Book Review: 'How to Sharpen Pencils'

Photograph by Kutay Tanir/Getty Images

Is How to Sharpen Pencils a joke? Well, was it a joke when, in the summer of 2011, Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers Chocolate announced it would be getting its coming year’s supply of cocoa (20 tons’ worth) delivered by three-masted schooner? It costs $8 for a bar of Mast Brothers chocolate. Although there is a store and website and there were published pictures of the schooner arriving in Red Hook, it does feel a bit like it might have been a joke. The home page shows two brothers in beards who appear to be perfect parodies of the Williamsburg mode. Was it a joke when, in 2008, an Austrian group announced they would be reopening the Polaroid film factory in the Netherlands? A pack of the film, which can produce eight pictures—after just a few minutes of waving each around frantically—costs $23.49. This might have been a joke, too, but maybe not, given the strange needs of art. So it was maybe only partly a joke when, in the fall of 2010, David Rees, who lives in Beacon, N.Y., opened a business sharpening pencils for customers. Send $15 to Rees and he will sharpen any pencil by hand, slip it into a protective tube with a certificate of authenticity, and return it, along with the shavings. He wears a smock and safety glasses, and never, ever uses an electric pencil sharpener. He likes the old ways.

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