobody referred to said locale as 'The OC'. But it did happen, and in between the trips to the beach, the wearing of banana flower hats and, naturally, the picking of oranges (which grew wild just outside the local CHiPs base), I found time for a little television.
My, but it was lousy. I thought I could dig Disney as much as the next kid, but every five minutes the lamentable Mickey Mouse Club was interrupted by yet another 'commercial break', and they were even worse. The final straw was the constant intrusion of the desperately cheesy Milton Bradley Toys, whose rather feeble adverts irritated me so thoroughly that I refused to have anything to do with their products (sold over here as MB Games) for the rest of my childhood.
I'm sure many of MB's products are terrific, by the way. But I tell this story as an example of how excessive hype can backfire. The refined ivory towers of the stationery world aren't entirely immune to hype, however much we'd all like to believe otherwise, and until recently I'm afraid I'd rather dismissed the phenomenon of 'bullet journalling' as an example of such dubious modishness. There was plenty of noise about the selection and crafting and archiving of the bullet journal, but it seemed there was precious little explanation as to what on earth one was. Frankly, I suspected it was a fad; if I was going to have to endure hours of tedious TED talks about the concept, it sounded a lot like the emperor's new clothes and I was pretty sure I had better things to do.
Nero, however, is an insistent hound, who having decided that my scepticism ought to be challenged then sent me so many bullet-journalling resources that it soon looked like I'd have to try some just to clear a way through to my writing desk.
I admit I was a bit anxious about having to 'enjoy' all those video lectures, but I did my homework, and the secret didn't prove so hard to find. Nevertheless if you actively take delight in that sort of research and don't want to hear it from me, then look away now, because after the next illustration... there are spoilers.
It's a to-do list, basically. 'Turns out that I've been using something a lot like a bullet journal for donkey's years. You can take it a step further by using the space between the action points to record outcomes (referred to in the jargon as 'data logging'), or a hint at what you learned while carrying-out the action, but the main advantages of the system are that it's fast, requires no electricity or software, and if you get fed up of setting yourself the same task day-after-day ('migration') and it never gets done, this is a sign that it's not worth doing - and can be deleted. The clarity this provides can be quite liberating. Of course there is more to it than that, or there can be if you'd like (and there will be a link below if you want to delve deeper), but those are the basics. So hands up: I get it. I can see the appeal.
Now, you can guess where this is heading. Surely this is a prime wheeze for having some nice paper and a classy writing device within easy reach at all times, right? Right! So here are four of the potential solutions which Nero purveys, and I think we can safely say there's not a 'Milton Bradley' amongst them.
All of the options reviewed here are A5 format, and that's a sensible size and shape to be going along with. First up had to be Leuchtturm, a German company now manufacturing in Taiwan. They have invested seriously in the bullet journal concept, to the extent of collaborating with Ryder Carroll - who coined the term Bullet Journal (or 'BuJo', for hash-tagging purposes) and continues to promote the concept enthusiastically. Understandably, then, their bullet journalling book certainly comes with plenty of instructions. These explain the concept in enough detail to be comprehensible, without banging-on about it excruciatingly; there's more on Ryder's website, after all. The paper has a texture which is ideal for pencils, if a little on the bumpy side for fussier gold fountain pen nibs. It also has no less than three ribbons, which there is some sort of sophisticated use for, probably (and as my other half cheekily points out, if one gets a bit bored in a meeting at least there's enough there to make a decorative plait).
Next we come to the lovely A5 dot-grid book made by Dingbats. This Lebanese marvel comes in a variety of colours, but given my prelapsarian reminiscences it's probably as well that Nero sent me one in orange. This notebook doesn't employ the term 'bullet journal' or Carroll's suggested symbols, recommending instead some drawn from a symbolic font family (Dingbats, of course). With its plush, padded hard-back cover and animal-themed decor, it really looks the part. Sadly the pen loops couldn't quite withstand my clumsy mauling, but the paper is really good to write on with just about any implement and the suggested symbols for actions and appointments make sense. This probably takes the prize for being the most luxurious option here.
Staying with the orange theme, naturally Rhodia wanted to get involved, and the 'Goalbook' is their answer to the needs of bullet-journallers. The cover is slightly flexible, but otherwise the French offering competes well with the Lebanese; two ribbons again, and of course the typically excellent paper which just cries out for the biggest, wettest fountain pen you can find. I would have preferred lines to squares, but it's a joy to write on – in fact, I drafted this whole blog in one, with suitably serious orange ink (Diamine Pumpkin, if you're wondering). This one's a keeper, whatever you choose to do with it.
So, which of these three handsome bound editions would I choose for a to-do list, or bullet-journal? Personally, I wouldn't – but that's for reasons of my own taste rather than any failing on the part of the products. I know that the sense of occasion which the opening of a fine, be-ribboned archival tome brings with it is a daily pleasure for many people, and if that's your cup of tea then all three are certainly worthy of consideration. For me, perverse as it may be, that atmosphere of ceremony is something of a distraction; present me with a book this resplendently posh and I start practising calligraphy, which is fine at the weekend but rather less helpful when I really need to make a task list and get on with the working day.
I'm used to bullet-tasking on old scraps of paper with no ritual significance, which can sit flat on my desk and then be disposed of after use without inducing crippling feelings of guilt. Perhaps I shouldn't feel that way, but old habits are hard to break – so for me one of the best A5 bullet resources that Nero has in stock is the Nock DotDash Spiral Pad. It's spiral-bound at the top so it stays open easily, the pages are detachable, and it's not fussy; you can write on it with anything you like (it certainly cohabits happily with a fountain pen), but it doesn't require you to invest in hours of copperplate exercises. Much to my surprise, then, the gold medal goes to the USofA on this occasion – the local entertainment may be a little questionable, but there's no knocking the Nock.