Uncommon Type

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When I first heard about this book, my reaction went something like this: “Tom Hanks?! Tom Hanks the actor? He wrote a book?! Tom Hanks? Really?!”

Write a book he did, kids.

uncommon type

Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories. Their only connection is that in each story there is a typewriter in some capacity. Sometimes it’s the impetus for the whole story, sometimes it’s just a background actor, but there’s one in each story.

The first three stories I really felt like I was reading stories told by Tom Hanks. The first story is one where best friends dabble in something more and it had a kind of You’ve Got Mail/When Harry Met Sally vibe (I know Tom Hanks isn’t in When Harry Met Sally). The second story, one of my favourites in the whole book, is set on Christmas Eve 1953, and sees a man enjoying the warmth of Christmas traditions with his young family while waiting for a phone call at midnight from a guy he served in the army with ten years earlier. The third story is one where an up and coming actor is on a press junket in Europe right when a huge scandal is uncovered that has to do with his co-star.

In all three of them, you can feel the influence of Hanks’ film career: romantic comedies, Band of Brothers, promoting movies.

That’s not criticism, by the way. I really enjoyed those stories! It was just interesting to me because we don’t often ‘know’ the authors so well.

Tom Hanks the author can write. His stories have a depth to them that I found surprising for short stories. I think that short stories have to be among the most challenging to write and he does so with aplomb. He manages to convey a lot in a short amount of space.

I didn’t know what to expect from this collection but I ended up being totally charmed very quickly. The stories he writes are so varied. There’s the one about the single mom in her new neighbourhood, deciding if she wants to have anything romantic to do with the man next door; the story about the bowling strikes that no one believes until they see it happen with their own eyes; the one about the mom coming to spend the weekend with her youngest son after the implosion of the marriage, of trying to impress him with a fast car and an airplane ride; and the one that revolves completely around a typewriter as a young woman in a period of transition spends $5 on a toy typewriter and ends up buying the real thing with visions of writing anything and everything down the road.

Given the chance to read more of Hanks’ work, I’d take it.


Crime Fiction shorts: Partners in Crime

I picked up Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime because I saw a trailer for a TV version of it and wanted to read the book before I watched it.

I just watched the trailer again and am now surprised by how different it is from the book – namely that it’s taking place in the 1950s and Tommy and Tuppence are now evidently spies in the Cold War.

But we will get to that.

I chose Partners in Crime as a sort of palate cleanser after the short story experience of The Tsar of Love and Techno. I was ready to jump into a story and stick with it for a couple of days. Or hours, really. Agatha Christie books are never more than 300 pages.

So I was pretty shocked to realize that Partners in Crime are a bunch of short stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence Bereford!

tommy and tuppence

Tommy and Tuppence are probably the least popular of Agatha Christie’s characters. They are a married couple who solve crimes that come their way as proprietors of a detective agency in London. Tommy and Tuppence both worked for the secret service during the war – although as Partners in Crime was published in 1929, one presumes that “the war” in question was actually the First World War. Now that the way is over, Tommy is still working for the agency in some capacity but Tuppence is bored at home – their place isn’t that big and it doesn’t take that much effort to keep it running smoothly. So when Tommy’s boss asks them to operate this agency undercover, Tuppence convinces Tommy that they should do it.

The stories are short and sweet, if a little far-fetched at times. But they are still extremely clever. Some cases are little more than misunderstandings, such as the missing fiancée who is actually just at a kind of fat camp, while others are more serious and have shades of spy rings.

They decide that they will emulate famous fictional detectives, which actually is really hilarious. Sometimes they try and be Sherlock Holmes, other times a pair of detective brothers but when the decide to copy Hercule Poirot and encourage the use of “the little grey cells” – well that’s obviously the best.

This little book is very much of it’s time and while I don’t have much time for Tommy, I’m a fan of clever Tuppence. It seems like TV adaptations always make Tuppence seem kind of scatterbrained and flakey but she’s actually much the cleverer of the two. Tommy is very much a man of his time but Tuppence is quite modern.

In the end though, this book is from 1929 and when Tuppence gets pregnant, of course she will give up work.

I’ll still try and watch the show but I’m not sure that Tommy and Tuppence will be my Agatha Christie go-to.


Short Stories Falling Short

Chelsey @ Chels and a Book has long been trying to convince me to read Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. When I was at the library recently, I saw “Anthony Marra” and for some reason assumed that that was the book even though I can actually read and knew it was called The Tsar of Love and Techno.

And still, days later I was disappointed to see that it was not A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that I had picked up.

I did read it though.


The Tsar of Love and Techno is a beautifully written book about the devastation left in the wake of the Soviet Union, with a focus on war and Chechnya.

But I wasn’t in love with it.

First things first – Marra is an exceptional writer. His prose is powerful and eloquent without being flowery or arrogant. My favourite line in the whole book has got to be:

Hipsterdom’s a tightrope strung across the canyon of douche-baggery.

There is an incredible amount of truth in that one line, the kind of sentence that makes you pause to take it in properly and nod your head in fervent agreement with. That’s the kind of writing we’re working with here.

But (and it’s a big ‘but’ for me) it’s a collection of linked short stories and I’ve just never been on board with short stories. I liked that they linked together but the stories that I wanted to be longer were never long enough and the titular story, The Tsar of Love and Techno, stubbornly wouldn’t end and it was arguably the worst of the lot.

There were a couple of devastating stories: the first one of the Soviet propaganda officer whose job it is to wipe out all trace of condemned people, covertly putting the face of his executed brother in the background of all his paintings only to be condemned by someone and face the same fate; Vera’s, who reached all her potential by the age of 8 when she was lauded as the embodiment of the Soviet dream for informing on her mother who used some extra butter to make a cake for the starving Vera, only to have her daughter inform on her decades later with different results; and Kolya’s, rebuffed by the most beautiful girl in the town, decides to become a career soldier, only to find peace re-planting a garden as little more than a slave to a rebel, the entire time holding onto a mix tape his brother made for him to listen to in the event of an emergency, always living for that time when he will actually listen to it.

I’m not giving up on Marra – as I said, he’s a very talented writer. It just didn’t add up to an enjoyable reading experience for me, only being invested in a handful of stories and waiting for something to happen, some pivotal character to arrive to tie it all together, to make all of it meaningful in a devastating conclusion. I was waiting for the devastation – something you expect when you read about the deprivation, the fear and the extreme cold of Siberia during the Soviet era – but it never quite arrived.