The Quick 10: 10 Authors and their Typewriters
I bought a vintage typewriter this weekend for $25. I don't think it's a particularly valuable model or anything, but it looks cool and makes a really satisfying typing noise. And there's no "1" key, because at that point in time, people were expected to use the lowercase "l" in place of the actual number one. If I can find ribbon I might actually type on it. Right now it sits on the china hutch that you have to pass to go to our bathroom, so every time I go past it I have to hit the button that makes it go "Ding!" It's driving my husband crazy. Anyway, I've obviously got typewriters on the brain, but I'm not the only one "“ these 10 authors liked theirs too.
1. Ernest Hemingway preferred to write standing up and kept his Royal Quiet de Luxe typewriter on a bookshelf in his Havana home, which is a museum these days. It was still at the museum until a couple of years ago, when it sold in an auction for $2750.
2. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On the Road using 12-foot rolls of paper. He later taped the rolls together, resulting in one huge scroll measuring 120 feet when unfurled. That's single spaced, no margins or paragraph breaks, by the way. It took him a mere three weeks to tap it out at his fast-and-furious 100-word-per-minute pace.
3. John Steinbeck preferred his Hermes Baby, a model Hemingway also had on hand. The Baby was one of the first portable typewriters made in an age where the typing machines were notoriously heavy and cumbersome.
4. David Sedaris, whose dad used to sell IBM typewriters, used one until his boyfriend bought him a MacBook Air, sick of being stopped by security at airports. It's no surprise that he turned the switch into an anecdote: "˜"˜When forced to leave my house for an extended period of time, I take my typewriter with me, and together we endure the wretchedness of passing through the X-ray scanner. The laptops roll merrily down the belt, while I'm instructed to stand aside and open my bag. To me it seems like a normal enough thing to be carrying, but the typewriter's declining popularity arouses suspicion and I wind up eliciting the sort of reaction one might expect when travelling with a cannon. "˜It's a typewriter,' I say. "˜You use it when you write angry letters to airport authorities.'"
5. Mark Twain definitely didn't have a portability option, because he used the enormous Sholes & Glidden Treadle Model from 1874. The treadle looks like a hassle, but it was actually supposed to make things easier by providing a quicker carriage return. Twain had his customized, though, by replacing the treadle with a handle. Mr. Clemens is thought to have been the first author to ever submit a typewritten novel to a publisher.
6. John Updike used an Olivetti MP1 portable typewriter until the day he died. It was made the same year he was born "“ 1932- so he liked to tell people that the two of them were "Growing old and erratic together."
7. George Orwell had a portable typewriter called the Remington Home Portable. Agatha Christie used the exact same model.
8. Hunter S. Thompson liked to abuse his red IBM Selectric by taking it out into the snow and shooting at it. It outlived him, though "“ after he shot himself, his body was found sitting at his typewriter with the single word "counselor" typed on the page in front of him.
9. David McCullough, the author behind 1776, uses a secondhand Royal Standard he bought in 1965. "I have written everything I've ever had published on it, and there is nothing wrong with it," he once said.
10. P.J. O'Rourke uses an IBM Selectric as well, saying his short attention span doesn't mix well with writing on a computer. And he's right "“ it's easy to get distracted by your e-mail and Twitter and Facebook and, well, mental_floss. He also says the typewriter is a good thing because it makes authors slow down. Stephen King once said that if he had a computer back in the day, he could have written three Cujos in the time it took to type the one. "Does the world need three times as many Cujos?" O'Rourke responded dryly.
Well, after researching all of that, I have an even more romanticized idea of typewriters than I did before. Jason, from now on, I'll be submitting all of my _floss articles on typewriter paper. I'll send you a telegram so you'll know when to expect them.
Any other typewriter enthusiasts out there? Is there anything I should know about my new treasure? And can you find old typewriter ribbon anywhere other than eBay?
Hemingway, Steinbeck, Twain and Orwell pictures from Poetic Home.