Book Review: Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks
Okay, unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past couple of months, you will know that Tom Hanks, the actor, is now Tom Hanks, the writer. It’s a bit of a paradox: Because Tom Hanks is an A list actor I wanted to read this book, and because Tom Hanks is an A list actor I feel a little disappointed by it. Perhaps Tom needed to do a JK Rowling and publish via a pseudonym.
Anyway, as the title suggests this is a collection of short stories. I don’t usually read short story collections, and the last couple I picked up remain firmly in my ‘did-not-finish’ pile. So, firstly, the format might be influencing my rating as I can’t be sure how good this collection is compared to others.
Most of the stories are quite long. You do get a good sense of the characters in each. I had no trouble picturing them and thought Tom did a roaring job when it came to characterisation in each shorter format story. However, I must confess that quite often I pictured Tom himself as the leading male characters. As I listened via audiobook (and yes, it’s read by Tom Hanks, the actor and now audiobook reader) it’s difficult not to picture Tom in the roles.
There is also a good balance of comedy and drama/tragedy. More often than not, the stories contain both. I found myself chuckling quite a lot and, though I didn’t cry, a couple of the stories are very poignant. The stand out for me in this arena was ‘Christmas Eve 1953’, which starts out as a gentle story about a family getting ready for Santa’s arrival and turns into the harsh reality of war and PTSD.
“Go See Costas’’ was also very good. I felt Hanks used its historical time settings and situations to highlight the parallels of current politics.
There were some stories not so memorable, however, and not all the plots captured my attention fully. I found myself being distracted and bored with some stories’ tedious descriptive passages.
I have a friend who is big on descriptive writing and she always points out how important it is — perhaps Tom has been speaking with her. Unfortunately, for me, it did feel like Tom was reading out his grocery list at times.
All the stories are stand-alone, but there’s three stories that feature the same group of friends and they’re all very entertaining but in a bubblegum disposable type of way. The characters and their adventures kind of remind me of an American sitcom.
The whole book’s tone feels very American actually. Tom includes culturally diverse characters with a streak of patriotism included. (I’m not saying this is horrid; it’s not at all ‘we’re superior Americans’ but rather an undercurrent of ‘I’m proud of my country’ — which is nice.)
A typewriter features in every story. A couple of times it’s central to the plot and story, but a couple of times the machines are merely mentioned in passing and have zero reason for their inclusion.
Tom Hanks actually wrote this on a typewriter, an idea, in this day and age, that I find incredible. I mean, I couldn’t even write this review without deleting words and editing like a madwoman. It’s a habit I’ve (and 90% of the population, I assume) gotten into when it comes to writing, and the thought of now banging something out on a manual typewriter amazes me.
There is one story particularly, ‘These are the Meditation of My Heart’, which romanticises the machine completely and it wouldn’t surprise me if it starts a trend with hipsters around the world. (I can imagine the Instagram posts — a typewriter with a sheet of paper still sitting in it, the words of an inspirational quote typed upon it, an out of focus coffee and cat in the background…)
I don’t think I’ll search the antique stores for one though. Other than being in love with my delete button, my first job was in a typing pool using a manual typewriter, so any romance I could have found was eroded during those years. (Or else I’ll buy one and it will sit in the corner gathering dust beside the diaries I insist on buying each January before discarding them for my phone around February.)
Oddly, given that I always enjoy his movies, I didn’t enjoy Tom’s narration. His voice seriously started to grate on my nerves after a while. He drawls in a way I’ve never noticed before. And incredibly, seeing he wrote them, I felt his missed the comedic timing in some scenes. I think I’d recommend reading it instead. This was the only advantage of the short story format actually — I could easily take a break between the stories.
As I said, it’s Tom Hanks so it’s hard to judge (or easy to judge, whichever way you look at it) but I think I’ll give this book a 3 ½ out of 5.