Michael Ham (Leisureguy) is one of the most influential people in the traditional wet shaving renaissance, his blog, Later On, covers a wide range of topics but has lots of real shaving content and it is probably the most popular blog covering the subject. In addition he is the author of the book: Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving: Shaving Made Enjoyable, now on its 4th edition and pretty much the standard tome evangelising, popularising and explaining the move back to shaving how our grandfathers did.
To mark the publication of the 4th edition I asked Michael if he would write an article for this blog telling the story behind his book. Here it is:
It all started with a letter to my son. I had discovered shaving cream (TOBS in a tube, specifically) and wanted to mail him a tube to try. I asked if he had a shaving brush, and he had only a cheap drugstore brush.
So I googled “shaving brush” and discovered that the tools I used in the 50’s were still in active use—and this time, lots of information was available. One reason I hated shaving so much in those days was, I now realize, that I didn’t know how to shave. And getting information on how to shave, should you decide to look, was incredibly difficult. I just discovered (via one of the shaving forums) a February 1957 article from Science and Mechanics—freely available now on the Web, but unseen by me at the time (my senior year in high school).
I read with fascination, bought approximately 1 bl (boatload) of shaving tools and supplies, and started learning and experimenting. The letter to my son was to tell him of what I had learned, and I posted the shaving content of the letter on my blog. (The phrase “gourmet shaving” is from my brother-in-law, who’s worn a beard his entire adult life. When I tried to get him interested by touting all the lovely shaving creams and shaving soaps, he told me he wasn’t that interested in “gourmet shaving.”)
As I continued to learn new things and find new products, I kept revising and extending that post, until my son-in-law told me I should publish it as a book. I didn’t much like the idea—who would buy a book when the information can found on the Web.
He pointed out that for most guys, a book would provide an organized introduction and consistent information. Plus you could give a book as a gift.
That appealed to me greatly. I had grown a beard in the first place simply because shaving was a boring, tedious, daily chore. To my surprise and pleasure, I now was actually looking forward to each morning’s shave, which had become an enjoyable ritual. I went from shaving only on Monday, Wednesday, Friday to shaving every day but Sunday, and skipping Sunday only because I like shaving a two-day stubble at least once each week.
Lulu.com was around, and I decided to take the plunge. The whole idea was to show guys who hated shaving that they could actually enjoy it—thus the subtitle “Shaving Made Enjoyable.” I went with Lulu, and the first edition of Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving: Shaving Made Enjoyable came out and was rapidly revised. With print-on-demand, the technology used by Lulu, you can update the content easily at any time, so I went through editions 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, etc., up to 1.8, at which point I realized I was going to run out of edition numbers. So the final version of that first book was edition 1.85.
I wrote that first version based on my own experience, so it omitted any discussion of problems foreign to me—acne, ingrowns, razor bumps, and the like. One reviewer on Amazon dinged the book severely for not having the very shaving information he needed, and I immediately recognized that his criticism was just.
So Edition 2.0 came out, specifically to add a chapter on shaving problems. And, of course, I updated the reference material in the book (the vendor list, for example).
Edition 2.0 turned out to be relatively stable, but Lulu.com seemed to be going through some changes not good for my readers. The postage for a single copy of the book, for example, went to $11—about the same price as the book.
So the primary motivation for edition 3.0 was to move from Lulu.com to CreateSpace.com, which offered reasonable postage rates and also (like Lulu) a plan that allows the book to be purchased through Amazon.com. (CreateSpace is in fact owned by Amazon.com.)
I did, of course, update the references and add a bit more information—for example, I recommended a shave stick as ideal for the beginner, and I added some information on boar brushes that’s new to that edition.
For edition 4, I reorganized some chapters and added new matter:
- A reorganized and extended section on razors to include new razors that have come to market, including some really excellent ones like (alphabetic order) Feather Premium, iKon, and Pils.
- A reorganized brush section, fully acknowledging the excellence of “artificial badger” brushes, that name now being used for the best synthetic fibers.
- A section on having your razor replated—I held up the book so I could include photos of some of my own replated razors.
- New insights: For example, I finally figured out why some men detest shave sticks: if your beard is sparse or soft (or both), a shave stick simply will not work. The beard’s stubble has to be long enough and tough enough to scrape soap off the stick—that’s the soap from which the lather is made. If no soap is scraped off, no lather results, and the shave stick doesn’t work. And, as you probably recall from your own experience, when a man first begins shaving, his beard is generally fine, soft, and sparse: totally unsuited to a shave stick.
That last point is particularly important to me: the idea is to make shaving a pleasant ritual, and having something not work, though you’re following the instructions exactly, is highly frustrating and annoying. With this additional information in the book, readers can decide for themselves whether a shave stick will be of interest to them and can avoid frustration.
I thought of the book as primarily a gift—guys already on the forums would, I figured, have little interest in the book for themselves, since they probably know already most of what’s covered in it. It is, after all, a book for beginners in traditional wetshaving.
Since the recipient may well not have previously considered this method of shaving, I devote the beginning chapters to persuasive writing: trying to interest the reader in giving traditional shaving a try. Thus I address potential objections and do all that I can to smooth the path. Roger Fisher made an excellent point in Getting to Yes: if you want a horse to jump a fence, you should make the fence as low as possible. I tried to write the book to remove all potential barriers to taking up traditional wetshaving.
I was pleased to hit upon the (perhaps obvious) organizational scheme of presenting the material following the natural chronological sequence of a traditional shave. I think it makes it easy to follow and, by the end, the reader has in effect experienced (through reading) all the steps of a traditional shave.
Given the thinking behind the book, it’s no surprise that this is probably my favorite reader review:
“I bought this as a gift for my fiancé, along with a wet-shaving starting kit and a safety razor. He DEVOURED this book, and finds himself reading it again and again. He finally enjoys shaving. This book has helped him figure out so many things about wet shaving, and has recommended it to all of his friends and family. Truly a great source of information for any man.”
That’s the goal: a guy who hated shaving now enjoys it: a daily pleasure instead of a daily chore.