David Rees

It goes without saying that How to Sharpen Pencils (Melville House, $19.95) is a put-on, given the book's naggingly archaic subtitle: "A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening." Author David Rees is known as a cartoonist (Get Your War On, My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable!), but he's no draftsman. He's a master of clip art, which is antithetical to the retro-grouchy tone he adapts in his highly illustrated guide (there are lists, footnotes, demonstration photos with the author, tables, and a faux bibliography). "Artisanal" is a keyword—one that Brooklyn resident Rees is clearly sick of hearing, just as we are here. His supposed pencil fetish is of a piece with all the Golden Age, locally sourced, pre-digital nostalgia that afflicts those urban types—and they are always urban—who would never surrender their precious iPhones or Facebook accounts. Adapting a tone somewhere between Phil Hartman's old Anal-Retentive Chef on SNL and BikeSnobNYC (with a descriptive touch recalling Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine), Rees gradually reveals the insanity to such atavistic work methodology. (Save those pencil shavings! They can be used as mulch, cat litter, or "Ninja-style blinding dust.") He's losing—we're all losing—the push-back against technology. It's a futile battle that Rees treats with deadpan humor—as when he, wearing smock and safety goggles, breaks into houses to surreptitiously sharpen "our cedar friends" and take a mallet to his sworn enemy, the electric pencil sharpener. BRIAN MILLER

Fri., April 27, 7 p.m., 2012

 
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