This blog, published free of charge since September 2007, is a way for me to stay in touch with seasonal bookstore visitors from afar and with all customers and friends when I am closed for my annual "seasonal retirement" in the winter. Thank you so much for following Books in Northport and for supporting Dog Ears Books.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
We Used to Call It "Typing"
Old machine can produce new words
typus, from Ancient Greek τύπος (tupos, “mark, impression , type”), from τύπτω (tuptō,
“I strike, beat”)
Think of the big drums
called tympani, and you’re on the right track. Fingers strike keys, keys move
type, type strikes paper on platen, leaving inked impression. The first commercial typewriter dates back to 1868 and the first office
typists were all men. That’s because secretaries in those days were all men.
(Also, the typewriter was a machine,
right?) Later, as women entered the field, one full-page magazine advertisement
(I used to have the magazine, but it’s gotten away from me) showed a young
woman using its product under the banner “THE KEYS THAT GAVE HER FREEDOM!” I
confess I never felt that way myself when I worked in offices. One generation’s
freedom is another’s captivity.
Two visitors to bookstore
Where would the modern
mystery novel have been without mysterious typewritten messages? The anonymous
letter-writer uses a machine rather than a pen, realizing that handwriting is
identifiable by experts. Ah, but the individual typewriter, too, has its
tell-tale quirks. Perhaps one letter is slightly out of alignment or not hit
with the same force as the others. Find the typewriter, and you’re on your way
to solving the crime!
Older visitor was a machine
As is true of older
automobiles and farm equipment, the workings of a typewriter are visible, so
when something is not working,
close visual inspection can often illuminate the problem. Mechanical objects,
like their products, reveal themselves to an investigator, who does not need to
sit paralyzed and helpless before a sealed “black box” but can “take a look
under the hood,” so to speak, and tinker. There’s a nice work: tinker. Mechanical objects are more complicated than pots and pans but
accessible to eyes and hands.
No secrets--isn't it beautiful?
This lovely old
Woodstock typewriter was manufactured in Woodstock, Illinois, the little town
where the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed. Could there be a connection? Back to the past? The past living on in the present? The machine was
produced close to the time my father (now deceased) was born, almost a hundred years ago. It still works.
How many poems and short
stories and novels were composed on typewriters in the century of the machine’s
dominance? Remember the three mystery poems I received in the mail earlier this
year? In adolescence I generally wrote letters longhand but loved to type my
poems. It felt so much more “professional,” as if I were a “real” writer. Then,
to send them off to The New Yorker,
in all the naiveté of youth! Such romance!
How many movies feature
sound tracks with typing, that clattery, mechanical but somehow still human
sound many of us still find cheerful and comforting? Sorry I didn't have the patience to persevere with uploading a video of typist at work in bookstore. Anyone who has types--I mean, tips!--on uploading videos, feel free to give me advice....