Book Review: Adventures in Stationery by James Ward

Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward was published back in 2015. And though it seems like a book that would be right up my alley, it somehow managed to pass me by until now. The same goes for both Ward’s “I Like Boring Things” Blog and The Boring Conference he organizes. However, the goal of his work seems familiar: take something that most people see as “boring” and explain why it’s actually interesting. So I was excited to see how Ward attempts this with the world of stationery products, a topic which he seems to have a genuine passion for.

Adventures in Stationery is one part pop-history, one part ode-to-the-boring, and a sprinkling of dry humor. In many ways, the book is like wandering through a museum of stationery. Ward takes you through chapters about pens and pencils, of course, but you’ll also hear the history of erasers, sticky notes, staplers, paperclips, etc., etc. It’s nothing as in-depth as Mark Kurlansky’s Paper, but Ward makes sure to point out the highlights (so to speak); major moments in the development of these items, as well as any pertinent dramatic or humorous stories.

Ward has a breezy style, and, at under 300 pages, I found it to be fairly easy reading. If you are reading this blog right now, there’s a very good chance that you will enjoy this book. However, I’m not fully convinced that your average man off the street will come out the other end with a newfound interest in stationery items. Of course, I liked the book very much, and so will anyone else who enjoys meandering through office supply shops. But if you’re planning to recommend it at your next book club, you will get a lot of skeptical looks.

Review: Classmate Octane, Gel Ink, 0.5mm

It must have been some combination of boredom and curiosity that led me to order this 5-pack of Classmate Octane gel pens (or, as it turned out, five 1-packs). The Classmate brand is entirely new to me, and I’m not sure that the company actually sells anything in the United States. But I did stumble across these Octane pens on eBay, and at a little over 50 cents per pen, I thought I’d roll the dice. Who knows? Maybe I’d discover the next great gel pen.

With it’s stealthy, black body and high-powered name, the Octane certainly seems cool on the surface. Other positives: it’s a smooth writer and produces a nice, dark ink, but the “Japanese Waterproof Ink,” as Classmate promotes it, does like to smear. And, as one might expect from the price, the all-plastic construction does feel a bit cheap. It has a flimsy clip, and the rubber grip section slides around.

Classmate, a subsidiary of the Indian conglomerate ITC Limited (formerly known as The Indian Tobacco Company), probably sells these pens for practically nothing in India. And if you live in that part of the world, it may be worth getting some of these pens for casual use. It is an adequate gel pen after all, but my verdict is that it’s not something worth importing from across the ocean.

Review: Inc Forma, Ballpoint, 1.0mm

After my bad experience with the Inc R-2 rollerball pen, I wasn’t expecting much from the Inc Forma. After all, it does look like a cheap, ballpoint version of the Pilot G-2, and it’s primarily sold at The Dollar Tree. But after using it for bit, I was quickly and pleasantly surprised.

At $1 for a 3-pack, you’re definitely not getting a premium experience with the Forma. The pen is entirely made of plastic, the clip feels very flimsy, and the rubber grip is best described as “soft-ish.” But putting pen to paper, the ballpoint ink in this pen is surprisingly smooth. It doesn’t require much pressure to use, making it a decent writing experience.

On the negative side, the ink isn’t particularly dark, and there’s a small issue with blobbing and smearing. But, really, I don’t have any criticisms that are harsh given that it’s such an inexpensive pen. I’d prefer it over a cheaper BIC ballpoint any day.

Of course, I’d never suggest that anyone go out of their way to buy a pack. The Forma is not, by any means, a great pen. But if you happen to be in need of some cheap ballpoints while at a dollar store, then this is a fine choice.

Notes on Heartbeat Field Notes

On Wednesday, February 14, 2018 (i.e. Valentines Day), Field Notes announced the Heartbeat Edition. A combination of the Wednesday and the Red Blooded editions, the Heartbeat notebooks were not for sale. Instead, 2-packs were included as a free bonus to any order placed on that one specific day.

The Heartbeat Edition is what I’ll call a “re-skinned” edition. The innards are identical to what you’ll currently find in a standard Kraft Field Notes notebook: a light brown graph grid on 60# white paper in the standard pocket-sized (3.5” x 5.5”) dimensions. The cover, however, is different. The outside is a deep (“Sanguine”) red with tan (“Manila Yellow Kraft”) lettering, and that color scheme is reversed on the inside.

There’s nothing spectacularly new to see, but what makes the Heartbeat Edition special is the heart replacing the letter “O” in the Field Notes logo. So don’t fret about the $40+ people are charging for this edition on secondary markets like eBay. While it’s true that Valentines Day doesn’t fall on a Wednesday again until 2024, I’m sure the company will run a similar promotion sooner than that.

Additional Notes

  • Of the 30 “Practical Applications” listed in the notebooks’ inside-back cover, my favorites are the following: “03. Meet-Cute Orchestrations”; “06. Times Had at ‘Hello'”; and “30. #9 Recipe.”
  • Apparently some people got Heartbeat pencils! I, sadly, did not.
  • No edition size is listed. So we’ll never know how many Heartbeats are out there.
  • I keep accidentally calling this the “Heartbreak Edition.” Maybe that’ll be the next one!

Multi-Pen Review: Skilcraft B3 Aviator

If you’ve heard of the company Skilcraft, it’s probably for two reasons. First, it’s the manufacturer of the U.S. Government Pen, a low-cost, professional-looking ballpoint that also happens to be very reliable. And second, it’s held in high regard by the National Industries for the Blind for employing scores of blind workers in their manufacturing facilities. Skilcraft is a good company, and so I was interested in trying another of the their well-known pens, the stealthy-looking B3 Aviator multi-pen.

As the pen’s name makes obvious, the B3 Aviator is marketed towards pilots. It meets the FAA’s “FOD” requirements, and it has a matte black finish to prevent glare. The multi-pen has three components: a 1.0mm black ballpoint, a 1.0mm red ballpoint, and a 0.5mm mechanical pencil. The midpoint of the barrel twists in either direction to eject and retract the three tips in turn, and the end-cap also screws off to reveal an eraser.

Oddly, the design and function of the B3 Aviator is pretty much identical to the Zebra Surari Sharbo 1000. So, it probably goes without saying that the problems I had with the Sharbo are the same problems I have with the Aviator. In particular, there’s no indication on the barrel for which tip is selected (you have to closely examine the tip to know if you’re about to write with black ink/red ink/pencil), and the cap that covers the eraser is a small piece that’s begging to be lost. For some reason, I also had some trouble getting the Aviator’s pencil lead to eject without breaking.

But, unlike the Sharbo, the Aviator feels a lot more substantial and durable – for about $18, you don’t feel like you’re getting ripped off. But that’s all that this pen really has going for it. The refills are fine, and it generally works okay. However, I still wouldn’t recommend this multi-pen – the design just isn’t very good.