The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami


Ode To The First Laptop, The Corona 3

It was the first writing gadget that everyone coveted.

It was sleekly engineered, came in cool colors, and folded up into a compact square that you could hold with one hand. You could use it on a train or a plane, or in a café in Paris to tap out a novel. The first Mac laptop? No, it was the Corona 3 Portable Typewriter invented in 1912. Ernest Hemingway loved his, so did Teddy Roosevelt. It was the most popular model of typewriter ever made–selling over 700,000 in 30 years.

The Corona Typewriter Company of Groton, New York marketed the Corona III as “the personal writing machine.” Before that, typewriters were viewed solely as a complicated cast iron fixture on a secretary’s desk. But the Corona was an entirely new breed of typewriter. It folded in half, came in a leather carrying case and weighed a mere six and a half pounds (the weight of a MacBook). At $50, it was affordable to an individual consumer–much like a portable gramophone.

Corona ran ads in popular magazines such as National Geographic and The Saturday Evening Post marketing the portable typewriter as a necessity rather than an extravagance, a business machine required by everyone to stay competitive in a fast-changing world.

Doctors and businessman could type up records and receipts on the road. Parents owed their children a typewriter so they could get better grades and “keep up.” Ads warned that even a woman from “a very nice family” might have to “earn her own living” and needed to learn a marketable skill. Corona developed its own school of touch-typing called “Coronawriting” which could be mastered in 6 easy lessons.

Above all, the ads made Corona users look adventurous and sexy. One featured a screenwriter tapping out his latest script in the wilderness, his typewriter jauntily perched on a tree stump. Another ad showed a man using a Corona in the open cockpit of a pre-Spirit-of-St. Louis bi-plane.

In 1922, the company started making the “Corona Special” in colored DuPont DUCO enamel, the same paint used on luxury automobiles, which cost, which cost $10 more than the standard black model. In the Corona Special ads, a flapper swoons over all the divine shades that would match her wardrobe or wallpaper–gold, maroon, peacock blue and mauve.

Hadley Richardson gave her fiancé, Ernest Hemingway, a Corona #3 for his 22nd birthday on July 21, 1921. He took it with him when he sailed to France in December of 1921 and wrote the Nick Adams stories on it. He sent a poem about his beloved typewriter to Harriet Monroe at Poetry Magazine in 1922.

The mills of the gods grind slowly;

But this mill

Chatters in mechanical staccato,

Ugly short infantry of the mind,

Advancing over difficult terrain,

Make this Corona

Their mitrailleuse.

He later said that the only psychiatrist he had ever submitted to was his “Corona 3.”

For all it’s style and panache, the Corona 3 was difficult to use. It only had a three row, 28 key keyboard, which meant typists had to master a complicated double shift method to type numbers and punctuation. The tiny size and the folding mechanism made it prone to breaking.

In 1924, Corona came out with the sleek #4 model, with a standard 4-row and 42 full keys which matched office machines. At 9 pounds, it had the sturdiness and key action of a full-sized machine, and quickly supplanted the quaint #3. By the time the Corona company joined up with Smith Brothers Typewriter in 1926, the Corona 3 was the first of many has-beens in the junk heap of flashy writing gadgets (the IBM Selectric, the Apple II….).

A recent article in the New York Times described the growing popularity of vintage manuals with the under-40 crowd who never experienced the frustration of typos and Whiteout. They are charmed by the thwack of metal keys and dings of the carriage return; the visceral satisfaction of rolling in a fresh sheet of onion skin. Some enthusiasts even gather with their manuals at local cafes for “type-ins.” . (“Click, Clack, Ding! Sigh…”)

My own interest in the Corona 3 started when I was working on my fourth novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, which is in the form of a vintage 1920s scrapbook, and I needed a vintage manual typewriter to type captions.

I bought a 1918 #3 on eBay for $87 that didn’t look too rusty, had all of its key and a battered case, and was described as “works well.” The machine arrived with a broken space bar and sticky keys that jammed.

I realized I needed the help of a pro and took it to Ted Wood who has been repairing typewriters at Charlottesville Office Machine since 1956. Back then the store occupied a corner spot on bustling West Main Street, and sold typewriters to every business and student in town.

In the 1980s, the new fangled “word processor,” followed by the personal computer, slowly killed off the typewriter business and venerable Smith Corona declared bankruptcy in 1995. Charlottesville Office Machine moved to an out-of-way office park a few years ago. Now Wood, a courtly southern gentleman well past retirement age, caters mostly to unlucky eBay and flea market collectors like me who want their rescued manuals made ship-shape.

