Three Pencils I’m Really Enjoying

Am I Write?

I’ve wanted to do a pencil review for some time now. To some, this might be as interesting as reviewing aglets or mud pies, and I can understand that. For a long time, I almost hated pencils. The sound of graphite on paper was like a mild Nazgûl scream to me. I’ve been a decided advocate of pens since I learned to write my left-handed words. But then I ran across Joe Thorn’s blog post on pencils and decided to give them a chance.

And now, having my own blog, I get to nerd out over a writing utensil that has grown on me over the last few years. When I sit down to work, I unfold my pencil roll and begin to sharpen my workhorses. Even know, some folks will come by and raise an eyebrow and ask about them. Everyone needs a hobby, I tell them, and this one is relatively inexpensive. But the truth is, I just like them. So, here are three pencils I’m really enjoying right now.

Golden Bear

This particular model of Golden Bear comes in a handsome blue color pack of 12. It’s made of the standard incense-cedar from the west coast so it smells great. I’ve never had the graphite break on me. I was going to include a certain brand until, last night, the point snapped after the pencil itself had become to short. But the Golden Bear has a graphite core that runs the length of its body, so you don’t really get that.

It’s not as dark as I prefer. The darker the graphite, the softer the lead. But that means I don’t have to sharpen it after every five minutes. And it’s a smooth draw across the page. Any pencil I can forget I’m using is a good pencil. I came across these after I started using Blackwings and so I can say that the Golden Bear is a happy medium between excellence and paper fodder. Just a nice stick to write with.

General’s Cedar Pointe

This one took some getting used to. But the same goes for most honest people. And when you get this pencil, you get an honest pencil. I say that because there’s not much to it. It’s unfinished and devoid of lacquer and color. That could be a plus or a minus for you.

For me, I like the feel of smooth cedar. I would love to be better at woodworking, but I covet my fingers. This gives me the illusion that I’m closer to that world. And the eraser works! Some pencils (like the Musgrave Scoring Pencil) have erasers that function like cheese on a grater. U.S.A. General’s Cedar Pointe has a sturdy black eraser that takes a beating.

Relative hardness. To my mind, it’s a shade lighter that the Golden Bear , but it’s solid. When I sit down to work, the Cedar Pointe is usually my workhorse. And again, it’s just fun to write with unfinished wood. Makes me feel like a pioneer (minus the dysentery).


This neat little guy deserves special mention. It’s an economical option from India. For the price of a Starbucks specialty drink, you get ten pencils, a little eraser, and a fun little sharpener. I didn’t use the sharpener because I prefer the Kum AS2M and keep several around the house, but you will need one and that’s because the HPL Nataraj doesn’t have an eraser.

At first blush, that might be seen as a drawback. But remember, I was (and still claim to be) a pen aficionado. Since erasable pens are a trick of the devil, this feels more like how writing should be. You think about what you want to say and then you slowly compose. There is no means of revision other than the graphite. At the risk of attributing way to much to a writing tool, I think it can be a tiny step towards civility. The lack of an eraser makes me slow down a bit more and weigh my words because I can’t just call a do over.

The Nataraj has a lovely paint job. I’m not sure what species of wood they us, but the shavings are pink and remind me of sliced champagne apples. And who wouldn’t love that?

Draw Your Own Conclusions

I work mostly on a laptop all day, but I have used a hybrid analog approach to content creation for a while now. Whether it’s my indispensable Full-Focus Planner or my Expedition Field Notes (for which I will only use Zebra F-301 pens), I write on paper everyday. And above are three pencils I would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys using good graphite or wants to pick up a fun, cheap hobby.

And we haven’t even talked about pencil rolls yet…


In Defense of Unread Books

What’s the difference between a hoarder and someone who buys books and keeps them stacked like termite mounds in the basement? This isn’t a joke. I’m actually wondering.

Solomon said (to the “amen’s” of countless generations of students), “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc.12:12). This is one of the most bewildering and, dare I say, even offensive verses in the Bible. Of the making of many books there is no end. Praise the Lord! That means that of the buying of many books there is no end. And of the reading of books there is no end. Solomon, it sounds like you’re describing paradise.

Now, of course, Ecclesiastes is a back and forth between two ways of looking at life. You can look at life “under the sun” and what you see is what you get. That can make life tiresome (even in studying what you love). Or you can enjoy life “from God’s hand” and look along the sunbeam (as Lewis would say) back to the source of the gift and, thereby, see everything else properly. And Incidentally, that’s why the phrase “nothing new under the sun” isn’t a truism for how a Christian should see the world, but rather, how the folly and exhaustion and diminishing returns of a life without God is repetitive. But if nothing else, his mercies are new every morning (Lam.3:22-23).

