Where’s the power button?

Just imagine … no delete key! To be typing away with no way of erasing one’s words. Where force is needed on each letter, the loud clickety-clack echoing around the room.

Some will have learnt to type on the old-fashioned ribbon typewriters, whilst for others they are an alien concept. How can one manage without autocorrect, cut, copy and paste!?

Forget the modern contraptions and imagine an antique typewriter set on a lone table. In a bookshop. Paper rolled into place. People approach and can write a sentence or two on it. What would this be?

Where’s the power button?

what is the password?

Just such a scenario developed as part of a community project in a bookshop which opened in 2013 in Michigan and the results are beautifully collated in the book ‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’.

A joint owner of the bookshop, Michael Gustafson, whose love for typewriters stemmed from inheriting his grandfather’s beloved 1930s Smith Corono, first imagined a great new American novel would be co-written by hundreds of people.

The Literati Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He couldn’t have been more wrong! Yet the messages are more than he could ever have predicted and they offer a unique insight into the human psyche as the anonymity allows people to bare their souls.

I’m scared I’ll spend half
my life deciding what to do
with it and the other half
regretting that choice.

They provide glimpses into other’s lives, their marriage proposals, relationship breakups, love, loss, addiction, joy, worries over school, college. Some cut straight to the question of our human existence.

The hardest thing about
loving someone so broken
is you might fall to pieces

Some are funny and intimate.

i love it when you talk typewriter to me.

Others are sweet and poignant.

I raced the snowflakes
to see who would fall first.

Of course the novelty of a typewriter features often as one young writer shows.

If I had to write a
five-paragraph essay on
this thing, I would withdraw
from middle school.

The purpose of life in all it’s facets is captured in a few profound sentences.

like this
has no
Type strongly
and don’t
look back.

Every evening Michael Gustafson would collect the reams of A4 papers, read the messages and cut them out, placing some on The Wall of Fame. Fame that grew as news of the bookshop’s unusual activity became more widely known.

In 2015 an artist, Oliver Uberti, was commissioned to paint fifteen of the messages on the brickwork outside the shop and it is now one of the most photographed locations in Ann Arbor.

‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’ is a wonderful and inspiring collation of messages, some even resembling flash fiction, many incredibly poetic in nature, beautifully presented in a smaller hardback form. A sense of harmony is achieved as the disparate notes are put into various sections, first describing the initial set up of the bookshop along with his wife, Hilary, in Ann Arbor and then concentrating on different themes of the notes, providing glimpses of occasions and people in the bookshop.

The notes themselves are presented unedited in typewriter fonts along with all their spelling errors etc. They are raw, honest, beguiling, addictive.

It is a profound book, it is hilarious, it is life!

we are all stories in the end

It has become one of my firm favourites this year and a book I’ve recommended to many already!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Scribe UK / Grand Central Publishing (US)

Available: Amazon US Amazon UK

Note: All bolded text are quotes from the book.

170 thoughts on “Where’s the power button?

  1. Fabulous idea and sorry I’m so late with my comment. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, Annika, in the warmth of your family home. I wouldn’t mind if this was in my stocking 🙂 🙂

    1. Jo, I hope you manage to drop a hint about the book to a family member and if not in time for Christmas, a Mother’s Day gift perhaps?! 😀 Wishing you a very peaceful and relaxing Christmas. hugs xx ❤️

    1. Yeah!! 😀 Pam, I know you’ll love all the messages and book as a whole. It’s just such a fun and unique idea and beautifully presented! Yikes! 120 page thesis is a lot … and I bet there were a few drafts! I lost my thesis on my laptop just as I’d finished it. Very silly me hadn’t backed it up!! In one week I had to rewrite from my very scruffy notes … super stressful but reckon it became a better piece of work as a result!

      Wishing you a lovely and peaceful weekend, my friend! Xx ❤️

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Annika.
    I remember using a typewriter. and I am so tickled by collaborative art, so I love the conceit of this book (and the bookstore). Thank you for bringing it to our attention!

