Tom Hanks and His Love for Typewriters: “Nothing Is More Permanent Than a Story Typed on Paper”

Tom Hanks was in Washington this weekend talking about his new book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories. It’s a collection of short stories and in each story Hanks sneaks in something about one of his obsessions—the typewriter. In an NPR interview, he said of his love for typewriters:

“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. 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.”

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.

In April 2012 when I moved out of my office at the Washingtonian, I wrote a back-page piece titled “If These Keys Could Talk,” with my old Royal typewriter reflecting back on its 43 years helping the magazine get published each month. The opening:

It finally happened. On Saturday morning, Jack came into the office, took me off the desk, carried me out to a car double-parked on L Street, and drove me away. I’m now on a beat-up typewriter table in what seems to be a basement office in a house. No car horns, lots of birds singing, and a dog that looks at me and occasionally barks.

Not a surprise but still kind of sad. Sure, I was being used less and less, but I still felt useful–I was always really good at short notes.

And the ending of the piece is still timely:

What if the Chinese managed to shut down the Internet and blow up all those digital clouds? I hope one of the writers or editors then might ask, “Anyone know what happened to that old Royal typewriter?”

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