WSIRN Ep 99: Nobody hates a beautiful book (or a handwritten letter)

WSIRN Ep 99: Nobody hates a beautiful book (or a handwritten letter)

This week I’m chatting with Caroline Weaver, also known as The Pencil Lady, because by day she owns and operates CW Pencil Enterprise, a shop dedicated exclusively to pencils and pencil-related goods in Manhattan’s lower east side.  Will and I visited her shop when we were in New York in June, fell in love, and the end result is this episode—and kids who are a WHOLE lot happier with the erasers they’re using for their schoolwork these days. In today’s episode Caroline and I talk about the pencil business, and then we dive into Caroline’s reading life.

Caroline loves contemporary literary fiction, although that’s not all she reads. She loves when books hit her on an emotional level, especially when a book can make her feel emotions she can’t even describe. She loves seeing writers doing interesting things on the page, and has developed her own personal strategy she relies on for finding books that are right for HER when she’s browsing in her local bookstore.

This episode also veered into areas I wasn’t expecting. Caroline and I get into beautiful mail art, the importance of a handwritten letter, and the perfect pencil for doing the crossword. 

Connect with Caroline & CW Pencil Enterprise: Website | Instagram | Twitter

Connect with Anne: Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | WSIRN Instagram 

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links, which means at no extra cost to you, you support what we do here on What Should I Read Next. More details here.

• A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
• The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
• A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
• Remainder, by Tom McCarthy
• The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera
• This Book Will Save Your Life, by A. M. Homes
• My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard
• The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 
• Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
• Modern Lovers, Emma Straub
• Goodbye Vitamin, by Rachel Khong
• Glory, by Vladimir Nabokov
• Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
• NW, Zadie Smith
• Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
• The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
• The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell
• How To Be Both, by Ali Smith
• Author Virginia Wolff

Also mentioned: 

Prismalo colored pencil set
• Caroline’s book Pencil Perfect
Crossword puzzle pencil sampler
Camel craft design technology pencil
Palomino HB2 pencil  
Tombow 2558b pencil
Emilio Braga notebooks
• The Letter Writers Alliance
• Mail More Love subscription box
• @DEVOTEDDIARIST

My book Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is coming this September 19! This is the story of how my long journey digging into 7 popular personality frameworks changed my life for the better, and how you can put those frameworks to work for yourself to make real, lasting change in your life, in your work, and in your relationships without going through quite so many hard knocks yourself. Pick up your copy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local indie, or wherever books are sold.

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What do YOU think Caroline should read next? And when was the last time you sent some snail mail? Let us know in the comments!

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18 comments

  1. Sarah Smith says:

    I really loved this episode. I totally geek out over pencils and paper, and loved the new things I learned. I don’t have a book recommendation, but I DO have a burning question for Caroline (which I hope is ok to ask here) – I have been on the hunt for a good pencil sharpener. I have some nicer pencils, including color pencils, and just haven’t found a sharpener I love. I’ve returned so many. Also, are manual sharpeners better than the electric?

  2. Justyna says:

    I LOVED this episode! I, too, have alwaaaays had a close relationship with stationary supplies and I, too, know the pain of to-use-or-not-to-use haha. This was so fun to listen to and honestly, I could have listened to the pre-book talk chatter ALL day! Thanks so much for such a wonderful interview!!

  3. A couple of years ago I designed some simple postcards and had them printed online. I try to send at least one a week to an unexpected friend or family member. Just because. I call it my ’52 weeks of Happy Mail’ project. Because who doesn’t love happy mail? Plus- it makes me feel good knowing that I’m making someone smile. Send me your address to whatkarireads at gmail.com and I’ll add you to my list 🙂

  4. Deb says:

    One of the best episodes . . .loved the in depth discussion of “bookish” items and the importance of the hand written letter. I work with high school students and most of them look at me as if I’m an alien when I encourage them to write “thank you notes.” So discouraging that most of them have never written a letter, much less one thanking someone. I live in TX now but moved from the northeast and the next time I’m in “the city” I will definitely check out CW.

  5. Emily says:

    I think this is one of my favorite episodes! Listening to Caroline talk about pencils at the beginning was entirely delightful. I listened to this at the end of a really hard and exhausting day and it was the perfect ray sunshine I absolutely needed.

  6. Leanne says:

    Anne, I’m so glad you’ve lengthened your podcast since the early days. Interviews like this one are so fascinating; I love hearing about the way readers came to love books and how they incorporate reading into their lives. This episode was great and gave me some lovely leads for next reads. Keep up the amazing work!

  7. Katherine says:

    “and kids who are a WHOLE lot happier with the erasers they’re using for their schoolwork these days.”

    That sounds awesome. Do you mind sharing which erasers are responsible for such happiness?