    1. Ju-Lynn, thank you so much! 😀 It’s great how you pick up on the collaborative art and this is a major feature of the book and became a landmark fo the bookshop. It is so creative when the arts can be involved in various ways on a project!

    1. Thank you so much for your great comment, Georgina! 😀 I’m smiling at the thought of the existential dilemmas of different technologies … and how deeply they are encroached into our lives!

    1. Jacqui, it is wonderful how a simple typewriter has brought community together! Haha! We didn’t realise what we were missing without a delete key! 😀😀 Hard to imagine us managing without it as we write away!

    1. Jacquie, this is one of those books that takes hold of ones interest by the sheer originality of the concept! It is wonderful how people responded with such openness, reflection and fun! I’m glad you liked the quotes I incorporated into the review … I had many more on my list, the whole book is effectively one of quotes with the addition of the fascinating prose explanation around their lives and events of the bookshops! I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly captivated by the book and it’s one to return to often!

  3. Loved your review, Annika, and the premise of the book. It evokes memories of my dad typing on his typewriter, letters to friends and checks for holiday and birthday gifts. Precious memories. I’m definitely going to pick up a copy. Thanks for sharing. Hugs xo

    1. Lauren, thank you so much and I am so happy it has evoked such lovely memories of your father at the typewriter. Blimey, that was thorough indeed to write the cheques on a typewriter! I’m sure you’ll love the book … it really highlights the depth and lives of ‘normal’ people in just a few sentences … a real fascinating gem and treat of a book. Enjoy. Wishing you a lovely weekend, my friend! Xx

  4. Gorgeous,Annika!
    How very thoughtful, unfiltered thoughts.Sounds like a must read 🙂

    I wrote my very first stories on an old-fashioned ribbon typewriters that belonged to my maternal uncle. Heavy. Sturdy. Well made. No delete button and, yes, I had to type hard.

    I still have it. It flew with me from one continent to another. It means to me more than it looks. 😉

    1. Pat, how wonderful that you still have your uncle’s typewriter!! 😀 I know exactly what you mean that it hold so many inherant memories and values that is not evident from its appearance. They are special machines! Definitely very sturdy, very heavy and never seemed to go wrong, apart from when the letters bunched up and you had to unpick them!

      The book is a gem, so unusual and a total joy to read!

  5. Mike

    Ah this brings back memories of bashing letters out on a real keyboard, and the benefit of having a bottle of Tippex close to hand. This book is definitely now on my “to read” list.

    Another great post Annika


    1. Haha! 😀 Mike, I think bashing is a most apt word for the older typewriters although I was not a fan of the Tippex! Too blobby and not good result from being knocked onto a carpet whilst open! Speaks the voice of experience!

      So glad you enjoyed the post and I’m sure the book will delight you! Great mixture of messages and facts around the shop and project!

    1. Molly, it’s an inspired idea and isn’t it wonderful how not only visitors to the shop could enjoy the typewriter but as readers we can enjoy their messages! 😀 Haha! Whiteout was great but never seemed to work when I tried to use it ..l ended up with a blobby mess! 😃

  6. Who would have imagined such an overwhelming responses to the call? It turned out to be a super idea. I remember learning to type and typing my first assignment at the same time. I don’t need to say how long it took to type one page. I still remember it was an orange color Brother typewriter.

    Thank you for sharing this fascinating post, Annika! 🙂

    1. Miriam, I too would was surprised by how keen people were to walk up to the typewriter and tap away. The myriad and variety of messages is astonishing and seems to have reached into a need for the community to express their emotions & thoughts!

      I bet it was very stressful learning to type whilst writing up your first assignment – but think of all the editing along the way as you had to redo the page! 😀 Isn’t it inventive how the typewriters were all different colours – maybe they should rethink keyboards instead of just the boring white or black?!

