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Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  525 ratings  ·  109 reviews
From making correction fluid at home to the dark secrets of fluorescent ink, via pencil wars and moments of accidental genius: James Ward leads a tour through the stationery cupboard.

We are surrounded by stationery: half-chewed Cristal Bics and bent paper clips, rubber bands to fiddle with or ping, blunt pencils, rubbers and Tipp-ex. They are integral parts of our everyday
Hardcover, 262 pages
Published October 2nd 2014 by Profile Books (first published September 11th 2014)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever opened your junk drawer and wondered where some of those random items came from? Pencils, highlighters, paper clips... these sorts of things appear as if out of nowhere. James Ward goes one step further in this book, asking where these items originated and the history behind them. A self-professed stationery geek, Ward opens his piece telling of how he found a small desk organiser, before beginning to explore what he keeps in the various compartments. The curious reader who has alw ...more
Emma Sea
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I now have an inappropriate crush on James Ward. There are very few humans in the world who would find nine pages on the history of the stapler engrossing reading, and I bet they're all on GR. The man who wrote it? I want to mark him with a Trodat date stamp and lick his brain (I know, I said it was inappropriate, I'm so sorry). And to then expand that to encompass ink, correction fluid, the highlighter, paper, ball point pens, rulers, pencils, filing systems, erasers, glue and tape and Blu-tack ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2017
Some people see stationary as a necessary evil, as long as the pen works and the end of it has not been chewed too much, then all is good. Then there are those who covert the clean piece of paper, the curl of wood from a freshly sharpened pencil, the cellophane covering the new pack of Post-It’s or the possibilities that a pristine cover of a Moleskine holds. If you are in the latter group; this book is for you. Each and every one of us uses stationary in some form or other, though that has fall ...more
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it
When I got the email from the publisher asking me if I'd be interested in a review copy of this book, I pounced on it. I mean, I know that I don't typically review non-fiction, but it seemed right up my alley anyway, so I went for it.

The thing about this book is you really need to FUCKING LOVE stationary and useless facts and history and patents. This book is mostly just paragraph after paragraph of who applied for which patent when. The chapters open up with a verrrrry quick anecdote about the
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this - but I think you'd have to be a fellow stationery addict to do so. The author details the history of pencils, pens, staplers, post it notes etc. My favourite part is in the chapter on highlighters; the author is reading the Stabilo company's history and '. . . you can probably imagine the sense of satisfaction - the visceral thrill - I felt as I ran the chisel tip of a yellow STABILO highlighter over the words . . .' Excellent. ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The pen is not dead. Long live the pen.

The blurb says it all in one succinct line: James Ward leads a tour through the stationery cupboard. Starting with his own desk tidy, he takes the reader through pens, pencils, sharpeners, tip-ex, post-it notes and all the history that went into their creation. I get it, it sounds a snooze. But it's not.

For one, if you're a stationery aficionado (which you should be, because stationery rules) it's generally interesting to see where they came from. Has anyo
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Stationery Lovers
Shelves: favourites
I love stationery, and I absolutely adored reading Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward recently.

Ward's love of stationery is infectious, and I frequently lost myself researching his favourite shops, and discovering websites dedicated to various forms of stationery.

Every time I picked up this book, I had to have my tablet handy, just so I could look up images of the items described: the Blackwing 602 pencil, Pink Pearl eraser, different paper clip shapes and
Alex Myers
I am fascinated by this topic and couldn't wait to dive in to a quirky history of stationery. I was pretty thoroughly disappointed, however. Ward's writing ranges from similar to an elementary school report (factual, dry, repetitive, unnuanced) and snarky. He has a tendency to end paragraphs with punchlines that are irrelevant. The coverage isn't very deep, nor very clever, and the chapters struggle to connect disparate points. ...more
David V.
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Received as an ARC from the publisher. Started 3-11-15. Finished 3-16-15. Mr. Ward, who has a blog about loving boring things, has taken what you would consider to be a boring subject and turned it into a fascinating and funny one. This book is wonderful. Our house has lots of office and art supplies, so it was especially interesting to read about an iconic product and be able to say that you had(or have) one of those items. The stories behind the invention, development, rivalries and brand name ...more
Dec 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I am the girl who went to the stationery store after school and wandered around, just looking at all the cool stuff in there. I've given superior erasers (I'm quite serious) as gifts to friends. I've also been frustrated by the disparity between standard paper sizes in the U.S. and Korea (8.5" x 11" and A4, respectively), so having a UK author discuss the stupidities of purely American (unobserved elsewhere in the world) systems was a bracing relief to me.

You learn a bit about the inventors
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Ward ... please write more books. Your first outing was more fascinating that even I, a fellow worshipper at the shrine of stationery, could have imagined. Who'd have thunk that hole punches are a direct consequence of the abandonment of pigeonholes for mail? Who'd have posited that Post-it notes had such a long period of stasis before becoming ubiquitous?

There's the odd typo, and Ward doesn't treat data as a plural word - something about which I still get cranky - but I enjoyed every cha
Leslie Ann
I really wanted to like this book, but the stories are strung together weakly and rarely provide interesting information. For example, how exactly did the paper clip assume its shape? Ward doesn't tell us, but is happy to provide patent details. I also wish Ward included more photos to illustrate his product descriptions. I thought that I could handle just a chapter before going to sleep, but when I find myself skimming even the mercifully short chapters, I know it is time to let go. ...more
Kathleen Dixon
I found this book at times a little too thorough and ended up skimming quite a few passages, but then I'd find something very interesting and read it word for word. All in all, this is a fascinating look at the history of design and manufacture (and the people behind it all) of common stationery items. ...more
Miguel Oxamendi
Entertaining read. I don't think you have to be an office supply geek like myself to enjoy this book. It gave me a new appreciation with how historically recent are most of the office supplies we use every day. The book could have used fewer histories of the acquisitions and mergers for some of the companies. ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting information about commonly used items. I never really thought about the development of many of the things on my desk that I use daily! Well-researched and fairly easy to read.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A charming and funny book for anyone with a weakness for office and desk supplies. Filled with great bits of trivia and amusing asides, each chapter contains the history of one object: the paperclip: white-out: Moleskine notebooks. Only one quibble - white out is made from tempera paint, not tempura. That would make it flash fried and delicious, but not so hot for covering typewritten mistakes.
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
There's something about the perfectly-balanced pen in your hand, or the feel of a smooth sheet of writing paper. There's something about the smell of a freshly-sharpened pencil or the fwip of a Post-it note coming off the pad. We start using stationary supplies (such a generic name) when we're in elementary school or younger, and no matter how old we become or how much technology we use, they're always with us.

James Ward provides an interesting and often humorous look at the history and design o
Melissa I
Mar 21, 2015 marked it as thank-you-print-won-gift  ·  review of another edition
Update July 2015: It has arrived!! Thank you Touchstone Publishing for getting this out to me. I've taken the one star rating down and took it off my "read" shelf as explained below.


This book looks like so much fun so I'm totally bummed, but it never arrived so I'm finally deciding to accept that it's not going to arrive according to what I've been told is Goodreads TOS, mark it as "read", one star it, and explain in the revie
Patricia Baker
received advance uncorrected proof from giveaway. Thank you.

very interesting book about all things used in an office or in the family home. had some prior knowledge about Post-it notes, but did learn bunches about filing cabinets, staplers, ink pens, and hi-lighters. it is hard to imagine how we lived without such inventions in our daily lives. impressive that some of these inventions were mistakes in the formations of other products or just an accidental misuse. it seems that most of the older
John P
Dec 16, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who knew this book would be as good as it turned out? I almost passed it by. The author is slightly deranged but in a good way. He sprinkles the text with his dry humor and it works wonderfully.

After delving deep into the paperclip he focuses on many of the other common desktop items that we all know and have used. There are some surprises, for example the ruler slash letter-weigher. To paraphrase Ward, oh what a world it could have been if I had known about this device earlier.

There are altoget
Ward is an office-supply nerd, which shines through with overflowing enthusiasm in each essay of this surprisingly informative cultural history. As much as I love going to the local stationary or office supply store, I still had to give pause every time someone asked me what I was reading: A book about office supplies. No, not a catalog, not an academic treatise about design and function, just a simple little history. And I know (I KNOW) I should have been bored with it, but I wasn't! Ward's inf ...more
Roger Woods
May 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting account of the history of all kinds of stationery. I would have liked a bit more detail but I suppose the author did have a lot of items to consider. If your idea of heaven is a visit to a large stationery shop then this is the book for you!
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture, history
So disappointed. I was so excited to see a book dedicated to exploring the history of office supplies (including pens, paper, and highlighters!). But each of the three chapters I tried to read bored me--even the one that discussed fountain pens.
Rachel Rood
Read this for work, it had some interesting parts but was mostly bland. Patents unfortunately aren't that interesting! ...more
Feb 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Screw this insufferable book.
Veronica Noechel
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fun romp through the office supply closet. I loved every chapter and learned a lot about these wonderful, often overlooked items. I'd actually wondered quite a bit about whether the pen or pencil came first, who invented the modern bent-wire stapler, when paper clips became a thing. If you're a stationery nerd like me, you practically glow when someone compliments your printer paper on its pleasant feel and sturdy weight, you ponder daily whether your pens should be stored by ink type, nib siz ...more
Jane Gabin
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
How could someone with my eclectic taste in paper and writing implements NOT love a book with such a title? This volume is an absolute combination of pencil case and Tardis - there is more packed into it than you think it holds! Did you know that erasers of some sort have been known about for thousands of years? Pliny the Elder described black ink in back in the year 79, and new types of ink have been made ever since. Pencils themselves, and all the iterations thereof! There is something, Ward w ...more
Laura Spira
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a joy. I confess to a lifelong stationery addiction. Asked what I wanted for my 5th birthday, family legend has it that I replied"A branch of W H Smith" which was my favourite shop. My collection of unused notebooks has long since topped 100. I have boxes, tins, drawers full of pens and pencils. Wherever I am, I can't pass a shop selling stationery without going in. My favourite stationery shop so far is Bookbinders Design, which I found by chance in Bern, but the people at nanosphe ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a strange book. It was very handy as a just before bed book. Just interesting enough, if you like stationery, to keep you awake but not too much that you'd sit up for hours.
It started out interestingly enough, but after the third "...but nobody really knows who came up with bla bla first" it falls a little flat. I can't say when I completely lost interest but when it became a history lesson with dates and mergers of this or that company , somewhere around the protractor and compass I th
Zach Wilson
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an enjoyable exploration of the physical stuff of our desktops and desk drawers. As we've moved to e-everything some of us miss the tangible nature of writing and organizing. Don't get me wrong I hat keeping things in order but the analog nature of my mess is somehow more comforting than the less than perfect file folders on my macbook. The computer is too distracting for me to get some of my work done, so I write longhand. My productivity is much greater.

The nuts and bolts of all of th
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