Autumn is upon us already. Like I mentioned in an A-Players post a couple of weeks ago; here in my home state of Michigan leaves are already turning to oranges and reds, the mid-60's are starting to seem like warm weather, and my plain shirts aren't warm enough for being outside on their own anymore.
While I've been sad to see the warmer weather go, Autumn brings with it a host of things to love as well. Sweater weather rolling in, Halloween festivities, getting to enjoy delicious apple cider, donuts, seasonal coffee drinks, and of course - a new Field Notes Colors release.
This fall's Shenandoah edition isn't as eclectic and unique as the Twin Rivers edition or as progressive in design as Workshop Companion was. Rather, this is a return to classic form for Field Notes - and while it might not be the weirdest or most innovative edition in manufacturing, it checks a lot of the boxes in what has always made Field Notes great.
With your first glance at Shenandoah, you might be forgiven for thinking that it's just a simple tri-color release - much like some other fall releases of yore. On the surface Shenandoah is made up of three subtly different green books, each with dark text adorning their fronts. Not exactly a break from tradition for Field Notes Brand.
Upon a closer inspection is where those initial assumptions of relative simplicity would begin to prove wrong. On the back of each Shenandoah book is a small leaf glyph, a series of facts, and descriptions of a tree from the titular Shenandoah forest. Some light reading on Field Notes' website will inform that - delightfully - each cover's color matches that of the leaves of the tree on the back.
Look closer again - this time at the inside cover - and you'd be greeted by one of three vibrant yellow, red, or brown hues. Each one matching up with their tree's leaves in the peak of fall transition rather than the greener spring or summer seasons.
That simple concept - green leaves on the outside, vibrant colored leaves on the inside - is Shenandoah's main theme, and I love it. It's a nice seasonal theme and makes sense for fall, but isn't in-your-face or overly busy. While I have enjoyed both Twin Rivers' and Workshop Companion's designs throughout this year so far, Shenandoah seems so much more understated and tasteful.
The minimal cover designs are mated with tasteful typography and iconography on the rear. Beautifully subtle and vibrant-bright colors, all complement each other in differing shades across the three books. And of course this edition is the closest thing we've had to some of the all time greats like Mackinaw Autumn and Day Game in a long time. Add all these things up, and you'll find that in-design Shenandoah is by far my favorite release from Field Notes Brand this year.
I just wish the same could be said for the paper.
Field Notes bills the stock inside of Shenandoah as a Finch #60T base. Which in theory should be an improvement from the #50T stock that I and many other Field Notes fans have grown used to dealing with over time. In use though, I've found Shenandoah's paper to be just as bad (if not worse) than Field Notes' usual stock. And it's a serious bummer.
Putting my Kaweco Lilliput's fine nib to the paper results in a large, feathered line rather than a slim one. And ink bleeds through the page so badly that it's sometimes hard to read the resulting writing on either side. As I've written about before the 3/16" graph ruling is just fine for my uses, but when paired with a paper stock this poor it hardly matters.
I'm torn in determining what exactly it is that makes Shenandoah's poor stock seem so egrigious to me in use. I've used Field Notes #50T before, but I don't remember even it being this bad. Maybe it's because I've gotten used to Workshop Companion's extra-hearty #70T stock over the past few months, or maybe because I've begun to use paper aside from Field Notes like Baron Fig's Confidante - which handles fountain pen ink quite well indeed.
Either way, the direct comparison to Workshop Companion's paper makes Shenandoah seem all the worse. Can't hit it out of the park like that one season only to follow up with a strike-out like this. For the first time I'm left feeling frustrated that Field Notes has been able to put better paper in past books, but left it out of this edition. It could be a matter of an increased cost to supply the heartier stock, but even in that case I'd be willing to chip in another couple bucks if it meant my writing was handled better in the books I carry with me everywhere, everyday.
Even with all that rant out of the way, I'll still say that the paper in Shenandoah isn't quite a dealbreaker for me. While the writing experience may be sub-par, it doesn't seem often that we get an edition as pretty, as minimal, and as potentially-classic as this one. I'll probably use one or two more of these books during the fall - they're just too gorgeous for me to pass up.
Before I go, I'd also like to throw out a couple other tiny details that really put Shenandoah over the edge for me design-wise. The covers, the colors, and these details are what make an edition really special and memorable. To me at least.
- Field Notes Colors subscribers like myself got three cute little buttons that went along with each memo book's tree theme. I haven't had a button show up in my life for the longest time, so I'm not completely sure what to do with these. For now they've become some of the little design trinkets lying around my room - I have them on my windowsill.
- Each three pack of the Shenandoah edition - subscriber or no - comes with another little detail that I'm adoring; a birch bellyband. Made in the same veneer style as their Shelterwood and Cherrygraph editions, the bellyband that holds Shenandoah's books together in their packaging is made from real birch wood. It's a gorgeous little detail that - while impractical - makes a great visual impression. These things matter folks.
- So far I'm about halfway through my first Shenandoah book. It's the Sweet Birch book with the light green and yellow cover, and has led me to take note of another thing I just have to comment on; this edition's wear. It's not dramatic, but as the book has bent in my back pocket it's gotten some beautiful little crinkles and creases. With these having formed, it reminds me of the classic Grass-Stain-Green edition for some reason I can't fully quantify. And while some might prefer these books sealed up and collected for the future, I much prefer how most of my Field Notes look after a month or two of spending time with me every day.
With that list coming to a close, I believe that's all I have to say about Shenandoah. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's got the great colors, attention to the little details, and seasonal panache that's always made Field Notes great. There's a lot to be said for a simple edition like Shenandoah - it's a classic in the making. And while I might wish for an improved interior stock a lot of the time when I write in it, maybe that's just another detail that makes a classic Field Notes release - a classic Field Notes release.