      1. The whole technology is a mindboggling issue, Annika. I thought of before cellphone, before computer, before email and so forth… My first cell phone was huge. I took it to ATT store for recycling, the guy said, “This is antique. Are you sure you don’t want to keep it?” So I still have it. 🙂

        I remember my first computer was a huge metal box with black screen and one font. I had a strip of commands in front of the keyboard when typing. The printer was another issue.
        We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years. 🙂 🙂

    1. Jennifer, I agree! The idea alone is inspired … and inspiring! 😀 The responses are amazing and heartfelt … original, inventive and profound! Electric typewriters were around when I was young and they must have seemed a world apart from the old-fashioned ones. My mother had an electronic one in her company and that was mind-blowing! Yet, how true that we hearken to the old clickety clack of keys – very nostalgic and emotive!

      1. Yes, they were a world apart. My father had an large, ancient manual one in his home office when I was little. Whenever I had the chance I used to play teacher or writer or office worker, depending on my mood. 😀

  7. Pingback: 7/12 – 13/12/20 incl. Vaccines, Typewriters and the Past | Observation Blogger

  8. Behind the Story

    I attending college with only a typewriter and a bottle of whiteout. I guess I didn’t make as many mistakes or have as many false starts as I do now.

    I once went to a writers’ retreat on an island in British Columbia, Canada. Even though we all had computers, we were asked to leave them at home and find an old typewriter. We were asked to spend the morning typing whatever came into our minds and then deliver them to the retreat master at noon. She looked through them, and later that day, we gathered and she read from them what she considered worthwhile without identifying the writer. I think the retreat was called Freefall.

    1. Nicki, an intriguing idea for a writing retreat, although it must have been tricky for some to procure a typewriter! Did you feel any difference when writing on a typewriter as opposed to the normal keyboard. I know most of us feel a distinct difference between longhand and tapping away on the keyboard! I love the name of the retreat … and what a location. I attended a weekend writing retreat in the coast called ‘Right Brain Writing’ and that was fascinating and insightful as to writing overall!

      Haha! Whiteout (tippex over in U.K.) seems to have been very popular … although I never got on with this and overjoyed when the first computers came out! 😀

      Btw. Your new website looks wonderful, welcoming and so professional! Congratulations! Good luck with preparations for the release of your next book! Can’t wait! Xx

  9. I love this sort of thing…Middle daughter & son-in-law live about an hour away from Ann Arbor so next visit if COVID and/or business closure isn’t an issue, we’ll be venturing to that Bookstore for sure.
    Hang tight – Brexit sounds like quite the ride for you guys!

    1. Laura, how fantastic that you will have a chance to visit – at some stage! Please let me know what it is like and if you left a message!! 😀

      Oh yes, Brexit and the four year saga continues to the line. Also just now moving onto highest restrictions for where I live, along with news of a new variant of the virus. Feels a dark day … but things will feel brighter soon again. xx

    1. Barbara, I remember your great review and it is a book that is so easy to love, everything is just perfect!😀 I have family and friends reading it – even those who don’t tend to read books per se!

        1. So true, I think I should just have bought this for Christmas presents for family and friends and I would have been sorted! Yes, a shortish book but one that is fun to dip into now and then! Hope you have a lovely bookish weekend, Barbara! 😀

  10. I’m in love with the idea of this book and will order it forthwith as a hard copy. I was 13 the Christmas I received my first typewriter and it was my best Christmas of all time. I can’t tell you how much this post means. I’m going to explore this further.

    1. Marlene, your love of typewriters shines through and how wonderful to have received a typewriter whilst so young! Can you remember its make? Colour? I see they used to do different colours which seems very snazzy and fun! I’m sure you will love the book … and just hope other bookshops take up the idea when possible. Happy Reading!😀

  11. What an inspirational project! Thanks for the book recommendation. I learned to touch-type on the manual model which forced me to develop strength in my little fingers. For success in the secretarial field, we had to develop both speed and accuracy.

    1. 😀😀Rosaliene, those poor little fingers … but I bet they were soon super strong. Oh, hasn’t accuracy fallen to the wayside as spellcheck and delete key were developed on a computer! I agree, the project is inspirational and it’s almost as if people were hungry for this annonymous opportunity to write their thoughts / emotions.

