Friday High Five: Video Edition

In another Friday High Five themed edition, we share five bookish videos from around the web that made us giggle, including looks at the art of pencil sharpening and the smell of old books, a quirky promotional book video featuring Hangover star Zach Galifianakis, various Go the F**k to Sleep performances and our own Unexpected Passions.

Slow writing: The Artisanal Art of Pencil Sharpening

Think you’ve read everything? Think again. The latest hot how-to book is How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Art of Pencil Sharpening, by David Rees, a former political cartoonist turned artisanal pencil sharpener.

‘With an electric pencil sharpener, a pencil is meat. It’s this thoughtless, Brutalist aesthetic,’ says Rees. ‘Nobody else is doing what I do. I guarantee an authentic interaction with your pencil.’ He also guarantees to get your pencil ‘really freaking sharp’. Rees charges his mail-order customers $15 per pencil, which he sends back in a sealed tube, with with a signed and dated certificate ‘authenticating that it is now a dangerous object’.

In the above video, Rees gives a pencil-sharpening demonstration and talks through the ethos of his business, which has been called the writing world’s equivalent of the slow food movement.

‘I boiled my novel and I ate it’

This Picador book trailer made the rounds of the internet a while ago. Actor Zach Galifianakis interviews John Wray about his novel, Lowboy. So far, so normal, right? (Albeit with a sprinkling of celebrity stardust.) Galifianakis and Wray swap roles - the actor plays the writer. (It’s made even funnier by the fact that Wray interviewed Galifianakis for a New York Times profile in 1999, so this really is role reversal.)

Zach Galifianakis in conversation with John Wray (HQ, short version)

Highlights include the visual gag of a manual typewriter with two enormous keys, a confession to playing Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 as writing inspiration (‘it’s good for morale’) and the story of having written a previous novel in alphabet pasta. (The novel no longer exists; he ate it.)

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This isn’t Wray’s first claim to internet-video fame though; before his Galifianakis outing, his performance at an ultra-hip book reading was enjoyed by literary types. In this video, Wray unveils a giant back tattoo of New York Times reviewer Michiko Kukatani, with her face and the legend ‘KAKUTANI 4 EVAH’. (And no, it’s not real: it’s drawn with what the Americans call ‘Magic Marker’, and we would call a texta.)

The smell of old books

It’s a cliche (and sometimes a truism) that fetishists of what publisher Zoe Dattner now calls the ‘p-book’ like to rhapsodise about the smell of books. This video, made by online second-hand bookseller Abebooks, goes one step further, explaining the science of the smell, which is summed up as: a ‘combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness’.

Why Do Old Books Smell?

Bedtime with Noni, Samuel L. Jackson and … Grandma

Go the F**k to Sleep is well known as the book that not only took the internet by storm, but was created by the internet: it started on Facebook as a joke circulated by novelist and tired parent Adam Mansbach, who was urged to create and publish it as a real picture book.

Go the Fuck to Sleep - read by Noni Hazlehurst

It’s been performed by former Play School host Noni Hazlehurst and godfather of cool Samuel L. Jackson (in his most memorable recitation since Pulp Fiction’s ‘I will lay my vengeance upon you …’). Samuel L.’s version has also been set to music.


But just as good is this one with an unsuspecting grandmother reading the book to a baby at bedtime. Watch her reaction when she realises that this is no ordinary picture book! She’s a good sport.

Grandma Reads "Go the F**k to Sleep"

Unexpected Passions

Sam Pang’s Unexpected Passions series is a favourite here at the Wheeler Centre. Past guests have included Noni Hazlehurst and musician David Bridie. Tonight is another (free) instalment in our series, with comedian Lawrence Mooney (on his love of Vanity Fair) and Tom Elliott on World War II fighter planes. It’ll be at the Wheeler Centre, 7pm – 8pm.

You can whet your appetite with this video of the first Unexpected Passions, with guests Kate Langbroek (on op-shops) and Adam Zwar (on cats).

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