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May 2004: Writing About Writing About Pens, Chapter One

(This page revised May 1, 2021)

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

Editor’s note: The following is the first of a series of occasional articles about pen criticism — and how to improve it.

BY DON FLUCKINGER • If I read in one more pen article that the barrel of pen X “is shaped like the [fill in with one of the following: delicious, lovely, sensuous] curve of a woman’s back,” I just might walk a few blocks over to the Taylor’s Falls Bridge and cast myself headfirst into the Merrimack River.

You’ve got to understand: Those who delight in reading bodice-rippers will go out, purchase them, and take them to bed. And they will do that regardless of whether or not you include kinky stuff in your pen articles.

Those who delight in reading bodice-rippers will go out, purchase them, and take them to bed regardless of whether or not you include kinky stuff in your pen articles. Extra Fine Points

If reviewers enjoy writing with a particular fountain pen as much as they enjoy sex — or if it merely reminds them of some bedroom experience — I don’t want to know about it.

What I want to know is:

Would you be caught dead writing with this thing in a business meeting where good impressions really don’t count but bad impressions could torpedo a deal?

Furthermore, while it’s a really nice sentiment that pen Y might commemorate event Z — usually something like the 500th anniversary of Conan the Barbarian’s birth, Jesus overturning the money-changers’ tables in the Temple, or the invention of the ChannelLock — the pen cannot actually evoke the memory or spirit of the event, and neither can writing with it.

It just can’t. A side issue I have neither time nor inclination to engage today, yet remains a truism: Wristwatches, pewter steins, and commemorative porcelain plates can’t, either.

Call me a prude. Call me unemotional. Argue that writing with a fountain pen is an intensely personal, emotional, aesthetic experience.

I will not dispute any of those. But it’s my emotional experience that I cherish, and chances are, I won’t cherish yours.

That’s the great thing: I can sit down and really enjoy writing with a brassed-to-Hades Wearever pen that doesn’t even have tipping material on its steel nib.

(“That’s another one of those ‘spoon’ nibs,” Richard tells me. “Basically, they just bent the ends of the tines and hoped you broke the pen before you wore down the nib and it quit writing.”)

Probably not your cup of tea. Am I going to sell you on the experience by saying it reminds me of something back in my youth or back in my bedroom? No.

You might be persuaded to try one of these babies out, however, if I wrote that:

Non-collectors — such as those in the aforementioned business meeting — are just as impressed with this pen as they are a bejeweled Montblanc … they even think the brassing is cool because it screams out to them “valuable antique!”

See what I mean? I guarantee that the abovementioned description of my Wearever will generate at least three back-channel reader emails demanding that I send a picture of this pen.

I’m just saying, let’s all think about what we write when we’re talking about pens. Throw out the conjecture, throw out what feels like literary curlicues, and get to the point. Chances are, if you’re writing a simile, metaphor, or some other sort of non-pen comparison, you’re probably wasting words.

Especially if it includes odd noun pairings such as a cello and a woman’s back.

PS: Yeah, I’m inviting you all to go through my previous “Extra Fines” and see if I’m guilty of not practicing what I preach here. If you find such an example, we’ll fix it straight away.

cover Further Reading: The Substance of Style, by Virginia Postrel

We are in the Age of Aesthetics, where beauty and style can be found everywhere. Here the author explains how the “feel” of products nowadays trumps their actual utility … and how margins of profit between competing products are won and lost through design.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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