Uncommon Type: Some Stories
By Tom Hanks
“A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!”
Over the holidays while visiting my parents in Texas my mother and I made our regular pilgrimage to Barnes & Noble to collect her latest literary haul. While there a book with a simple blue and yellow cover visually jumped off the “New Releases” table at me; its title read Uncommon Type: Some Stories, by Tom Hanks.
If you follow my blog you’ll already know that I am a cover artist myself so I do pay attention to covers but my main reason in bringing this up is not just to remind you of that little fact, but to point out again that a good cover does grab people’s attention. It doesn’t have to be complicated but it does need to be striking. I would have walked right by that book if the cover hadn’t grabbed my attention…but it did. So, I stopped…picked it up and started to read the dust jacket.
I did not end up purchasing the book there at Barnes & Noble but I did buy the audio version on Audible. Why not buy the hardback? Because Tom Hanks does his own reading for his book and I wanted to hear the stories told in his own voice. Having said that I have read other reviews that urge you to purchase the book in hardback or paperback first and read it that way so there could be something to the formatting that adds to the reader’s experience; just something to keep in mind.
Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories, each giving a nod in some way to….the typewriter. That sounds a little odd doesn’t it? Paying homage to what many today consider an obsolete piece of office equipment. But there’s something sweet about how Mr. Hanks does this. By the time I finished the book I had the urge to fire-up the antique typewriter in my guest room just to hear the satisfying click-clacking of the keys and the sudden “ding” of the return from a machine that operated on nothing more than finger power.
Admittedly, the initial story Three Exhausting Weeks took a little bit for me to get into, so the start of the book was a bit slow…but I always found myself compelled to keep listening. Before I knew it I was talking back to the characters, saying “oh dude she is so wrong for you, dump her!” as the main characters girlfriend literally runs him ragged.
Mr. Hanks takes the reader on a ride through time; literally in one story the character goes back in time to revisit the Chicago World’s Fair. He takes you to space on a mission, into what felt like his childhood as a boy and into the mind of a reporter writing a column…on his trusty typewriter of course. One of my favorite pieces that truly had me laughing out loud was when this reporter wrote his column on his typewriter and then again on his cell phone…and read that version out loud. I also loved how some of the stories seemed to tie into one another; you’ll have to let me know if you notice the same thing.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on this read but I was very pleasantly surprised. Mr. Hanks has a very natural and easy flow to his writing. I guess that’s not really a surprise is it? He seems to have that with his acting a well, but not all actors make good writers…and for me, Mr. Hanks hit it out of the park with this one.
The only flaw for me, if I can really call it a flaw is the last story Stay With Us. This story departs from the rest of the book in how it is delivered. This only matters though if you are listening to the book, it won’t make a whit of difference if you read it so it’s not affecting my rating.
Prior to this last story Mr. Hanks is the only narrator. Now, suddenly there are five other actors aside from Hanks voicing the characters (Peter Gerety, Peter Scolari, Cecily Strong, Holland Taylor, and Wilmer Valderrama). Changing the format of the narration right at the end of the book felt a bit odd. Everyone did a wonderful job and I know these are the actors that have performed this story on stage before…it just felt like the continuity was disrupted by doing this for the audiobook, that’s all.
Other than that little criticism, which may or may not bother you at all, I highly recommend this book. It’s easy to read; the stories are short enough that you can read one and put the book down easily and come back to it later if you want. They are entertaining, heartwarming and yes, sometimes sad as well but oh so human. As one might expect from Mr. Hanks he seems to have delivered a bit of Americana inside that simple blue and yellow dust jacket.
Pick it up, give it a read or a listen and let me know what you think of it as well.