Tom Hanks collects typewriters. And now he’s written a book on them, which means he’s being interviewed a lot. In these exchanges he always extols the beauty and the usefulness of the machines, noting that when you type on a typewriter, as opposed to the keyboard of a computer, you can hear the sound of production.

I agree with him about the aesthetics of typewriters – a heavy, black L.C. Smith & Corona sits here in the office with me – but not their practicality. I never enjoyed writing on a typewriter because of the difficulty – impossibility almost – of revision. Writing in longhand you could, in the same stroke, scribble additions in the margins. Then the word processor came along and suddenly you could reshape and refine without leaving a trace.

In the history of writing, the typewriter had a very brief life. The first commercially successfully model (according to last weekend’s Wall Street Journal) appeared in 1874; in 1978, word processors were introduced into the newsroom where I was a feature writer (at the Trenton Times). For just over a hundred years the act of writing was accompanied by a racket; for centuries before that there had been silence, or near silence; today there’s a discreet rattling of keys. What we lost visually we gained aurally – and technically.    

By Thomas Swick • Category: Americans

Shortly after the end of Doc Martin last night, I heard a BOOM. Going to the window I saw, at the end of the dock, flames illuminating the night and a thick black tower of smoke rising into the sky. Adding to the drama were the rotating lights of firetrucks and police cars; happily, someone had noticed the fire long before I had.

I put on my sandals and headed downstairs. By the time I made my way past the closest firetruck, the flames had been extinguished. A small crowd of onlookers stood in the driveway of the 1300 building, gazing at the smoldering boat; firefighters walked past in their bulky brown outfits and sloping helmets.

No one, including the owners, had any idea how a boat could have caught on fire at night.

By Thomas Swick • Category: Americans

southern charm

10/18/17 08:57

Hania found Nashville “exotic” – we were walking up Broadway on Sunday morning, music pouring out of the honkytonks as she said this – but not especially attractive. The European ideal of urban beauty doesn’t really exist in the U.S., outside of San Francisco and New Orleans, and parts of Philadelphia and Boston. The British writer Cyril Connolly once famously remarked that “New York would be the most beautiful city in the world if one never had to descend below the fortieth floor.”

Instead of beauty, American cities have character, and in this category Nashville ranks high. We depended a lot on Lyft, because of Hania’s sprained ankle, and the drivers, without fail, had an easy-going friendliness. A few of them welcomed us to Nashville as soon as we got in their cars. One asked us if we had any questions. “I do,” I said. “What makes the people here so nice?”

 “We all had grandmas who taught us to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’" the driver said. "And if you didn’t they’d knock the teeth out of your head.”

By Thomas Swick • Category: Americans

Saturday morning in the authors' hospitality suite at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville several people sat around a large conference table, one of them picking softly at a guitar. This, I learned after sitting down next to him, was Peter Cooper, author of Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music.

Looking into my author gift bag I found a Goo Goo Cluster, a Moon Pie, and a small bottle of Jim Beam bourbon whiskey.

My session was with the poet and travel writer Richard Tillinghast, a native of Memphis who now divides his time between Hawaii and Sewanee. After our readings, people asked us questions, and Turkey kept coming up in the conversation. Richard has been visiting the country since the 1960s, and speaks Turkish; I noted that it was that rare place that made me feel like a guest instead of a tourist. Richard spoke about the Islamic ethic of hospitality, and put it in terms the audience could understand.

The average Muslim, he explained, is very much like the average Tennessean: They are both devout, God-loving people who act with kindness not just toward their neighbors but also toward strangers.  

I had never thought of the connection before, but after this last visit to Nashville I saw it clearly.

By Thomas Swick • Category: Americans

at love

10/13/17 09:52

A fan at the Shanghai Rolex Masters was wearing a surgical mask - as Asians sometimes do - but this one had "I [heart] Roger" written across it.

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports

fallback team

10/12/17 06:24

One of the many advantages of having lived abroad is that it gives you a country to root for when your own fails to qualify for the World Cup. Go Poland!

By Thomas Swick • Category: sports