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
yoursel
f.

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.

Life,
like this
typewriter,
has no
backspace.
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.