One day, early in the 20th century, in pre-revolutionary Russia, a little boy lay ill in bed in St Petersburg. He was called Vladimir Nabokov, and he was destined to become a legendary novelist, but at that time was just a sickly child needing care and consolation. Accordingly, his mother went to Treumann’s​ – a famous department store in St Petersburg – and returned with an enormous present. Little Vladimir unwrapped it to discover that the gift was "a giant polygonal Faber pencil, four feet long and correspondingly thick". It was part of a promotional window-dressing display and Mrs Nabokov had – presciently – assumed her son might have been coveting it. He had been. Later he drilled a hole halfway up the pencil to see if the graphite continued for the full length – it did. It was a real pencil. The giant pencil from Treumann’s window could have been used to write – by a giant. This Nabokovian anecdote frequently comes to mind whenever I contemplate my own relationship with the pencil, this humble writing implement. A giant four-foot pencil delivered to a future writer … It seems almost too neat, too aptly significant, but trust the […]

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