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Literati Bookstore typewriter yields its own book

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

After Hilary and Michael Gustafson opened Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore in 2013, they adopted the manual typewriter as the store’s symbol.

Mike Gustafson and the Smith-Corona in his Ann Arbor bookstore, Literati Books, the source for “Notes from a Public Typewriter.”

Machines are scattered throughout the shop, but only one of them has paper in the roller, begging the idle shopper to sit down and bang out a few lines.

These anonymous musings have recently been collected in a new book, “Notes from a Public Typewriter,” edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti.

Gustafson keeps an eye on the paper in the roller. When it fills up, he puts in a fresh one — usually once a day, though often two or three times on Saturdays.

Gustafson collected upwards of 1,000 pages of typed fragments, jokes, confessionals and obscure observations.“I don’t throw any away,” he said. “I try to read every one.”

He and designer Uberti, who first sold the owners on the typewriter branding, also painted some of their favorite notes outside on the store’s brick facade.

One inscription, “I will find someone someday,” has become a popular landmark for romantic couples taking selfies.

Seeing how the public reacted, Uberti explained, “was a vote of confidence that suggested maybe we could do a book.”

So the pair sorted through the hundreds of typed pages, fishing out about 300 of their favorite lines.

The book, with 12 short chapters, starts light and waxes more serious as it goes on. Interspersed throughout are short, artful essays by Gustafson.

Among the book’s more-amusing lines are:

“I’ve been gay, and I’ve been straight, and they’re both overrated.”

Or:

“I’m a typewriter in the streets, but a laptop in the sheets.”

Some of the serious passages are deeply affecting — misspellings, iffy punctuation and all — and give this little book much of its surprising emotional punch:

“(two days sober) thrilled about the first, terrified of the second”

Or:

“mother — when they buried you, they buried me too”

Initially, there was some worry the typewriter might invite the sort of trolling that infects on-line commentary, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

Excerpts of people’s musings are posted on a wall near the public typewriter in Mike Gustafson’s Ann Arbor bookstore.

“Even if notes sometimes skew on the profane,” Gustafson said, “they’re never like the online vitriol.”

Instead, Uberti said, “you get someone who sits down and types, ‘Be nice to everyone ... for we’re all walking around with unknown issues.’ ”

Often as not, he added, the musings sound like confidences typed to a close friend.

“As Michael says somewhere in the book, ‘I don’t judge. I replenish the paper.’ ”

MHodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021

‘Notes from a Public Typewriter’

Edited by Michael Gustafson & Oliver Uberti

Grand Central Publishing, $18