Tom Hanks Is Obsessed With Typewriters (So He Wrote A Book About Them)

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Actor Tom Hanks has made us believe he can be anyone and do anything on the big screen.

Now he’s taking us on a journey on the page: Tom Hanks has written a book.

It’s a collection of short stories, with varied subjects: a World War II veteran on Christmas Eve in 1953, a California surfer kid who makes an unsettling discovery. There’s time travel. In every story, Hanks sneaks in the machine he’s so obsessed with — the typewriter.

“I have too many typewriters, David,” he says, beginning a riff. “You want one? I should have brought one for you and the staff, just to help out, man. I don’t want these to be a burden to my children when I kick the bucket. I don’t want them to say, ‘What are we gonna do with dad’s typewriters?'”

Sometimes the typewriter is a plot device; sometimes it really does feel almost hidden. Fittingly, the book is called Uncommon Type. And in talking to Hanks, you learn that his thing with typewriters is not a gimmick – more like a love affair.

“There’s something about – I don’t know, it’s a hex in my brain – there is something I find reassuring, comforting, dazzling in that here is a very specific apparatus that is meant to do one thing, and it does it perfectly,” he says. “And that one thing is to translate the thoughts in your head down to paper. Now that means everything from a shopping list to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Short of carving words into stone with a hammer and chisel, not much is more permanent than a paragraph or a sentence or a love letter or a story typed on paper.”

Some Stories

by Tom Hanks and Kevin Twomey

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Interview Highlights

On the story ‘These Are The Meditations Of My Heart’

~~~  READ ~ LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW  ~~~

How Kurt Vonnegut Found His Voice and His Themes

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COMPLETE STORIES
By Kurt Vonnegut
Edited by Jerome Klimkowitz and Dan Wakefield
911 pp. Seven Stories Press. $45.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: I once stalked Kurt Vonnegut.

There’s a sort of writer — often male, typically born in the mid- to late-20th century — for whom this won’t be a surprise, for whom “Vonnegut” is practically a stage of development (it comes somewhere between adolescence and first rejection letter).

In 1986, I was that sort, a college journalism student and young father who secured suspect press credentials to interview the famous novelist when he came to my hometown to lecture at Gonzaga University. As we settled into a classroom, I shakily read the first question in my spiral notebook (“Um, if you could give advice to a young writer …”).

Vonnegut’s eyes narrowed in those droopy, theater-box sockets. “Can I ask you a question? How old are you?”

“Oh, uh, I’m 20.”

“And you’re writing for Esquire?”

“Well,” I admitted, “they haven’t actually accepted the piece yet.”

Despite my dubious credentials, Vonnegut spent the next 15 minutes generously offering advice on how to be a writer — or, at least how he’d done it. After surviving the Dresden firebombing as a prisoner in World War II and working briefly in public relations, he supported his family writing short stories for the rich 1950s magazine market, where he developed the wry, aphoristic voice that would lead to his career as a beloved novelist and moral sage.

I found myself thinking back to that 30-year-old advice (which was 30 years old when he gave it) while lugging around the huge volume of Vonnegut’s newly released “Complete Stories.” Even in 1986, Vonnegut mused that his path was about as relevant “as how to repair a Model T.”

This is the 911-page question — what to make of a trunkful of stories written (and often, rejected) 60 years ago for a market with such narrow specs: short, kicky stories for white, middle-class readers with a snap at the end worthy of O. Henry (or better yet, “The Twilight Zone”).

For completists, this will be like a boxed set of a musician’s early work — Vonnegut’s Sun Studio sessions — 98 stories, including five recovered from the author’s papers at Indiana University and published for the first time here.

~~~  READ MORE  ~~~

Dorworth has a new book just published, ‘The Only Path’

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Dorworth has written elsewhere, “We were young ski racers in 1953, boys in love with an activity that took me out of myself and into a world of mountains, snow, crystal clean air and focused vision, out of the anger, confusion, and encompassing fury of my particular set of circumstances within a rage-filled generation. Skiing and, more specifically, ski racing probably saved my life, allowing me to grow into a social critic instead of the sociopath I might have become in response to society’s violent and small-minded hypocrisies, pretensions, and shallow smugness. Skiing kept anger, adolescent hormones, and confusion in check enough to focus on a path that was to take me skiing all over the world. It formed and informed my life at least as much as the dynamics of family, the structure of schools, the warmth and generosity of true friends, the betrayals of false friends, and the other (and normal) vicissitudes of life.”