  12. What a brilliant and creative idea Michael Guftafson and Oliver Uberti had! I remember those typewriters that when you made a mistake you could either erase your mistake with some white liquid or there was also this yellow strip that you would place over the error to erase it. So messy!
    But my first typewriter was a toy dial typewriter, where you had to turn a dial for each letter.
    As the ad said, we’ve come a long way!
    Thanks, Annika for these memories and for reminding us how fortunate we are to have autocorrect and spell check along with delete.
    Just to write this reply would have taken me so, so much longer!

    1. Haha! 😀😀 Carol, I don’t think there are many of us who would want to write longer pieces on the old typewriters!! We have all become far too spoilt with autocorrect etc yet it’s lovely to recall the old machines. Your toy one sounds fantastic and unique. Where there many of them sold? Do you know what happened to it? As for the yellow correction tape, I’ve never heard of that but wish I had it around in the my early days of typing with the dreaded tippex bottle!

      It is wonderful how creativity was found and unleashed by an old typewriter… ones so hammered they have to be replaced every six months in the shop!

      Happy Writing… on our computer keyboards with all the frills! 😀

  13. Oh my goodness… this is brilliant and such a profound glimpse into the soul of every writer. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Annika! It brought an instant smile. Blessings across the miles. xo

    1. Natalie, you are so right, it is those glimpses into other’s lives which are the core of the book, it feels a privilege and also humbling to read the message! So glad the review has your smiling – it is a book I’ve a few times and always see something new to ponder, giggle at. Wishing you all well, hugs xx❤️

  14. This sounds amazing, Annika. What a great idea that grew into a community project. I love these ideas, and find that when the community is invited to be creative, they respond. I can understand why you love the book.

    1. Exactly, Diana! It is incredible how the community responded and that the project took off to such a great extent … I bet the owners were nearly overwhelmed with all the messages at first! It’s as if there was great hunger for this type of community project, for people to have an anonymous release for their emotions, experiences, creativity! It would be great if it was taken up around the globe later! 😀

      1. For the past two years I’ve organized a community project in my small town, collecting poem, stories, and photography from residents, editing, formatting, and publishing them in paperback. Not anonymous, but everyone who submits has at least one piece included. It’s been such a wonderful boost for the creative spirit in our town. I really love the idea of a typewriter as a way to include more voices, including anonymous ones. 🙂

        1. Diana, what a wonderful idea! Inspiring everyone to become involved, tapping into their creative selves! It must have brought so many people together and you’re a gem for preparing the book for publication. That is a lot of work.

  15. A fascinating story and review. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, with a wee bottle of Tippex beside me to correct mistakes. Not that it ever did it properly. At one time I was typing legal documents and they had to be completely error free so if I made a mistake I had to start all over again. I still have my old typewriter but it needs a new ribbon 🙂

    1. Mary, how wonderful that you still have your old typewriter but imagine sourcing the new ribbon will be tricky … I wonder if there is an association for these machines and they may have stock? Haha! Tippex was the bane of my typing experience as young and I can well believe that legal documents (on their superior quality paper!) would not accept the white blobs of correction! Modern keyboards may not be so tactile but they are very handy!😀

    1. It is wonderful, Lavinia – I reckon my enthusiasm for the book is rather effusive!! 😀

      Underwood was a new name to me and I’ve had fun learning more about the company … nearly a hundred years within typewriters as wells as munitions during WWII!

    1. Neil, the typewriter must have seemed incredible when it was first released and changed the world massively for mass communication. Yet, I’m sure you’re right, however much we talk about with nostalgia about the old typewriters we would not welcome a return to them! I’m as guilty as the next person for loving the ease of tapping away, correcting, amending!😀

  16. Thank you, Annika, for the book review and recommendation. The photo of the bookstore is beautiful. Happy St Lucia day! Before covid-19, I usually go to an annual Swedish Christmas festival here, organized by Swedes who live in Toronto. There are dances, singing, arts and crafts, and specialty food. Have a wonderful week ahead!

    1. Natalie, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found such a christmassy photo of the bookshop! Makes one want to visit immediately!!😀

      Thank you for your lovely comment and Lucia greeting … we had a wonderful festive family day. Wow! Your Swedish Christmas festival sounds amazing and I bet I would recognise many of the songs and dances. The cakes and buns are divine I bet! Everyone will be so happy when it can run next year as usual, I’m sure!

