Monday, July 9, 2007

Typewriter Nostalgia

I'm desperately waiting for some company specializing in retro to start mass producing typewriters again (and easily found ribbons). I still remember the thrill of learning to properly type during high school using those old portable machines with their blank keys which you had to really push to hit the paper. And I miss the sound of the keys and the lovely ping of the return carriage. However, I am excited that they seem to be making a comeback as the coolest cultural icon around. The Royal Ontario Museum has just mounted an exhibition of early typewriters containing much of the collection of Torontonian Martin Howard (see more at his own website here). Australian writer David Malouf has just released his latest collection of poetry called Typewriter Music (alas, not yet available in this hemisphere). You can listen to an interview and a reading of some of these poems here. One of my favourite new independent bookstores in Toronto, Type Books at 883 Queen St. pays homage to the machine and its iconographic keys. And there's an interesting site that not only sells old typewriters but has a list of authors and the model of typewriter they used.
A fascinating book not only about the history of typewriters, but typewriting itself (and its use and appearance in literature) is The Iron Whim by Darren Wershler-Henry. Of course the term typewriter used to refer not to the machine itself, but to the person doing the typing (mostly women). Broadview Press has re-issued some wonderful New Woman fiction from the turn of the century that embodies the early days of typewriters. The Type-Writer Girl by Grant Allen features a woman who works in publishing and falls in love with her employer. An early prototype for Bridget Jones with less emphasis on dieting. But my personal favourite is The Girl Behind the Keys by Tom Gallon - a series of melodramatic detective tales in which our feisty typewriter heroine has to foil the criminal activities of her boss (using her typewriter of course!). Deliciously silly reading.

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