I still prefer writing with a pencil over any other medium. I like the feel of it and the responsiveness of the graphite to varying degrees of pressure. I like the small ritual of sharpening, and how it becomes a marker of time — the faster you write, the more frequent you sharpen, the more often you sharpen, the shorter the lifespan of the pencil. I like the physicality of pencils, much the way I like turning paper pages.
Before I worked at Parnassus, I would often order a book online then drop by the store to pick up. (It was usually a semi-obscure title I needed for research purposes and couldn’t reasonably expect to be in stock. Having been on the other side for a while, I recognize myself as one of those customers, always special-ordering weird books.) Because I can’t walk into a bookstore and not look around, I usually kicked around for a bit before grabbing my book.
On one occasion, I wandered by the display of Moleskine notebooks. Having recently fallen down a rabbit hole of thinking entirely too much about graphite encased in wood and all the fascinating history contained therein — thanks, CW Pencil Enterprise — I wondered if there were some pencils around. There weren’t.
I got to the counter to pay for my book, and for some reason felt compelled to tell bookseller Bill Long-Innes in a way that came out more emphatically than I intended: “You all should carry some pencils to go with those notebooks.”
I didn’t know Bill at the time, but being a cheerful fellow, he smiled a big polite smile — the way you might if someone pulled up next to you at a stoplight and said your car could really use a blue racing stripe down the side — and said, “The person you should really talk to is Karen Hayes, the store’s co-owner.” Well, I didn’t know Karen at the time, either. But I did know Mary Laura Philpott.
So I texted Mary Laura and, after apologizing for yelling at the nice British man at the register, asked what it would take to get some pencils for sale at the bookstore. And also, by the way, did she know that, in fact, there is a pencil manufacturer right here in Middle Tennessee! And they’ve been in business for 100 years! (Again with more emphasis than intended.)
Fast forward about a year. This pencil fanatic now works here. And thanks to the artistic vision of Heidi Ross (yes, that Heidi Ross— she’s multi-talented), we have beautiful pencils, emblazoned with the store name: classic yellow No. 2, hex barrel with a brass ferrule. (Ed. note: Wow with the pencil-nerd words, Steve.) They’re manufactured in nearby Shelbyville, Tennessee, by the Musgrave Pencil Company, a family business that’s been around since 1916, supplying everything from school districts to the White House gift shop.
At one time, Shelbyville was known as “Pencil City,” a moniker conferred by then-governor Buford Ellington, and home to a half-dozen pencil manufacturers. Musgrave is the only still going today, and if you’re interested in learning more about the history, check out this story from Nashville Public Radio. (Recognize the reporter’s voice? Like I said, pencil fanatic.)
Anyway: Grab a box of 12 for just $7.50, pair it with the notebook of your choice, and you’ve got a perfect gift for a graduate, teacher, writer, kid headed to camp (with a pack of postcards!), or just a lovely present-topper for a stack of books. And yes, we ship! Stop by the store or order here.
To underscore what a perfect partnership this has been, here’s the response we got when we first contacted Musgrave to inquire: “We would love to make pencils for Parnassus Books,” the email read. “Our family loves all of Ann Patchett’s books.”
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Happy summer! Next up on Musing: our staff-picked favorite new reads for early June, including lots of Fathers’ Day gift ideas.