      Wishing you a great week too!! xx

  17. I love everything about this post! What fantastic idea to connect us to one another through the written word. So inspiring. I was also drawn to the idea because I learned how to type on a manual typewriter. When I swtiched to computer, it took quite a while to stop pounding the keys. And even longer not to doublespace after terminal punctutation!

    1. Liz, to your last sentence first … you’ve just answered a point I’ve wondered about for years. I took my typing exam on one of these as young and yes, double space was the norm after end punctuation. A habit I’m still having to correct and with my book I had to edit nearly every sentence to reduce the gap!

      I’m so happy you enjoyed all the elements of my post, The book is wonderfully inspiring and I wanted to convey that through the review by making it just a bit extra!

    1. Wow! Kamal, I bet your fingers flew across the keys! 😀 The sounds of proper typing on the old-fashioned typewriters is almost hypnotic! Did you find you had to adjust the pressure of your finger taps with computer keyboards? Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed my review and I was pleased to come across this video on my searches online, so many were very long and I know that time is often of the essence for us!

      1. Yes Annika once you master the equipment the keys work like magic as if you are sitting on a piano. A completely different experience from computers. Of course in the beginning lots of mistakes I did make and no erase button like a computer so had to use an eraser and then type on it again or type the whole thing again but it was fun and we really enjoyed our old typewriters. Enjoyed your post dear. It was awesome.

  18. What an absolutely wonderful idea Michael Gustafson had when he used his
    well loved typewriter as an invite to the public to write down their thoughts and feelings.
    Annika, I am bewitched by your brilliant review and so glad you wrote it as you have the imagination to feel deeply for this idea. I must admit to having read the book and could easily read it again.

    So, thank you for your beautiful review and the way you honoured it.


    1. Miriam, thank you so much for your wonderful comment and kind words about my reviews! I’m smiling that it bewitches you … ahhh! Yeah! 😀 It’s great you’ve also read the book and I would definitely recommend reading it again. I have at least three times and see something new each time. I agree, his initiative is incredibly inventive and it was ironic how he ended up with a very different book than he imagined … and much more successful too, no doubt! Happy Reading! Xx

  19. What a brilliant idea! I learnt to touch type on one of those, I still remember doing drills to type each letter with the right finger. Then there were electric typewriters which were easier, but still no delete! Fortunately there were computers by the time I wrote my first novel!

    1. Phew … thank goodness for computers, eh?! 😀 I reckon us writers today are soft compared to before when they had to slog out each draft by typewriter over and over!!😀

      Your experience with typewriters sound very familiar to mine and I remember my little fingers sore as I could barely get the letters down as I practised on my mother’s old one. I’d forgotten the electric typewriters but do recall the first electronic ones which did retain five lines or so of text which you could edit before it typed it out!

      There is something special with the antique typewriters however and I think this is what the visitors to the bookshops discovered as they tapped away! If it wasn’t so noisy this could be an idea for a library when things are better!😀

  20. I love the lines: Type strongly/and don’t/look back. I grew up with those old typewriters myself and I well remember the smell of Tippex to remove mistakes. Oh, I love today’s technology!

    1. Elizabeth, I was hoping someone would mention the Tippex! 😀😀 I used it when young and yes, a very strong smell and also it tended to blob and become very unsightly! My first computer when still a child was the ZX81 Sinclair and I was so excited – the future had arrived! We are spoilt in today’s technological world!

      Yes, a great few lines and probably my favourite too! Wise words for us all to follow!

