How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants by David Rees
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is a point in a middle-class existence where one looks around at all of the chintzy mass-produced garbage which so thoroughly fills our life and wonders — desperately — if there can’t be something just a bit more refined. Something just a bit more real.
And so we turn to good whisk[e]ys and wines. Or we turn to German sports cars that we can’t really afford. Or we build a woodshop in the garage and slowly drive ourselves mad chasing the craftsmanship that our grandfathers were unable to pass on to us through our ill-gotten haze of wasted Saturdays filled with nothing more than pop-rocks and cartoons.
One place that I have turned to fill this hole in my life is well-made writing instruments. There is much joy and humanity to be found in placing the tip of a fountain pen to a good sheet of paper or in turning a perfectly-crafted wooden pencil in a fine German single-blade sharpener. And it’s this experience which is the subject of this book which is at the same time a reference book, a how-to guide, and a meditative spiritual tract.
Because sharpening a pencil is not just about moving as quickly as possible from “a yellow stick” to “a thing one can mark paper with”. It is about that, true. The functionality of a well-sharpened pencil is key. But it’s also about the texture of the paint under your fingertips. It’s also about the heft of the pencil in your hand. It’s also about the smell of the freshly released cedar as you slowly remove everything that isn’t a sharpened pencil.
Sharpening a pencil is a full-sense task. And, as such, it is a task that should be taken up with the utmost care lest you waste another moment on this planet without actually seeing any of it.
While instructional, this book is also very funny with charts and footnotes lightening the mood on almost every page. I was particularly impressed with Chapter 11, “A Few Words About Mechanical Pencils”. While I ultimately disagree with Mr. Rees’ assessment of those tools, he made his argument passionately and persuasively.
I think it’s also important to note the design of the physical book as well. It is a classic work that leans strongly on Futura. Every chapter heading, every sub-heading stands out as something worth remarking upon. I normally read electronic books but in this case, I highly recommend purchasing a paperback to hold in your hand. It is a worthwhile exercise and experience.