Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks is a collection of fictional stories that all have some connection (if an extremely loose one) to a typewriter. While each vignette starts with a photo of a typewriter, the machinery rarely plays a part in the plot.
The one story that did revolve around the actual typing tool — “These are the Mediations of my Heart” — was by far my favorite story. As a writer, I was encouraged and inspired to stay consistent in my writing (and to maybe keep my eye out for a vintage, yet operational typewriter), regardless of the inherent value of my content. Bonus: I was left with warm and fuzzy feelings similar to those elicited by Jane Austen’s writing. In my opinion, the three honorable mention stories were “Who’s Who,” “A Special Weekend,” and “Stay With Us.”
What did impress me was Tom Hanks’ dexterity in story-styling. Within my paperback binding were four newspaper columns, a musing on a press junket schedule, a dating diary, a one-act play, and multiple days- or weeks-in-the-life melodramas of a socioeconomic cross-section of American humans. The settings spanned coast-to-coast of the United States and ranged from 1939 to at least 2026.
“She tried each of the keys — many stuck. … Though the ribbon was old, the letters were legible. … The space bar skipped, which would not do. She grabbed her phone and googled old typewriter repair.”Uncommon Type p. 228 (2017) Vintage Books.
If an overarching theme does exist to tie together the stories, I would deem it to be the plight of human dissatisfaction. Some of the narratives were sad. Others were full of nostalgia and perhaps even more — saudade: an intense longing for something that has been lost. A handful of characters made multiple appearances throughout the book, but most only existed within their original narrative. You lived (and in some cases) died with them in less than 35 pages. Throughout the 403 pages of storytelling, there were some moments of joy sprinkled in, but more of melancholy.
From my experience in reading (and life), this is normal within brief interactions with people. There are few strangers who are able to spark joy in our lives in just a few minutes. It’s hard to get an accurate, full picture of who someone is or what they are known for in 30 pages. By the time a character in a short story intrigued me, the end came abruptly and I was left either bummed out by the snapshot I got or disappointed that I didn’t get to know them better.
I am an enneagram 5 and a Meyers-Briggs INTJ. I am not an open book, nor am I able to accept people at face value. I need time to decide if I can (or even want to) trust someone. I want to observe a new acquaintance’s interactions in various situations: notice how they handle stress and in what ways they feel loved and valued before deciding whether to take a liking to them.
Perhaps this is why I love returning to favorite books and movies. I like to spend time my “old friends” Sherlock Holmes, Elizabeth Bennett, Jean Valjean. I know their idiosyncrasies. I have had time to understand their motivations and inspirations.
Uncommon Type proved thatshort fiction is not for my preferred form of reading material. It can be fun and flashy, but it also feels too consumable. In general, the narratives don’t stick with me or provide enough meat to provoke meaningful thoughts. There’s simply not enough time to properly like or hate a character. It’s like going to one dinner party with a stranger. You really can’t make up your mind about them in such a short about of time.
Given that I’ve admired Tom Hanks’ ability to tell stories through his acting for years, and that the reading Uncommon Type was an overall an enjoyable way to pass the time, I suppose I can give this book a proverbial thumbs up.
This book may be for you if you also like: Tom Hanks (the actor); short stories; typewriters; the acting industry; world fairs; space exploration; bowling; time travel; family dynamics; friendships; unlikely dating relationships; surfing; flying; publishing or Home Depot2.