Amazon purchase

 

 

‘I’m blessed with a certain amnesia’

After his comeback to performing and Hallelujah’s unlikely chart domination, Leonard Cohen has had a remarkable year. He talks to Jian Ghomeshi about love, death and taking risks

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Interview extracts referred to one of Leonard Cohen’s songs as Dancing to the End of Love. That should be Dance Me to the End of Love.

What have you learned from being back on stage?

Leonard Cohen: I learned that it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve been grateful that it’s going well. You can’t ever guarantee that it’s going to continue doing well, because there’s a component that you really don’t command.

 

In 2001, you said to the Observer that you were at a stage of your life you refer to as the third act. You quoted Tennessee Williams saying: “Life is a fairly well-written play except for the third act.” You were 67 when you said that, you’re 74 now – does that ring more or less true for you still?

LC: Well, it’s well written, the beginning of the third act seems to be very well written. But the end of the third act, of course, is when the hero dies. My friend Irving Layton said about death: it’s not death that he’s worried about, it’s the preliminaries.

LC: Sure, every person ought to be.

Let me come back to the beginning of the first act. This was a brand new career for you that started in your 30s. How fearful were you of starting a second career?

LC: I’ve been generally fearful about everything, so this just fits in with the general sense of anxiety that I always experienced in my early life. When you say I had a career as a writer or a poet, that hardly begins to describe the modesty of the enterprise in Canada at that time – an edition of 200 was considered a bestseller in poems. At a certain point I realised that I’m going to have to buckle down and make a living. I’d written a couple of novels, and they’d been well received, but they’d sold about 3,000 copies. So I really had to do something, and the other thing I knew how to do was play guitar. So I was on my way down to Nashville – I thought maybe I could get a job. I love country music, maybe I’d get a job playing guitar. When I hit New York, I bumped into what later was called the folk-song renaissance. There were people like Dylan and Judy Collins and Joan Baez. And I hadn’t heard their work. So that touched me very much. I’d always been writing little songs myself, too, but I never thought there was any marketplace for them.

Some people would think it’s ironic to go into music to make money, given that it’s not necessarily the most lucrative of professions for most artists.

LC: Yeah, I know. In hindsight it seems to be the height of folly. You had to resolve your economic crisis by becoming a folk singer. And I had not much of a voice. I didn’t play that great guitar either. I don’t know how these things happen in life – luck has so much to do with success and failure.

~~~  FINISH THE INTERVIEW  ~~~

The Mind of John McPhee

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When you call John McPhee on the phone, he is instantly John McPhee. McPhee is now 86 years old, and each of those years seems to be filed away inside of him, loaded with information, ready to access. I was calling to arrange a visit to Princeton, N.J., where McPhee lives and teaches writing. He was going to give me driving directions. He asked where I was coming from. I told him the name of my town, about 100 miles away.

“I’ve been there,” McPhee said, with the mild surprise of someone who has just found a $5 bill in a coat pocket. He proceeded to tell me a story of the time he had a picnic at the top of our local mountain, with a small party that included the wife of Alger Hiss, the former United States official who, at the height of McCarthyism, was disgraced by allegations of spying for the Russians. The picnic party rode to the top, McPhee said, on the incline railway, an old-timey conveyance that has been out of operation for nearly 40 years, and which now marks the landscape only as a ruin: abandoned tracks running up a scar on the mountain’s face, giant gears rusting in the old powerhouse at the top. Hikers stop and gawk and wonder what the thing was like.

“It was amazing,” McPhee said. “A railroad created by the Otis Elevator Company. An incline of 60-something percent.”

Then he started giving me directions — 87, 287, Route 1 — until eventually I admitted that I was probably just going to follow the directions on my phone. McPhee kept going for a few seconds, suggesting another road or two, but finally he gave up.

“Well,” he said. “The machine will be telling you what to do.”

As soon as we said goodbye, I checked McPhee’s facts. The incline railway was, indeed, designed by the Otis Elevator Company, with an average incline of 65 percent — in its heyday, it was one of the steepest railways of its kind on earth. These were things I had not known about a structure that is visible from my house, that I look at every day of my life.

McPhee has built a career on such small detonations of knowledge. His mind is pure curiosity: It aspires to flow into every last corner of the world, especially the places most of us overlook. Literature has always sought transcendence in purportedly trivial subjects — “a world in a grain of sand,” as Blake put it — but few have ever pushed the impulse further than McPhee. He once wrote an entire book about oranges, called, simply, “Oranges” — the literary cousin of Duchamp’s urinal mounted in an art museum. In 1999, McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for his 700-page geology collection, “Annals of the Former World,” which explains for the general reader how all of North America came to exist. (“At any location on earth, as the rock record goes down into time and out into earlier geographies it touches upon tens of hundreds of stories, wherein the face of the earth often changed, changed utterly, and changed again, like the face of a crackling fire.”) He has now published 30 books, all of which are still in print — a series of idiosyncratic tributes to the world that, in aggregate, form a world unto themselves.

McPhee describes himself as “shy to the point of dread.” He is allergic to publicity. Not one of his book jackets has ever carried an author photo. He got word that he won the Pulitzer while he was in the middle of teaching a class, during a break, and he returned and taught the whole second half without mentioning it to his students — they learned about it only afterward, when the hall outside was crowded with photographers, reporters and people waiting to congratulate him. For McPhee’s 80th birthday, friends, family and colleagues arranged a big tribute to his life and work. But McPhee found out about the plan shortly beforehand and squashed it by refusing to go. Bill Bradley, the former basketball star and United States senator who was the subject of McPhee’s first book, “A Sense of Where You Are,” was one of the organizers. “You can’t celebrate somebody who doesn’t want to be celebrated,” he told me.

As I spoke to people about McPhee — editors, students, friends, colleagues — I got the sense that they had all been waiting, respectfully, for decades for the chance to gush about him in public. McPhee has profiled hundreds but never been profiled. Almost everyone expressed surprise that he had agreed to such a thing. His focus has generally been outward; he writes, as he likes to put it, about “real people in the real world.” In recent years, however, his writing has become more personal: He has written essays about his mother and father, his childhood, his grandchildren. McPhee’s new book, “Draft No. 4,” takes us about as deep into his singular mind as we are likely to get. It is about the writing process itself.

