The Olivetti – Cormac McCarthy’s Original Laptop

i’m part of the last generation that might still remember the typewriter in any form. My mom owned both kinds in my life time, manual and electric, and helped type the majority of my school reports right up through high school on them – I would write them out long hand and then she would type them.  The click/clack of the keys on the manuals and the weird little hum of the electric is something that has a strange fondness for me. And, apparently, for Cormac McCarthy, too.

The NYT has a little story about McCarthy putting his portable Olivetti typewriter up for auction. The author of The Road, Suttree and other novels says the machine has probably seen upwards of five million words fall out of his finger tips and onto the page through the metal levers and letters of the mechanisms of the machine.

Thinking of writers of yesteryear, it seems the implements they used to hone and carry out their craft were as special and singular as their prose. I’m not a great historian of such matters. Other than McCarthy’s use of a portable Olivetti, I know Kerouac used an Underwood and it pretty much stops there for what I remember. But I do know I’ve heard more than a few stories of writers and their pens, their typewriters, their memo pads and everything else. It seems as if once these writers found a method for moving their thoughts from their head to the page that they never or rarely wandered from their ritual (McCarthy only agreed to give up his Olivetti when a friend of his found and bound a matching model in far better condition).

It makes me think of modern writers and our use of the computer. We might stick to a particular word processor program but we probably burn through four, five, six, or more computers over our life times and will probably bounce all over the map with who we buy them from. McCarthy mentions how young people don’t have any idea what a typewriter even is any more as a general comment about how society has moved on in the past ten years or so. But it’s also a sharper comment on the changing face of the author.

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