  21. What a great premise for a book! Although I learned to type on a typewriter, I can’t imagine ever writing a novel using one. I’m heading straight to Amazon, Annika! This will make a great Christmas gift, too. Thank you for your fantastic review! I hope your mother is doing well. xo

    1. Jill, I love how you share my enthusiasm for the book and as you say perfect for Christmas gifts. This is how I received it from my mother for my birthday! I imagine the editors had no original intention to write the book but so glad they collected some of the messages here … the longer prose sections around them really makes it a most unique hardback. Thank you, we are all doing very well and having a special Lucia celebration this morning and evening … light and hope shining bright. Wishing you a peaceful Sunday, my dear friend! xx ❤️

    1. Khaya, it is an incredible idea and I too love how it has inspired so many to write messages, many so imaginative, profound, an amazing variety! What a project and I wonder if it has been copied elsewhere? A great book if you ever have a chance to read it.

      Wishing you a peaceful Sunday. Is it Lucia in Finland today? We were up early celebrating as family. hugs xx

  22. Sounds like a great book. What a clever idea. Without computers, I would have never written one book, let alone eight of them. I could never get the hang of a typewriter.

    1. Haha!! 😀 Darlene, I do feel the same when I think of all the edits involved in writing books – that delete button is essential! I have wondered how authors managed before, did they give more thought to their words before typing them out? Every revision having to be typed up over and over – an incredible undertaking and they managed just fine! I learnt to type on electronic typewriters and loved them but also ‘played’ around on my mother’s old-fashioned ribbon one and blimey, I did get achy fingers as it took a lot more force with each letter!😀

    1. Haha! 😀 So true! I remember as young typing a bit on my mother’s old typewriter before the electronic ones came out and then I was told to gently ‘stroke’ the keys as I was still hammering them! There are so many things that can go wrong with modern equipement, infuriatingly so!😀

  23. I genuinely loved this book. I thought it was just astoundingly brilliant. I remember blogging about it as soon as I finished reading. I love it when books do that. Hope you’re well. It’s so good to see you back. Xxx

    1. Charley, so it was you!!😀😀 I remember reading a review of the book on wordpress and wasn’t sure where and as a result I put it on my birthday list! Astounding is just the word and it’s a book that I’ve reread many times since. I wonder what the result would be if this project was replicated in the UK. Would people be so forthcoming? Or perhaps more reticent? It would be interesting to see.

      Sorry for not mentioning that you lead me to the book and here is the link to your excellent reivew!


      Have a lovely peaceful Sunday. xx

      1. Don’t be silly. You don’t need to mention me.
        I’d love it if something like this happened here. It would be amazing. It would be interesting to do a comparison between the north, south, east and west too! Maybe once Covid has gone away because that’s all we hear about. Likewise brexit. Xx

        1. Brexit … never heard of it!! 😀😀 Oh, the news is so grim I’m trying to tune it all out! Reckon everyday people are doing so well to stay strong and positive in spite of everything.

          Are you back to school tomorrow or has it closed early? The secondary ones around here shut last Monday. Take care. xx

  24. What an absolutely wonderful idea for a book. The quotes you’ve included are fabulous and the whole project sounds so alive with such honesty, raw emotion and the rich tapestry of life. Simply brilliant! Thanks for sharing this Annika. xx

    1. What a lovely idea. The best quote is surely that our lives are more like typewriters – we can’t delete or cut and paste. I avoided learning typing at school as I was determined never to work in an office – who could have known that we would all need to use keyboards.

      1. Janet, this is my favourite quote too – I love the insight and philosopical nature of many of the messages, it just proves how many think and live on a deeper level. Haha! 😀Yes, keyboards are an essential element of our lives but most manage without learning to type properly. We were offered evening classes whilst at school at the local college for typing and I jumped at the idea! Even then I was eager to be a writer and knew typing would feature in my life!

    2. Yeah! Miriam, your phrase ‘rich tapestry of life’ sums up the book perfectly! 😀 The idea is incredible and I imagine the owners of the bookshop were astonished by the result of their project! I would love to see it copied elsewhere … and then wonder what I would type if confronted by the lonely typewriter! What about you? Any ideas what you would writer? So glad you liked the chosen quotes – I had so many favourites it was tricky slimming down the ones to share here. Wishing you a beautiful Sunday. xx

      1. I was wondering the same thing as I read your post Annika. To be quite honest I’m not really sure what I’d write but perhaps, given some thought, I’d want to write it anonymously! 😊✨ xx

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