Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case is a book by James Ward, looking at every-day stationary and giving you the history of them as well as answering those long-needed questions – what does shatterproof actually mean and how many pens do Argos use?
Each chapter is divided into logical sections, the first one beginning with a story from the author that kick starts the whole thing. Normally, Ward will plunge feet first about a stationary item before then pulling back to give a fuller history. For example, one chapter may be about glues and adhesive tapes. So he might start talking about Pritt Stick, how we know it, make some jokes about it before then going back to kick off the history. This too then might then jump into the history of the company too. It’s all logically layered and works very well to keep your attention – I found it very hard to not read whole chapters at a time!
So, back to that opening chapter which discusses the author entering a childhood stationary shop and purchasing a very old, dusty stationary pot. He then proceeds to add small items into it, such as paperclips and drawing pins, each time regaling us of the history of each. These are quick and sharp (no pun intended), so really grab your initial attention, before settling down into longer details for each product in future chapters. Little gets passed the author – staples, Pritt stick, pencils, erasers, post-it notes. In some cases, as part of his research, he asks companies odd questions but, none-the-less, those that we’d probably like to know – how many pens do Argos get through and what are the “1000s of uses” that Blu-Tack say it can be used for? These add amusing side stories just to add to the variety of ways the book presents itself.
I have to say, I do love my stationary and was excited when, for example, he mentions the mechanical pencil which is thought to be the best, mainly because it’s one I own. At the same time I’ve used the book for recommendations – I’ve purchased some uni-ball Signo 207 rollerballs, for instance, as the ink is designed to penetrate the page, making them difficult to erase and, hence, excellent for signatures. In fact, it would have been nice to have had more in the way of recommendations and advice on what to look for in a good product. What’s the best eraser, for example, and what should you look for? Is there any benefit of a black eraser over a white one?
I do like the way that the author remains sceptical about many of product’s supposed histories, in particular where people conveniently got the idea from seeing something un-connected (an attractive lady on a plane applying lipstick was apparently behind the idea of the Pritt Stick).
So, who is this book for? Stationary nerds? Not at all – if I remember correctly I first heard about this book via the QI Elves, as it’s a great source of product history and trivia in general. If this appeals to you, even if stationary per se doesn’t, then I’d say this is definitely for you.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this book very much – it combines trivia and stationary into one, well written book, and that’s certainly my cup of tea! It’s a shame James Ward hasn’t written anything else, otherwise I’d certainly be adding that onto my reading list too!
Disclaimer: I was provided with this book, free of charge, by SocialBookCo but this has, in no way, influenced my review.
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