I didn’t expect to buy a book about pencil-sharpening

And now after reading this interview in The Millions with a man who wrote a book about sharpening pencils, I have, almost immediately.

TM: So is there an optimum degree of sharpness for a pencil in your view? I find I get obsessed with having as sharp a tip as possible, to the point where I spend as much time sharpening as actually writing with the thing. Because, of course, the sharper the tip the more likely it is to break.

DR: That’s true. And obviously there are so many metaphors you can make about sharpening a pencil, and the tension between trying to have an idealized tip and a practically usable tip. At some point, you just have to trust that the point is good enough and just put it to the page and get to work. As opposed to just doing what I’ve done my entire adult life, which is just staying trapped in my head and being terrified of engaging with the world because it will be less than perfect. If you have to write about your own emotional and psychological shortcomings and traumas in the guise of an industrial manual, pencil sharpening is a great one to do because it’s so obviously symbolic and metaphorical. There’s a tension between trying to make something perfect and actually having to be in the world and make use of it. For me it’s useful to keep that tension in mind and to remember that it’s great to have a pencil mounted and displayed on your wall, but it’s also just great to have a pencil in your pocket.

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