How to Sharpen Pencils

by David Rees | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 1612190405 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/21/2012
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Friday, December 21, 2012
I got this hardcover from friends for Christmas. It's a deadpan manual on pencil-sharpening, taking it to the level of serious craftsmanship, and is very, very funny! It's subtitled "A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants".

It opens with customer testimonials, including some from Amy Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, and John Hodgman ("You may think that sharpening a pencil is easy, but David Rees makes it look hard, and that makes all the difference"); these are very droll in themselves. (Hodgman also wrote the introduction, with references to Cthulhu-shaped tea-cosies on Etsy, among other things.) And the book proper opens with a quote from Henry Petroski's delightful The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, which tickled me; while I haven't read that particular book I've read other works of Petroski's, including one on toothpicks and one on books and bookshelves, so of course I can imagine him waxing lyrical about pencils.

Once Rees' work kicks in, we get a beautifully straight-faced and in-depth look at the finer points of sharpening pencils, via pocketknife or various types of pencil sharpener, with some controversial elements such as sandpaper, all with illustrations. A taxonomy of irregular pencil points (I recognized several from past unhappy incidents with imperfect sharpeners {grin}), suggestions for what to do with the shavings (the author insists should be saved, as they make a nice addition to the display of the perfectly-sharpened pencil, but he offers suggestions for alternate uses as well: kindling, doll-pillow stuffing, etc.).

The shortest chapter: "A Few Words About Mechanical Pencils", which consists of the line "Mechanical pencils are bullshit."

While it does seem that the joke can't be carried on for an entire book, somehow the author managed to keep surprising me. After the how-to bits on actual pencil-sharpening, he goes on to suggest ways to disable or destroy those diabolic devices, electric pencil sharpeners - even when they're in somebody else's house (!). There's a nostalgic chapter on wall-mounted sharpeners of the type familiar to me from my school days - and, in fact, I have one of those in my house, though after reading this book I may look at it a bit differently. And there's an appendix on "Wines That Taste Like Pencils" that had me rolling, as wine-tasting tends to be full of odd-sounding comparisons including "graphite" and "cedar" and, probably, "pencil shavings" explicitly. There's also a list of pencil-related web sites, some of which sound pretty goofy in themselves... Great fun!

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Sunday, December 23, 2012

Released 7 yrs ago (12/24/2012 UTC) at Nashua, New Hampshire USA

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I'm taking this along on a visit to family in Texas; I think everyone will get a kick out of it, and who knows where it'll go from there?

*** Released for the D for December challenge, for "David". ***

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