  8. Jenni says:

    What a pleasure to listen to Caroline! A Little Life quickly became one of my all-time favorite books when I read it last year…I remember having to stop at a particularly difficult part to sob for five minutes before turning back to the pages. I felt deeply connected to the characters, which is exactly how I like to feel when I read.

    Another book I loved and cried over recently was Alice Hoffman’s Faithful. Not as intense as A Little Life, by any means, but definitely one that was an emotional read for me. Caroline might enjoy it because it’s set in New York, between Long Island and Manhattan.

    Immediately after listening, I ordered a lefty pencil set and sharpener for my best friend! I’m so excited for her to get this surprise gift in the mail. And I’ll do my best from now on to stop being so precious about my notebooks…I’m one of those who buys beautiful ones and then lets them sit because they’re too pretty to use. Thanks for setting me straight on that, Caroline!

  9. Andrea says:

    I just mentioned this on Twitter, but your description of The Bone Clocks, with characters popping up in the narrative of other characters in unexpected ways was such an aha moment for me! ⚡️ I love it when this happens, too, and it’s one of the reasons I really enjoyed A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I definitely think it would be up Caroline’s alley, if she hasn’t read it already 😊 Mitchell’s novel has been on my TBR, but I am going to move it up a little further!

  10. Michelle says:

    I really connected with the discussion about figuring out your reading taste in this episode. Accepting the fact that literary fiction is what works for me has been a real eye-opener for me, and has so improved the quality of my reading life. I have two suggestions for Caroline; both, I think, would provide that connection to something big. The first is The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It is contemporary literary fiction, in that it was published in 2013, although the bulk of the story takes place in and around WWII. Really complex, difficult protagonist, really difficult subject matter, really profound discussion about the impossibility of love – definitely packs a literary and emotional punch. The second is The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. It’s also contemporary literary fiction, in that it was published in 2013. However the story takes place during the first years of First Nations / European contact in what is now Canada. (I know, I know… she said she wasn’t into historical fiction but this is the opposite of a bodice-ripper.) This is a brutal book – unflinching in its examination of love and lust, generosity and cruelty, faith and despair. The story is told through the first-person, present tense narration of three characters: an orphaned, captured Iroquoian girl; the warrior responsible for her plight; and a Jesuit missionary. The pacing is tense, the themes are timeless and it makes the reader feel ALL the feels.

  11. Charity Dušíková says:

    Greetings from the Czech Republic! Since you like Milan Kundera so much, you might enjoy Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England. Or if you want to explore a Czech setting, there’s Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room based on the Villa Tugendhat in Brno. The villa itself is nearly a character, and Mawer does an excellent job of giving the reader the experience of the villa itself–quite fascinating from an artistic/architectural perspective.

  12. ReginaK says:

    Hi Anne, you were almost a prophet recommending Ishiguro who was awarded the Nobel Prize just two days after this episode aired! I have been wanting to read his books forever, but now they are definitely on top of my TBR list. Thanks for this great episode! Who knew pencils could be so interesting… 🙂

  13. knowyourkids says:

    This episode struck a chord with me, I had a bit of a moment driving to work whilst listening. I really admire how Caroline followed her heart and went for it – who would have thought you could be so passionate and make such a success out of pencils. It hit me that it is so easy to push aside the little things that make you tick; to focus on the bigger picture. I had to hit the pause button to ask myself what really matters to me? What have I pushed aside until I can afford the time and be secure enough to focus on it? As someone who has wanted to quit the day job as a Deputy Head Teacher for a while I think I have just found the courage…

  14. Jessica says:

    I absolutely loved the discussion about pencils and learning about CW Pencils. I think I researched all kinds of pencils after listening to the beginning of the podcast. Thank you so much for sharing.

  15. Sarah Dailey says:

    I am a great lover of The Shadow of the Wind and when I heard you talking about it, I got excited. You both said you hadn’t read the others in that series…but I did because I loved it so much. I didn’t realize at first that it was a series, but found them eventually. In my opinion, The Shadow of the Wind is absolutely the best one…I don’t think the others compare!
    Also, I was thinking of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for Caroline, if she hasn’t yet read it. ❤️

  16. Liz Barton says:

    I enjoyed this episode so much, I immediately placed an order from CW Pencil and can’t wait to receive my goodies! I will definitely be checking out her store on future NYC visits. Ann, when you were preparing your list, I kept saying to myself…David Mitchell, David Mitchell…and you suggested him. It made my day! All of his stories are interconnected. Try Slade House by Mitchell. It’s a spooky book. Perfect for Halloween! A couple of suggestions for Caroline: Let the Great World Spin, by Collum McCann. Since she is a NYC gal, she may have already read it. And because she likes unusual reads, I suggest American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I am in my 60s and a young co-worker recommended to me. It’s something I would NEVER have picked up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I believe it would satisfy her tastes for something unusual and different. Thanks again Ann, love your podcast.

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