Dixie knows me well. On a whim she bought me How to Sharpen Pencils: A practical and theoretical treatise on the artisanal craft of pencil sharpening for writers, artists, contractors, flange turners, anglesmiths, and civil servants, with illustrations showing current practice. She didn’t really know what it was when she bought it. It was more of a joke purchase than anything. As it turns out, it’s a wonderful, well-written and hilarious satire, hearkening back to technical manuals of yesteryear (as the long subtitle implies). Each chapter is devoted to different elements and techniques of pencil sharpening, from use of a pocketknife to wall-mounted hand-crank sharpeners.
What makes it particularly brilliant as a satire is that the author, David Rees, takes the subject very seriously. I do have a particular fondness for the simple and humble woodcase pencil (#2/HB), so I loved almost every minute of it. Others who do not share my fondness (including mechanical pencil users) may not enjoy the book nearly as much. The last couple of chapters were a bit of a disappointment, because here Rees moved away from the “serious satire” into ridiculousness (e.g., how to sharpen pencils while doing celebrity impressions). As soon as he did this–essentially declaring “Hey everyone! This book is just work of humour, but in case you don’t get it, I’m going to include some obvious material!”–the satirical edge, and it’s brilliance, was lost.
Nevertheless, I’m willing to declare this my favourite book of 2012. It was a wonderful read.
Incidentally, my fondness for pencils led me to once buy a gross of Forest Choice pencils, by far my favourite writing pencil. Smooth as butter. The lead wears down quite quickly and the ferrules (the aluminum bit that holds the pencil and eraser together) tend to be loose, but that’s a small price to pay for an otherwise beautiful writing experience. Even after 3 years at seminary taking notes almost exclusively with these pencils, I’ve hardly put a dent in the box.
I’ve got an electric pencil sharpener in my office, but it’s a loud, pencil-eating monster. I think I’ll go back to a hand-crank version.