Book review: I have just finished reading a book titled, “How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, and Civil Servants,” by David Rees.
This book classified in the humor section, but I read it with the seriousness of a technical manual. I used to work in technical publications for a large electronic manufacturer. The author, David Rees, talks about what to do with the shavings and how present the newly sharpened pencil. He also talks about the history of pencil sharpening, the origins of pencils and how pencils are made as well as the care and maintenance of your equipment.
“Each action we take is an act of self-expression. We often think of large-scale or important deeds as being indications of our real selves, but even how we sharpen a pencil can reveal something about our feelings at that moment. Do we sharpen the pencil carefully or nervously so that it doesn’t break? Do we bother to pay attention to what we’re doing? How do we sharpen the same pencil when we’re angry or in a hurry? Is it the same as when we’re calm or unhurried?
Even the smallest movement discloses something about the person executing the action because it is the person who’s actually performing the deed. In other words, action doesn’t happen by itself, we make it happen, and in doing so we leave traces of ourselves on the activity. The mind and body are interrelated.”
? H.E. Davey, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation.
If one observes closely, there a thousand ways to sharpen a pencil, just as there are a thousand ways to make tea. Different situations and different uses call for different types of sharpened pencils. Different occasions and different guests call for different types of temae.
Some people may consider the art of pencil sharpening as inane as the art of making tea. For those who take it seriously, though, it can be sublime and imbued with meaning. It also illustrates that the attention to detail for something as mundane as sharpening a pencil or making tea can be totally satisfying.