Tom Hanks reads a story, talks typewriters and helps a couple in love during charming Texas Book Festival appearance

Tom Hanks points to his book, “Uncommon Type,” while discussing the 17 short stories it contains during a talk Saturday at  the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman

About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.

It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.

The day kicked off with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager sharing stories about their new book, “Sisters First,” with book festival co-founder and former first lady Laura Bush on hand in the House Chamber. The day also included a session with Dan Rather, author of the new book “What Unites Us” and the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award.

But it’s safe to say that Hanks was the biggest, last event of a day jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, children’s events and multiple panel discussions on politics and other current events.

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Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.

Tom Hanks discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” with Austin writer Lawrence Wright during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.

Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”

He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

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He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.

And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.

Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.

As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”

Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”

“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.

And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarling, and the object of his affection was Nikki Young. Both came up on stage, with McFarling kneeling and Young crying in joy.

Yep, Hanks is a softie.

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An audience member photographs Tom Hanks as he discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” on Saturday at the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Tell us: What’s your favorite book about love?

We love books. You do, too. But what's your favorite book about love? AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014
We love books. You do, too. So, what’s your favorite book about love? AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014

Oh, “Wuthering Heights.”

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Emily Brontë’s novel, but the dark, tortured story of Heathcliff and Catherine — full of obsession and revenge, set on the remote moors — spoke to my melodramatic schoolgirl heart.

It’s one of 16 books that librarians from the Austin Public Library have selected for their Battle of the Broken Hearts. Starting Jan. 31 and until Valentine’s Day, staff members will narrow the list down in head-to-head literary battles, until one title remains as the champion of love. You can follow their progress on the library’s blog.

The list is a great mix of classics, modern young adult novels and even “Fifty Shades of Grey” — because love means different things to us all.

What’s your favorite book about love? Maybe it’s a romance like “The Notebook.” Maybe you read “Guess How Much I Love You” every night to your child and tear up just thinking about those two bunnies. Maybe your love of food keeps drawing you back to the works of MFK Fisher.

Patti Cook, regional youth services manager for the Austin Public Library and one of the librarians behind the Battle of the Broken Hearts, shared one of her favorite tales of love: “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” by E. Lockhart. “This probably isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day recommendation, but it might be the one you need! Frankie is just a girl in a boys’ world who is tired of being underestimated and swept aside. So she sets out to do something about it. And if that means she’s got to take on her boyfriend’s male-only secret society? So be it.”

So, what’s your favorite book about love? Send the title and a brief description about why it speaks to you to equigley@statesman.com by Feb. 7. We’ll share those stories in print on Valentine’s Day.