Review of Pencils You Should Know

Pencils You Should Know: A History of Ultimate Writing Utensil in 75 Anecdotes by Caroline Weaver

My rating: 3.4 of 5 stars

For me, Pencils You Should Know: A History of the Ultimate Writing Utensil in 75 Anecdotes was far better in conception than in realisation (full title for effect and intent). It’s a pretty little volume that would nicely find itself on a small side table. However, I fear that these anecdotes were not the anecdotes I was looking for;-) It is a quick, systematic approach to a curation of the history of the ‘humble’ pencil combined with lovely photography. The resulting product reflects more the choice of pencils included than in how their importance and ‘biographies’ were devised and relayed. Maybe it was the use of the words ‘Should’ and ‘Ultimate in the title – there is much promised there – dangerously so – and for me unrealised expectations.

Obviously, as an eBook, I had to consume it on my iPad (rather than the B&W Kindle) to get some appreciation of how I perceive the author would have seen it being appreciated. I imagined myself holding this very tall and slim hardback volume printed on nice glossy paper and having a certain heft to it. Thus the conception. I think that it would suit that – much in the same tactile and crafted way in which the pencil as a tool is also appreciated in form.

The other sense I take away from this book is that it would have rather a niche deep appeal. If you use pencils (I am a fountain pen guy and fetishise over that) then you would appreciate the affordances and the subtleties – and if you are even mildly curious would like to investigate the genealogy of the instrument that you are using today – then there would be an added dimension to your appreciation. If this were on fountain pens – even whether a brand or a type (yes, I have these volumes about) I would be more engaged. But that is not the fault of this book or the author’s delivery – but it is that type of book. One that I sense needs that extra sense of engagement. The same with the fountain pen would probably bore the pants off a non-aficionado as well.
For me, this lovely artefact strays only slightly from being a curated reference volume done as a display piece.

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