~~~   READ MORE  ~~~

RollingStone ~ ‘For Sale’

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Well, we’re big rock singers
We got golden fingers
And we’re loved everywhere we go (that sounds like us)
We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
At ten-thousand dollars a show (right)
We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we’ve never known
Is the thrill that’ll gitcha when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rollin’ Stone

 

Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

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From a loft in San Francisco in 1967, a 21-year-old named Jann S. Wenner started a magazine that would become the counterculture bible for baby boomers. Rolling Stone defined cool, cultivated literary icons and produced star-making covers that were such coveted real estate they inspired a song.

But the headwinds buffeting the publishing industry, and some costly strategic missteps, have steadily taken a financial toll on Rolling Stone, and a botched story three years ago about an unproven gang rape at the University of Virginia badly bruised the magazine’s journalistic reputation.

And so, after a half-century reign that propelled him into the realm of the rock stars and celebrities who graced his covers, Mr. Wenner is putting his company’s controlling stake in Rolling Stone up for sale, relinquishing his hold on a publication he has led since its founding.

Mr. Wenner had long tried to remain an independent publisher in a business favoring size and breadth. But he acknowledged in an interview last week that the magazine he had nurtured would face a difficult, uncertain future on its own.

“I love my job, I enjoy it, I’ve enjoyed it for a long time,” said Mr. Wenner, 71. But letting go, he added, was “just the smart thing to do.”

The sale plans were devised by Mr. Wenner’s 27-year-old son, Gus, who has aggressively pared down the assets of Rolling Stone’s parent company, Wenner Media, in response to financial pressures. The Wenners recently sold the company’s other two magazines, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal. And last year, they sold a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone to BandLab Technologies, a music technology company based in Singapore.

Both Jann and Gus Wenner, the president and chief operating officer of Wenner Media, said they intended to stay on at Rolling Stone. But they said they also recognized that the decision could ultimately be up to the new owner.

~~~ READ MORE  ~~~

Rolling Stone, rock’n’roll magazine turned liberal cheerleader, up for sale

It is the magazine that described investment bank Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”, George W Bush as the “worst president in history” and featured a photo of a naked John Lennon curled around Yoko Ono on its front page.

But after almost 50 years of seminal covers and epoch-shifting articles, the owners of Rolling Stone have put the title up for sale amid financial difficulties.

Founded by Jann Wenner in 1967 when he was a 21-year-old hippy student in California, Wenner now runs the rock’n’roll magazine turned liberal cheerleader with his son Gus, president of the family publishing company.

~~~  READ THE GUARDIAN’S STORY  ~~~

 

 

 

Hunter S. Thompson’s Widow Opens Doors To His ‘War Room’

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Years after his death, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s legend lives on. His widow takes Aspen Public Radio’s Claire Woodcock on a visit to The War Room in his home, where Thompson spent 16 hours a day locked in, writing such pieces as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

~~~  LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW  ~~~