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Mechanical pencils are reliable, convenient and never need sharpening; there is a huge variety of leads available in fine gradations of hardness; and they come in all price points, from plastic dollar store bargains to metal-bodied workhorses to sterling silver status symbols from Tiffany. There is something for everyone, and they are indeed wonderful tools.


The wooden pencil, on the other hand, has a down-to-earth, tactile quality that the mechanical pencil lacks. You pick up a new pencil, roll its hexagonal body between your fingers, and admire its lacquered finish as light bounces off its gold lettering. It is a century-old ritual performed by billions of people all over the world.


Then you insert the pencil into a sharpener and turn the crank. Maybe you turn it slow, to feel the individual blades at work, or maybe you turn it fast, and let the efficiency of the machine take over. You pull the sharpened pencil out, inspect its point, pass it under your nose, take in its cedar aroma. Perhaps, like Proust's madeleine, it transports you to an earlier, lost time; maybe you helped a favorite teacher sharpen all of the pencils in the classroom - when was it? Second, third, fourth grade? And ever since those formative years, whether you realize it or not, the wooden pencil has been a simple pleasure, a touchstone, a musical instrument that sings through its body as you draw its tip across the page.


A mechanical pencil, of course, can do none of those things.


Then again, a pencil is still just a pencil - is it possible to take it too seriously? Well, if you like deadpan humor, if you can laugh at your own obsessions, if you can appreciate the effort required to take a subject to its most ridiculous limits in the pursuit of levity, you might enjoy this book on How to Sharpen Pencils.


Anyway, regardless of how you feel about pencils, you won't be disappointed with any of the offerings below.