Wood cleaned, oil and tuned my Corona 3, fixed the spacebar and replaced the worn rubber platen for $100. I ruefully notice the dozens of restored portable typewriters Wood has for sale that were far snazzier and lower-priced than my salvaged eBay find. After struggling to master the Corona 3’s double shift, I treated myself to one of his restored Corona 4’s for $135. My Corona 3 is now displayed on a shelf next to another stylish vintage writing machine, a 2003 Mac Powerbook.

If you covet a piece of typewriting history, a Corona #3 is fairly easy to come by. They are one of the most common models to turn up in flea markets and vintage typewriter stores. At any given time, there are at least 20 Corona 3’s for sale on eBay with prices ranging from $25 to 200. But Wood warns that almost any typewriter bought online will need to be cleaned and tuned to be made fully functional. And if any of those hundreds of levers, springs, and screws are missing, the price can quickly soar upward. Wood recommends buying a restored typewriter that can be inspected and tested with a few run-throughs of thequickbrownfoxjumpedoverthelazydog.

Caroline Preston’s new novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a Novel in Pictures, was typed on a Corona 3 typewriter, and is published by Ecco/ Harper Collins on October 25.

The Steve Jobs Reading List: The Books And Artists That Made The Man

“I like living at the intersection of the humanities and technology,” Steve Jobs said once.

LSD, Bauhaus and Zen Buddhism shaped Apple’s pioneering products as much as anything that took place on the assembly lines. They were among Jobs’ greatest influences and they shaped his attitudes toward design, business and innovation.

The books Jobs read, particularly as a teen and college student, helped expose him to the ideas and experiences that would serve as Apple’s foundation years later.

Walter Isaacson’s 571-page biography of Jobs, a copy of which was purchased by The Huffington Post, provides an unprecedented look at the texts — by writers ranging from William Shakespeare to Paramahansa Yogananda — that influenced Jobs; “required reading” for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the visionary.

Less than a handful of the texts Isaacson mentions directly concern technology: one is Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” which Isaacson writes, “deeply influenced” Jobs, and the other is Ron Rosenbaum’s 1971 Esquire article “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” a profile of hackers who could tap into phone networks that later gave rise to Jobs’ first collaboration with Steve Wozniak, who went on to become Apple’s co-founder.

Jobs’ interest in literature and the arts burgeoned during his junior and senior years of high school, which coincided with his first drug use. Jobs tried marijuana at 15 and before graduating high school began experimenting with LSD. (He later observed, “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life,” he said.)

“I started to listen to music a whole lot, and I started to read more outside of just science and technology — Shakespeare, Plato. I loved King Lear,” Jobs recalled of his teen years. Isaacson notes that “Moby-Dick” and Dylan Thomas’ poetry were among Jobs’ favorite works at this point in his life.

During his freshman year at Reed College, Jobs befriended Daniel Kottke, who went on to work at Apple, and together they devoured books such as Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” Chogyam Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi,” a book Jobs read and re-read many times during his life.

Isaacson writes,

Jobs found himself deeply influenced by a variety of books on spirituality and enlightenment, most notably Be Here Now, a guide to meditation and the wonders of psychedelic drugs by Baba Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert.

“It was profound,” Jobs said. “It transformed me and many of my friends.”


Throughout his life, Jobs embraced numerous extreme, even obsessive, dietary regimes. He fasted periodically and, at various points, was a vegetarian, vegan and fruitarian, though he made an exception for unagi sushi while in Japan. This attitude toward food began to take shape in college after Jobs read “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe in his first year at Reed.

“That’s when I swore off meat pretty much for good,” Jobs told Isaacson, who adds Jobs became “even more obsessive” about food after reading Arnold Ehret’s “Mucusless Diet Healing System.”

One book in particular stayed with Jobs his entire life, and Isaacson noted that it was the only book Jobs had downloaded on his iPad 2: “Autobiography of a Yogi,” “the guide to meditation and spirituality that he had first read as a teenager,” Isaacson writes, “then re-read in India and had read once a year ever since.”

Yet no discussion of the artists who influenced Jobs is complete without mentioning the music that made the man.

Jobs called Bob Dylan “one of my heroes” and had over a dozen Dylan albums on his iPod, along with songs from seven different Beatles albums, six Rolling Stones albums and four albums by Jobs’ onetime lover Joan Baez.

Jobs likened The Beatles’ creative process to Apple’s own. While listening to a bootleg CD from one of the band’s recording sessions, Jobs remarked, “They did a bundle of work between each of these recordings. They kept sending it back to make it closer to perfect … The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way.”

He also framed his motivations and the principles that drove him forward in terms of Dylan and The Beatles.

“They kept evolving, moving, refining their art,” Jobs said of the artists. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do — keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”