Notes from a Public Typewriter

Dec 31, 2018

Working in a public library has, by and large, broken me of the habit of just meandering through the stacks, open to whatever strikes my fancy. This is unfortunate. Fortunately, though, working in a library also frequently involves my being in those stacks, whether it's making a beeline for a book a patron wants, pulling a book to fulfill a hold, or seeking out books to fill a gap in a display. So I still get those moments of serendipity, even if I'm not roaming the stacks looking for my own next read.

It was one such occasion that led me to the serendipitous find of Notes from a Public Typewriter. I'm not sure there's any other way to find this because by quirk of Dewey decimal system, it sits between job-seeking books and professional development books, near a tiny section about handwriting where many people will probably never see it once it's no longer on the new books shelf (for the curious, the call number is 652, or Processes of Written Communication). I'm so glad I found it.

Notes from a Public Typewriter is a collection of snippets gleaned from the typewriter housed in the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's just as random as you'd expect such a collection to be, but what elevates this little tome is its careful editing and curation, each chapter introduced with an anecdote about bookstore life and the people who frequent them--both owners and customers alike--each carefully selected to highlight the theme of that chapter. Photographs of people using the typewriter or snapshots of a page on the typewriter are interspersed throughout, breaking it up and bringing it to life. Sometimes the entries are laid out playfully, like the two-page spread that pairs "Everyone has a superpower. The trick is to find it" with "hello... i am very gay ;)" establishing a conversation between pieces that may or may not otherwise exist except for within the pages of this book.

The excerpts range from the quirky ("bell peppers with fig jam are better than expected. don't be scared.") to the poignant ("I will find someone someday.") to the utterly lovely ("I walked in expecting to fall in love with books, not the person I walked in with."). It's a tiny slice of humanity, carefully curated. Books like these found art collections can sometimes have filler content or lack interest without context, but nearly every page has something that evokes a response from a reader, whether that's a smile or a tug at the heart or goosebumps (my own responses to each of the three excerpts above).

It's as much about humanity in general as it is about the written word and bookstores as safe, community spaces. One entry reads, "Maybe one day we will write enough books and read enough words to understand each other. I hope." Notes from a Public Typewriter takes us a step closer to that. I hope.

Reviewed by Library Staff