ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Five years ago, a husband and wife opened a bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michael and Hilary Gustafson called it Literati. And, almost on a whim, they did something that would make them famous in the town.
MICHAEL GUSTAFSON: We based our logo on my grandfather's Smith Corona. And we thought, well, wouldn't it be fun to put out a typewriter that anybody could use.
SHAPIRO: And people did use it.
M. GUSTAFSON: They would type confessions and jokes and even marriage proposals on this typewriter. And over the years, thousands of people have typed these notes. And it's just been a wonderful sort of diary of a town happening in a bookstore.
SHAPIRO: Each night, after he locks up the doors, closes out the cash registers and re-shelves stray books, Michael Gustafson stops by the typewriter one last time. He pulls out the page, reads the messages left behind and files them away before he heads out. And now he has published some of his favorites in a new book called "Notes From A Public Typewriter." When we talk to the Gustafsons we spent some time flipping through the book reading a handful of those anonymous messages.
OK, let's take turns. You go first.
M. GUSTAFSON: (Reading) When we were younger, we would color our skies purple, our trees blue. And it always looked perfect to us.
HILARY GUSTAFSON: (Reading) Two days sober - thrilled about the first, terrified of the second. Do not have enough money to buy a book today, but I am comfortable here. Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Wow. (Reading) If I had to write a five-paragraph essay on this thing, I would withdraw from middle school.
H. GUSTAFSON: (Reading) Dear Max, you are a good old cat. I'm sorry I pushed you off the couch sometimes when you wanted to sit in my lap, and I was touched out from the babies, and my eyes were itching. I'm sorry for the time I cut your skin by accident trying to cut out the mats and didn't realize how bad it was at first. I'm sorry I sometimes let your nails get too long or ran out of wet food and that I let you go an extra day without your sub-Q fluids at the end. There are a lot of opportunities to not take perfect care of you as I had intended. But I hope you felt that those were the rare exception in the six years you were with us. I had a great day with you yesterday and hope you enjoyed some of your favorite things on your last day. It will always be a special memory for me. Please know you were loved. And I - we will always remember you, love your human mama.
M. GUSTAFSON: I remember when we got that note. And I took the page out at the typewriter, and I showed it to staff. And we're all just bawling. All of us were just crying. And that was one of the first few notes that we got that really struck a chord in me that there was something happening here.
SHAPIRO: You have selected some really lovely, funny, heartbreaking, insightful messages. How much of what you get on the typewriter is that? And how much is (laughter) not that?
M. GUSTAFSON: There is a lot of not that.
H. GUSTAFSON: Lots of fart jokes.
M. GUSTAFSON: Lots of fart jokes.
M. GUSTAFSON: Sure, yeah. We have to sift through maybe 200 notes to find that one note that really just makes you laugh out loud or acts like a gut punch. But once you find that note, you instantly recognize it. It's very authentic. It's very true. It's not trying to impress.
SHAPIRO: Tell me about how the messages change depending on the time of year or the time of day or the day of the week.
H. GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think it's interesting. You know, it's a university town, Ann Arbor. And University of Michigan is here. And when graduation rolls around, we get lots of advice for graduates from newly graduated or from parents visiting - things like that. And then I feel like also around kind of the holidays we get a lot of people who write notes to loved ones who have passed, and people are looking back and remembering those people that meant a lot to them.
M. GUSTAFSON: And on Michigan-Ohio State football game days, we get a lot of Ohio State fans saying go, Bucks.
SHAPIRO: Well, Hilary and Michael Gustafson, it's been great talking with you. Thank you.
H. GUSTAFSON: It's been so wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much.
M. GUSTAFSON: Thank you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: They own Literati bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich. And Michael is the author of the new book "Notes From A Public Typewriter," written with the designer Oliver Uberti.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.