Edited by Michael Gustafson
Edited by Oliver Uberti
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 27, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
When Michael Gustafson and his wife Hilary opened Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they put out a typewriter for anyone to use. They had no idea what to expect. Would people ask metaphysical questions? Write mean things? Pour their souls onto the page? Yes, no, and did they ever.
Every day, people of all ages sit down at the public typewriter. Children perch atop grandparents’ knees, both sets of hands hovering above the metal keys: I LOVE YOU. Others walk in alone on Friday nights and confess their hopes: I will find someone someday. And some leave funny asides for the next person who sits down: I dislike people, misanthropes, irony, and ellipses … and lists too.
In Notes From the Public Typewriter Michael and designer Oliver Uberti have combined their favorite notes with essays and photos to create an ode to community and the written word that will surprise, delight, and inspire.
PREFACE by Michael Gustafson
In the spring of 2013, my wife, Hilary, and I opened Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Opening a community-minded independent bookstore was a dream we’d shared since we bonded over books on our first date. After we got engaged, we quit our jobs in New York City, moved home to Michigan, took out a loan, and signed a lease. We were in our late twenties, pursuing a dream. We were terrified.
When opening day arrived, we unlocked the door and held our breath. One by one, people walked inside, paged through new books, discussed favorite authors. The wood floors creaked; cash registers rang. The bookstore came alive. As I stood at the register, my ears perked up. Amid the din, I heard the faint but distinct cadence of someone typing.
That morning, I had set out a typewriter on our lower level for anyone to use. It was a community-building experiment: What if people could walk into a bookstore and type anything they wanted? Would they write haikus, confessions, or declarations of love? Would they contemplate the meaning of life? Would they make fart jokes? Would people even know how to use a typewriter?
The public typewriter experiment, for me, was also personal. The first typewriter I ever fell in love with was my grandfather’s—a 1930s Smith Corona. Because he died when I was young, my memory of him is limited to impressions: visits to the Florida condo he shared with my grandmother, beach picnics, golf cart rides around the neighborhood, and an alluring black typewriter on his writing desk. One year, long after he passed, Grandma gave me his Smith Corona for Christmas. At the time, I was a struggling writer. Seeing his old typewriter again stirred something in me. As I hunched over the keys, I imagined my grandfather also click-clacking away, equally hunched, considering each word. His typewriter made writing fun again. And for the first time since his death, I felt connected to him, to a past I never really knew. Now, his typewriter is rarely far from sight; I keep it inside a glass display case below our bookstore’s register.
The typewriter I set out on opening day was a light blue Olivetti Lettera 32. I inserted a clean piece of paper and let it be. There were no prompts. No directions. Just the world’s smallest publishing house, waiting for an author. One of the notes I found that first day was: Thank you for being here. I didn’t see the typer’s identity, so it appeared as though the typewriter itself was thanking me. As though the dusty machine was happy to be used again.
Soon, more notes accumulated. People proposed, broke up, confessed, apologized, joked, and philosophized. I had to buy more paper, more ink ribbons, more typewriters. Typewriting had become part of our bookstore’s identity. I taped favorite notes to a wall behind the typewriter. I shared some notes in store newsletters and on social media. And in 2015, we commissioned artist Oliver Uberti to paint fifteen of them along a 60-foot stretch of our building. It’s now one of the most photographed locations in town.
Customers, friends, and family began encouraging me to turn these notes into a book. At first, I was apprehensive. But then I read through the piles of messy, typewritten pages again with Oliver. Some made us tear up; many made us laugh out loud. Our community of note-typers has shown that impactful writing isn’t limited to bestselling authors. Each of us has a note to leave behind, and I realized more of them deserve to be read. They shouldn’t be locked inside my filing cabinet at home. Inside our store, surrounded by books that have been labored over by authors, editors, and marketers, there’s a way for people to publish directly into the world in permanent ink—spelling errors and all.
Some nights after we close, when the bookstore is quiet and the lights are dim, I’ll pull from the display case my grandfather’s old Smith Corona. I’ll set it on a table in the dark, where it makes a loud thunk. The ink still smacks one letter at a time, as it did eighty years ago.
I pause in the quietude. I wonder, like so many others have before: What should I write? I decide to write to the person who gave me the typewriter. The click-clack reverberates. I strike the wrong letter. My pinkie reaches for the delete key, but there isn’t one. I’m glad. I keep typing.
TALK TYPEWRITER TO ME
Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “Write to please just one person.” When it comes to our public typewriter, there is one dedicated reader.
I know people aren’t necessarily writing to please me. Still, I am the one who reads each typed note. Every nonsensical musing. Every spelling error. Every poem. Every bad pun. Every note questioning love. Every unquestionable I love you.
Over the years, I have noticed patterns of typing behavior. During Michigan football season, an Ohio State fan will type: Go Bucks. On a cold, snowy Saturday night, a customer hopes for a date or comments on sobriety. Come spring, graduating seniors type memories, leave behind advice for incoming freshmen, or write: I will miss you, Ann Arbor.
At the end of each day, I retreat to the office to make sense of this ongoing—though slightly disjointed—inked monologue. I understand that poring over anonymously typed fragments might not be the best use of my free time, but at any moment, on any day, an unheralded (or heralded) literary genius could leave behind an astute meditation, a whimsical missive, or unprecedented poetic artistry—and I don’t want to miss it. So I will eagerly leaf through pages of ,,,,…???867()* and 89khellohello to find one sentence of sincerity.
Finding a great note requires a bit of detective work. Many times, notes are typed atop other notes. Picking through the layers leads to discoveries or, sometimes, more questions. I was just robbed was a note I read the other day. It was next to I miss you. I believe these notes were written separately. Then I reread them. Maybe not.
Before we set out the typewriter, I had a vision that each person who typed a note would participate in a never-ending story, picking up where the last person left off. The plot would twist and turn, the characters would come and go, and, over decades, it could become the Great American Novel—penned by America.
Now, having reviewed thousands of notes in the process of compiling this book, I am starting to view this collection more as a Great Global Diary. The notes from our public typewriter come from an anonymous and unpredictable array of voices: Locals. Tourists. Investment managers. Window washers. Christians. Muslims. Newlyweds. Widowers. Bus drivers. Engineering students. Schoolchildren. Retirees. The scared. The lonely. The content. The brokenhearted. The beloved.
They continue to type, and I continue to read.
At morning light the raven soars to it$ perch cloaked in darrk
Watching my son try to type a single sentence is like watching a crocodile trying to do ballet.
My son thinks that
I am a genius because
I know how to type…
finally, he is
impressed with me.
- On Sale
- Mar 27, 2018
- Page Count
- 160 pages
- Grand Central Publishing