‘Uncommon Type’ review: Tom Hanks gathers a series of short stories for new book

Tom Hanks loves typewriters. In the documentary “California Typewriter,” he says that he owns more than 250 of them. He also has an app, Hanx Writer, that makes the touch keyboard of your iPhone or iPad look and sound like a vintage typewriter.

And now he has “Uncommon Type” (out Oct. 17, Knopf, 416 pp., $26.95), a book of short stories in which a photo of one of his typewriters introduces each tale and pops up in the text — much like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo in each film he directed.

Hanks the author does not try to hide Hanks the actor, or the folksy, good-natured persona that got him dubbed “America’s dad.” His characters make frozen “pineapple juice ice pops” in Tupperware. They drink Ovaltine. They call each other “knothead.” They love outer space. And they phone old acquaintances once a year on Christmas Eve, just like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank Abagnale and Hanks’ Carl Hanratty in “Catch Me If You Can.”

And then there are the typewriters. But Hanks’ typewriters, unlike Chekhov’s guns, never change lives. “These Are the Meditations of My Heart,” a semi-autobiographical tale about trading a $5 typewriter for one of the world’s finest models, comes closest to making the typewriter matter. But it is more a nostalgia pitch. Though if you, like Hanks, love typewriters, it is probably aspirational, too.

These 17 stories are entertaining, but overly expository and inhibited. No matter what the characters do or don’t do, there is little tension. A young boy visits his mother and gets a fun ride in her boyfriend’s airplane in “A Special Weekend.” Hank Fisit is just an old crank writing his newsletter. Everyone should love life as much as Anna, MDash, Steve Wong and an unnamed narrator do in the three stories featuring them.

And even when a birthday surfing trip goes wrong in “Welcome to Mars,” or an immigrant finds the city’s streets to be hard in “Go See Costa,” or a small-town actress hasn’t gotten her big break after six whole weeks in “Who’s Who” — part of her resume is still in pen! — readers are not too worried. It’s Tom Hanks.

The fantastic, imaginative exception to these foreordained tales is “The Past is Important to Us,” about an older man who grows too attached to his time-traveling vacations to 1939. Decisions are made and those decisions have concrete consequences, not implied effects.

Ultimately if you like Tom Hanks — and who doesn’t? — you will enjoy “Uncommon Type.” But the book would be more compelling if an accomplished author had shown us these stories, instead of an accomplished actor simply telling us about them.


Tom Hanks will sign copies of his book at the Fifth Avenue Barnes and Noble Wednesday, Oct. 18. You can buy your copy starting at 9 a.m. the day of the singing and be prepared to line up outside the door. Hanks’ signing kicks off at 12:30 p.m.