© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tom Hanks Is Obsessed With Typewriters (So He Wrote A Book About Them)

Tom Hanks speaks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards in 2016. His first book is called <em>Uncommon Type.</em>
Frederick M. Brown
Getty Images
Tom Hanks speaks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards in 2016. His first book is called Uncommon Type.

Actor Tom Hanks has made us believe he can be anyone and do anything on the big screen.

Now he's taking us on a journey on the page: Tom Hanks has written a book.

It's a collection of short stories, with varied subjects: a World War II veteran on Christmas Eve in 1953, a California surfer kid who makes an unsettling discovery. There's time travel. In every story, Hanks sneaks in the machine he's so obsessed with — the typewriter.

"I have too many typewriters, David," he says, beginning a riff. "You want one? I should have brought one for you and the staff, just to help out, man. I don't want these to be a burden to my children when I kick the bucket. I don't want them to say, 'What are we gonna do with dad's typewriters?'"

Sometimes the typewriter is a plot device; sometimes it really does feel almost hidden. Fittingly, the book is called Uncommon Type. And in talking to Hanks, you learn that his thing with typewriters is not a gimmick – more like a love affair.

"There's something about – I don't know, it's a hex in my brain – there is something I find reassuring, comforting, dazzling in that here is a very specific apparatus that is meant to do one thing, and it does it perfectly," he says. "And that one thing is to translate the thoughts in your head down to paper. Now that means everything from a shopping list to James Joyce's Ulysses. Short of carving words into stone with a hammer and chisel, not much is more permanent than a paragraph or a sentence or a love letter or a story typed on paper."

Interview Highlights

On the story 'These Are The Meditations Of My Heart'

That's actually the story of how I got my first typewriter. A friend of my had gotten a new Olivetti electric that was gorgeous – state-of-the-art typewriter for 1973. ... He gave me his old typewriter. But I used it for about a year-and-a-half or so, and I just wanted to get my typewriter serviced, just like the girl [in the story] did. What happens to her in the shop is almost verbatim the conversation I had with the old man.

That guy altered my concept of the place a typewriter can hold in your life. It is equal to a wooden chest that your great-grandfather carved, or the perfect set of doilies that your grandmother hand-stitched themselves, or a quilt that your mom passed down to you, that she made for you when you were 5 years old. A typewriter is — you can carry it around, it can go with you anywhere in the world. Even the biggest one you can put in a box and lug if you're dumb enough to try to get through airport security with something like that.

On people-watching others as a celebrity

One is, you just show up. You don't have the black SUV and the guys in suits that are opening the doors and clearing the way for you. But if you're not working — you're just a guy in a pair of pants and a sweatshirt — and you just go in, and some people might notice you, but you'd be amazed at how often you can hide in plain sight.

Danny Hajek and Shannon Rhoades produced and edited this interview for broadcast, and Patrick Jarenwattananon and Sydnee Monday adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Up North Updates
* indicates required