Surely the sun shone bright that July day in 1973 when I achieved my goal of typing 50 words per minute with no mistakes. Even if it was raining, I’m certain the sun would have split apart thunderclouds to send a beam of light through the panes of glass in Mr. McGeorge’s classroom.
It had been my mom’s idea for me to take the typing class during summer vacation between my junior and senior years of high school. A small-town newspaper editor, she probably reasoned it would be a useful skill to have, “Because you never know when you might need it.” I was pretty certain I’d never “need” to know stenography (the other summer class Mr. McGeorge taught), but I could accept that typing might come in handy when I went to college to study English.
Hunched over a black Royal typewriter, pounding its QWERTY keys into the touch memory of my fingertips, I willed my fingers to move faster through drills, repeatedly typing simple sentences. Mr. McGeorge, always in black trousers, a crisp, short-sleeved shirt, and a plain, black tie, strode among our desks. I’m sure he carried a stopwatch, too, for all of the exercises were timed as I attempted to increase my speed while decreasing my errors.
The stakes were high. A few rows of sleek, red, self-correcting IBM Selectrics waited to reward my achievement. I dreamed of the day I’d type quickly enough to graduate to the light gray keyboard that propelled a silver ball of letters across the page. I’d no longer have to lift my right hand off the keys at the end of a line to press a silver arm that sent the carriage back to the left margin; with just a slight stretch of my right pinky, the RETURN button sent the ball of type back to start a new line. Best of all was the X key that magically eliminated miss-typed letters so I could replace them with the correct ones.
Nearly forty-five years later, I don’t worry so much about the speed of my typing. My lightweight, silver laptop automatically corrects many of my typos, or at least signals their presence with a squiggly, red line. I can highlight words, sentences, and entire paragraphs, then move them to another spot in the document—or to the “trash.” Now, I can’t imagine writing a 60,000-word manuscript on the Royal, but I’m glad it’s still around. Like many writers today, I’m infatuated with any kind of manual typewriter.
During a recent wait in the San Francisco airport, I discovered an exhibit celebrating the typewriter as “…one of the great inventions of the modern world…” easing and speeding communication on paper when typewriters appeared in the late 1800s. The exhibit caught the attention of other passengers, too, as a dozen or more paused, like me, in front of the display, jockeying rolling suitcases (some likely holding laptops and e-readers) and snapping photos with smart phones.
I don’t know if the exhibit is still there, but if it is, it’s the perfect advertisement for a book released earlier this month, Uncommon Type – Some Stories by Tom Hanks. According to New York Times reporter Concepción de León, “The collection of 17 stories all include, in one way or another, typewriters, which are Mr. Hanks’s passion.”
There’s a good deal of buzz about the actor’s book. Evidently, Hanks is as good on the keyboard as in film.
“It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.” ~Steve Martin
“Reading Tom Hanks’s Uncommon Type is like finding out that Alice Munro is also the greatest actress of our time.” ~ Ann Patchett
What’s your favorite type?