But I digress. Back to my hoarding problem. Or is it hoarding? Is it because I need to have a plethora of books? (“Jefe, what is a plethora?“) No. When I changed professions this summer, I gave away or sold about 30-40% of my book because of storage space and it didn’t kill me. And yet, three months later, here I sit with lovely, wobbly skyscrapers of knowledge climbing to the ceiling around me. I’m flanked at my desk. I’m surrounded from behind. They loom over me from above.

And while I sip from twenty or thirty books on a monthly basis like some sort of lazy hummingbird, I know that I will never read them all. But that’s not the reason. Why do I have so many unread books? Why will I (without doubt) buy or trade or borrow more unread books?

I love meeting new people. It increases my empathy. It expands my experience. My favorite C.S. Lewis book is An Experiment in Criticism. In it, he talks about the interaction of multiple writers. “But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

I love the pleasure of potential. Why is the waiting for Christmas better than Christmas day? Longing and joy mix together in a glorious anticipation that is invulnerable to letdown. There is a sweetness in an unread book because it could be the next Wind in the Willows to me. It just might be as good as Supper of the Lamb.

I love not being the smartest person in the room. This is an implication of Lewis’ above point. Wendell Berry is a wiser man than I am. Augustine was a genius on par with Plato. Don’t even get me started on Tolkien. But if I can experience life through the eyes of Tom Sawyer or Lucy Pevensie or Martin the Warrior, then I can also learn from them. I can be kept humble while I hear what Gandalf has to say. I can take notes as Dumbledore opines about true greatness. I can beat my head against the wall as Karl Barth shows me how I’m wrong even if I know he is also wrong.

So, as long as I can have a handful of change, it’s a good bet you will find me in a use bookstore. The allure is so strong and I can now justify it with at least three reasons. These stacks might grow a little higher yet.


If you could pick one word to repeat over and over again like a Pokémon, what would it be? For those who aren’t millennials, Pokémon are little Japanese characters whose complete vocabularies consist of their own names. I watched the first few episodes of the cartoon before my siblings told me it wasn’t cool. Same with the Power Rangers. Tragedies of the youngest boy in the family.

But imagine if you were asked your name, or the way to the Piggly Wiggly, or the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow. And in response, you could only choose one unchangeable word for the rest of your days. And as you hunch in your cave over your freshly caught salmon and handful of mushrooms, muttering about your misfortune and woe, the only word you could utter to express to your painted volleyball roommate how cold your bare feet are would be…what?

Which word would you choose to be with you until your dying day? It would have to bear the weight of your emotions and thoughts, bending under inflection and bolstered by facial cues that can only communicate so much. And it would need to be a word that covered enough bases so that you could convey the bare minimum to be understood.

So, you probably wouldn’t want to choose something like “aglet.” That would be fairly useless, especially in a beach context or during flip flop season. Almost as pointless would be “eaglet,” unless you were specifically trying to get someone to save a young eagle as it choked on a discarded aglet.

Choosing the word “why” would just get you killed. The ruler of the burnt-out gas station would demand of you, “Bagel!” And you, not knowing what he means by that or why he would pick the silliest of breads as his only word, would reply, “Why?” “Bagel!” he demands, old Monster Energy Drinks dangling from his earlobes. You stare at him with wide eyes and dare to say, “Why?” And with no patience for your philosophical shenanigans, you get strangled with a severed gasoline hose. Why? Bagel.

But these are utilitarian considerations, aren’t they? To be fair, that’s the direction in which I’ve pushed us. Like the aftermath of Babel, how would society hold together if every person only had one word for the rest of their lives? That’s not an unimportant way to think about this. But it’s just not as fun.

I really love how sentences fit. Notice, I didn’t say how sentences work. I almost did, but then I caught myself. Economic English has a beauty all its own. Concise can be lovely. But this thought experiment is not to do with sentences. We’re talking about words. We’re discussing your own one word. Your life-word, if you will. Your “verbo vitae” (Google translate, don’t fail me now). I think that phrase probably refers to Jesus, but I hope you’re following the thread here.

I also love how words sound. That’s why poetry should be read out loud and preferably slower than you want to read it. That’s why “cellar door” works so well on an aesthetic level. But what about just one word? If I must choose my verbo vitae, I don’t want one that would merely keep me alive or get me what I need. If the good of my family is involved, then surely. But that’s not the scenario. It’s just you. It’s just me. What word would I love to be stuck with until my lungs stop pumping air?

Obsidian? Duplicitous? Squalor? Sonorous? Barracuda? Pompadour? Dapple?

Probably. No really. I mean it. Probably. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? And even if you don’t like the sound of it, do you think it would help keep me alive?