TypeTown #18: “Sanity is a cozy lie.”
🧠 Susan Sontag, Denny O'Neil, Penny Jordan, and JFK
Bad news, TypeTowners.
For those of you in the northern hemisphere, the days are now officially getting shorter.
And on that cheery and somewhat reflective note, we start this week by diving into the work of writer, philosopher and activist Susan Sontag.
“Sanity is a cozy lie.”
Born in New York in 1933, Sontag went on to enjoy the kind of kaleidoscope career that would leave others exhausted simply at the thought.
Four novels, including The Volcano Lover, sandwiched her acclaimed short story The Way We Live Now.
She also wrote several plays, directed four films, and made a global impact with both her political activism and several decades of powerful non-fiction writing.
“The life of the creative man is led, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”
Sontag died in 2004, leaving her son David Rieff to edit and publish her painfully honest and stark diaries four years later.
“Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won’t come through.”
The typewriter, of course, was a crucial part of her process until she switched to a laptop in the later years of her life.
“I like the slowness of writing by hand. Then I type it up and scrawl all over that. And keep on retyping it, each time making corrections both by hand and directly on the typewriter, until I don’t see how to make it any better.”
READ» Susan Sontag - How I Write - Farnam Street Blog
READ» ‘The pictures will not go away’: Susan Sontag’s lifelong obsession with suffering - The Guardian
READ» The Quartet of Creativity: 28-Year-Old Susan Sontag on the Four People a Great Writer Must Be - The Marginalian
“There is feedback between the tool and the artisan.”
Next comes new territory for TypeTown, with our first featured comic book writer.
“I never worked with an electric typewriter because I didn't trust them.”
Dennis O’Neil, Denny to his friends, was a key figure for both Marvel Comics and DC Comics during the second half of the 20th century.
This fascinating video delves deep into his process, which was honed working on Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, Superman and Spider-Man.
TypeTown knows next-to-nothing about comics. But even we can recognise that’s an impressive portfolio.
“I was one of the last commercial professional writers I know to go to a computer. And I would have thrown the son-of-a-b**** out of the window six times in the first six months, except I had a girlfriend who was a computer programmer.”
READ» Denny O’Neil, Writer Who Left His Mark on Batman, Dies at 81 - New York Times
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Lots of pennies for her thoughts
Finally, we are left reflecting on how simultaneously big and small the world is with the discovery of Penny Jordan, a prolific English author of more than 200 romance novels.
During her career, she amassed 100 million sales of her books and lived entirely within about 50 miles of where TypeTown grew up.
And yet until four days ago, we had rather shamefully never heard of her.
Unlike Denny O’Neil, however, she was a keen enthusiast of the electric typewriter.
In fact, her career only began when her hard-up husband scrabbled together his last few quid to buy her the machine on which she produced her first novels.
“It's not very glamorous. People certainly wouldn't think so if they saw me sitting in my woolly socks at the kitchen table. Many times I sit at the typewriter and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’“
READ» Penny Jordan (1946-2011) - Harlequin
READ» Penny Jordan, author of 200 romance novels, dies at 65 - Washington Post
Worth pausing the platen
📬 The Best Bits of Typewriters - AnOther Magazine
📬 55 Typewriter Tattoos - Inked Mag
And finally… typewriters in the wild
In this short clip about the origins of the typewriter…
In this striking image of a young JFK…
And in this six-minute prank of unsuspecting students…
TypeTown… brought to you by caffeine
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Until next time
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TypeTown is a fortnightly celebration of the typewriter’s place in modern (and not so modern) culture.