Sunday, October 4, 2015

Typewriters in Old Books

I've read three old novels in the past six months that specifically mention typewriters:

1. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

Published in 1948, it is Mailer's best known work besides The Executioner's Song. The story is set on a fictional island in the Pacific during WWII. In one scene, a lieutenant is begging for more men to bolster the strength of his recon platoon. One of the officers, a captain, threatens to "set you cleaning typewriter ribbons." Would the salt from the air or the sand from the beaches cause so many problems that the ribbons have to be clean, or was it simple a punishment job with no real goal in mind?

2. The Gold of the River Sea by Charlton Ogburn Jr. 

Set in the 1930s, this story is about a researcher sent to the Massanraduba region of Brazil to assess the possibility of mining. The book makes a number of references to a character that uses strange ink in all of his correspondences, an ink that turns purple once it hits the page. The book was published in the 60s. Did any such ink exist?

3. That None Should Die by Frank Slaughter

Published in 1941, the book presents a portrait of the struggles young doctors went through and the debates that were hot within the community (government-run health care at the top of the list). The protagonist is Ran Warren, and his wife Ann serves as his secretary. In one scene, while trying to establish private practice, she complains that her typewriter isn't loud enough and she fears that patients won't think there's enough work coming to the business. She writes personal letters and copies her favorite poems to give people the appearance that she's working. Talk about a team player!

4. Stratis' Remington

A short story recently published in Carve Magazine about a boy helping an old author and his typwriter adjust to modern submission guidelines. Read it for free here.

I've got lots of other old books I haven't read yet, but feel free to add to this list!

Power to the pen!


  1. I just read one where there were a couple of mentions of typewriters. It was Euphoria by Lily King. The book was about a husband and wife anthropologist team, loosely based on Margaret Mead and her second husband Reo Fortune. They each type up their field notes on typewriters, and there is a scene where the husband throws the wife's typewriter and breaks the return lever off. It is a good book, even the parts without typewriters, lol.

  2. These days we use computers to give people the appearance that we're working, when in fact we're commenting on the typosphere. :)