The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession, by James Ward

Nine stars

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 always wondered about the history and varieties of paperclips, pens, and even pencils will find this book enlightening and entertaining. Ward also explores the impetus behind the creation of the highlighter, the glue stick, and even the common stapler (which can be used in a few configurations). Ward dazzles with his enthusiasm on the various topics within the book, which is sure to be something about which few people give a second thought. That said, it’s fun to explore things we use regularly and yet know so little about, at least for me. The concluding chapter sums it up so well: the history of stationery is the history of human civilisation, plain and simple. I admit, I am much like James Ward, as I got my ‘geek’ on while learning so much about the world of stationery. Recommended to those who like a lighter read that is packed with information, as well as the reader who truly does want to know the controversies that occurred in the world of stationery advancements.

I’ll be the first to admit that this book almost fell into my lap when I was at the library a while back. I held onto it, wondering how I could incorporate it into my reading schedule. When it came time to create topics for my A Book for All Seasons reading challenge (we are up to Round 10), I knew I would have to find a zany way to weave this into my reading list. Ward does so well laying the groundwork for this interesting collection of short biographies. While many would rather stab themselves in the eye with a paper clip, Ward delves into the histories and controversies about patenting this piece of stationery equipment that makes life so much easier. Ward pulls on the various storylines and histories without boring the reader with too much information. Travelling across the various pieces of stationery, Ward traces the history of items to a time before the Common Era while debunking some of the rumours and urban legends that have been tied to these small things. Who knew that an out of work secretary (who was a horrible typist) could create a fluid to cover her regular mistakes on the typewriter? Might you have guessed that there was a huge controversy in the making of ballpoint pens, both their ink viscosity and writing fluidity? Ward tackles these and many other topics that are perfect for your next (post-COVID 19) dinner party. While I am sure many would let a copy of this book collect dust in their junk drawer, should they be gifted one, I would find a place on my coffee table and riddle my guests with this knowledge. Perhaps that’s why no one comes to see me for a social visit.

Kudos, Mr. Ward, for this great piece of writing that pushes the boundaries of the random facts and fictions. I learned so very much and would love to see what else you might ‘pen’ in future for my reading perusal.

This book fulfils the Topic #3: Junk Drawer requirement of the Equinox #10 reading challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: