Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tag: typewriters (page 1 of 2)

The Post

Ready Player One took my esteem for Spielberg down a notch, but The Post—made after Ready Player One but released before it—has elements of his best work, even if it doesn’t rise above the sum of its parts. Generally it’s standard Spielberg, with old-school liberal and institutionalist views on the press, akin to Lincoln in its reverence for American mythologies. But cinematically it’s much more robust and limber than a lot of his recent stuff, with closely observed moments like the shot of Bob Odenkirk’s reporter character typing at his desk as the Washington Post‘s printing press rumbles to life in a climactic moment. I think the lack of prep time did him good.

Also, I am 99% sure Tom Hanks did this movie because of all the typewriters. Working with Spielberg and Meryl Streep was merely a bonus.

Scenes from an Evanston type-in

The Evanston Literary Festival graciously facilitated me hosting a type-in at the Bookends & Beginnings bookstore yesterday. I was there with my typewriters for about two and a half hours and had about 20-30 people sit down to type during that time.

It was a good mix of people old enough to be familiar with typewriters and young enough to know nothing about them. It was fun to get them started with the basics and then watch their inner lightbulbs grow brighter with every ding of the margin bell.

A collector stopped by and we talked repair and favorite machines. A college student was so enamored with the machines and typing experience that he talked of getting his own. A girl of about 7 or 8 sat down at the Skyriter and started in like she owned it; I learned her family had a typewriter at home so she was a well-practiced typist already!

I brought speed typing tests and writing prompts, but since most of the participants were so new to typewriters I figured it was best to keep things informal and low-pressure. Learning how to make an exclamation point and the number 1 were reward enough for most of them I think.

Overall I’m very happy about the turnout and enthusiasm. Besides selling a few typewriter books for the bookstore, it brought disparate people together in a shared public experience. I’d love to do it again, and find different ways to do public typing and meet more Typospherians in the area.

The bookstore had their own Remington Quiet-Riter, which they said hadn’t been working since they got it. I quickly realized the ribbon selector was set to stencil. The vibrator was still a little sluggish, but it typed fine:

Always interesting to see what people write when trying a typewriter for the first time:

One quiet and serious thirtysomething walked in, sat down, and started typing without a word. He was there for a while, pausing occasionally to ponder his next type. When he left I went over and snapped what he wrote:

A Moomin and his typewriter

Life goals, courtesy of Moominpapa:

(h/t Austin Kleon)

Steve K has a nice write-up about the wide-carriage Olympia on display at Moomin World in Finland that’s meant to stand in for Moominpappa’s typewriter. It does look like a wide carriage in the above illustration, though in this one it’s of normal size:

At the corner of 84 Charing Cross Road and Typewriter Street

A stately British bookseller and an American writer exchange letters across the pond? Sounds like a cozy English romance novel to me. Turns out 84, Charing Cross Road is neither a novel nor a romance, but a collection of actual letters from over 20 years of correspondence, and it’s delightful.

Frank Doel, one of the booksellers at the rare book store at the titular address in London, is the straight man in this epistolary relationship. This allows Helene Hanff, a Brooklyn screenwriter and lover of British literature, to sparkle with personality. You get a pretty good sense of what Hanff was like right away. It doesn’t take long for her to playfully badger Doel, a man she’d never met, about a book she requested:

Frank Doel, what are you DOING over there, you are not doing ANYthing, you are just sitting AROUND. .. Well, don’t just sit there! Go find it! i swear i dont know how that shop keeps going.

And:

what do you do with yourself all day, sit in the back of the store and read? why don’t you try selling a book to somebody?

— MISS Hanff to you. (I’m helene only to my FRIENDS)

Their letters also place them in the specific historical moment of postwar England where rationing made basics like meat and jam luxuries:

I send you greetings from America—faithless friend that she is, pouring millions into rebuilding Japan and Germany while letting England starve. Some day, God willing, I’ll get over there and apologize personally for my country’s sins (and by the time i come home my country will certainly have to apologize for mine).

She’s also clearly a bibliophile. When the bookstore employees send her a book and a note with their signatures as a Christmas gift, she admonishes them for writing the note on a separate card rather than in the book itself:

I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.

And yet, she’s not precious about them:

My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don’t remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON’T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.

I watched the 1987 movie version right after reading the book. It includes pretty much every word from the original letters, so reading the book will give you all you need. Then again, you’d miss out on some solid typewriter action, as seen above and here, with Hanff played by Anne Bancroft:

Anthony Hopkins, who plays Frank Doel, also gets in on the action with his Underwood:

There’s also the real Helene:

Entertaining ‘Angels’: which ‘Home Alone’ fake gangster film is the filthiest?

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Here’s an important question for the Christmas season: which is better, Angels with Filthy Souls or Angels with Even Filthier Souls?

Both share a template: character walks in, gets threatened/insulted by Johnny, gets blown away by Johnny, and gets a memorable kicker. Kevin McCallister also enjoys a smorgasbord while watching both of them, and gets scared by the violence (which is ironic given his casual sadism toward the Wet/Sticky Bandits later in the films). Let’s dig into them to decide:

Angels with Filthy Souls

From Home Alone, it features Johnny and Snakes, who wants his money for “the stuff”:

(Vanity Fair wrote a cool feature on the making of this one.)

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead!”

Tagline: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Angels with Even Filthier Souls

From Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it has Johnny confronting Carlotta, his two-timing smoocher of a gal:

Johnny’s Threat/Insult: “I’m gonna give ya ’til the count of 3 to get your lousy, lyin’, low-down, 4-flushin’ carcass out my door!”

Tagline: “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal. And a Happy New Year.”

Verdict:

I gotta go with the original. While I like the seasonal application of the latter tagline and reference to four flushing, the threat/insult and tagline in Filthy are perfect ersatz gangster noir lines. I also like how Johnny jumps right from 2 to 10 and that he has a typewriter at his desk.

Tom Hanks Goes Postal

Arriving home after a long weekend in Asheville, I opened our mailbox and saw a letter addressed to me from Playtone, Tom Hanks’ company. Oh shit, I said out loud. I’d typed and sent him a short letter a few weeks ago about my photo of his book and to thank him for being a great ambassador for typewriters. I didn’t expect to get anything back, but got something anyway:

On the left is the letter from Hanks and on the right is a reproduction of his foreword “Eleven Reasons to Use A Typewriter” from the new book Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing, which makes a great cheeky companion to the Typewriter Manifesto.

I think I’ve now peaked as a typist.

 

Autumn in Asheville

I’d heard a lot of great things about Asheville, North Carolina, so my wife and I finally made a trip there happen to meet up with some Durham friends for a long weekend in the mountains. Surprise: It was wondrous!

Our Airbnb was a cabin on a mountain farm in nearby Black Mountain, complete with sheep named Frodo, Samwise, Arwen, and Twiggy (the last one was named by previous owners). This was the view the first morning:

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We missed Peak Fall foliage, but there was still plenty of color to mix with the barren branches:

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And cozy morning frosts—very Hygge™ indeed:

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One morning we hiked up Lookout Mountain in Montreat based on the recommendation of our Airbnb host. We were not disappointed by the Misty Mountain-esque view:

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Asheville proper offered lots of walkable streets, good southern food—had chicken & waffles for the first time—and, among other Liberal College Town accoutrements, several “poems while you wait” street typists:

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We flew into Atlanta and drove up to Asheville through South Carolina, but on the way back we drove through the Great Smoky Mountains. We did this not only to enjoy the gorgeous terrain but to stop and see the remnants of Camp Toccoa, the World War II paratroopers training camp made famous by Band of Brothers:

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The camp site was closed, but we could see the famous “3 miles up, 3 miles down” Currahee Mountain from town.

I took pictures on a few other occasions, but so often my phone pictures failed to capture what I saw with my own eyes. That’s OK: being there in the moment was reward enough, as was hanging with friends, finally seeing Asheville, and getting to enjoy a crisp autumn weekend in Appalachia.

Life, light, and typing at the bliss station

This is the view of my typing station. It is currently manned by my Smith-Corona Electra, flanked by Life from a succulent and Light from an owl lamp, buttressed by a Jackalope typewriter pad I highly recommend, and supported by a typing desk I inherited from my typist grandmother, and it is quickly becoming my bliss station.

Underwood you like this one?

The good thing about being known as “a typewriter guy” is the same as the bad thing: people bring you typewriters to buy. After talking with some coworkers about California Typewriter, The Typewriter Revolution, and other typewriterana, one said her parents had some in their attic and she’d see if she could find them. The next week she brought in this 1938 Underwood Portable 4-bank:

She said she’d gotten it at an antique store years ago because it looked cool (she was right) but hadn’t used it since.  It’s missing its right margin stop, rubber feet, and ribbon spool covers, but besides that and a little rust on the typebars it types just fine.

Still, with my space for typewriters at a premium, I’m gonna resell it. If the buyer can locate an extra margin stop and a new ribbon they’ll be set with a nice machine.

Tom Hanks, Olympia, and Me

I had the pleasure of seeing a photo of mine get the Ken Burns treatment on CBS Sunday Morning’s story this weekend about Tom Hanks, his new book, and his love of typewriters:

One of my colleagues got an advance copy of Hanks’ book at a library conference back in June specifically because she knew I’d love it—and I did, enough to write my first typecast review. For the accompanying image I thought pairing the book’s beautiful blue cover with my Olympia SM7 (acquired at the splendid Retro-Revolution in Madison, WI) of almost the same shade made sense and looked great:

uncommon-type-olympia

Since I posted it far enough ahead of the book’s publication date, the photo (along with the images of my typewritten review) had time to climb up the ranks of Google Images under searches for “Uncommon Type”, which no doubt is how the CBS producer found it.

I knew Hanks’ book would give typewriters A Moment; I didn’t realize I’d be part of it! But I am happy to be. The book is out Tuesday: go get it and then get a typewriter of your own.

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