Loss of a Writing Titan

Cormac McCarthy has passed. He’s a Pulitzer Prize Winner and known for multiple books—notably The Road, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses. His writing style is Hemingway-esque. But that’s selling him short; he’s the writer Hemingway wished he could be. His prose is limited, almost stripped to the bone. He’s the antithesis of myself. According to him, semicolons are for those living in a state of idiocracy; he uses no parenthesis in his work. And tackles challenging subjects, mostly death. And then more death. Cannibalism is thrown into the mix too. But what most don’t know is that his earlier work leaned more in the Faulkner realm. Vast description. Rich metaphors. Lack of a linear approach. Despite the contrasting style, McCarthy’s early books soar too. Only after leaving the great state of Tennessee and moving West did his style evolve.

And in his new locale, he did relatively few interviews. Never taught writing classes. He just wrote. Most of my previous thoughts on tools and processes he would call a waste of time. Focus on the story. I don’t disagree with him, yet I do on some merits. I like to use more than just periods. If McCarthy would have worked at a tech company, his Slack game would be next level, if only he used a computer.

But he didn’t. And I find his process better for it.

Travel back in time to 1958. From that year onward, the renowned McCarthy pledged allegiance to the rhythmic cadence of a mechanical typewriter. His tool of choice? Initially, a Royal. But as European adventures loomed, he stumbled upon a lighter Olivetti Lettera 32, not in a fancy store but in the corners of a Knoxville pawn shop. He paid a mere $50.

Over the span of five decades, that humble Olivetti became the canvas for some five million words, a testament to the incessant dance between man and machine. In this simplicity, the modest Olivetti morphed into a literary talisman, its aura enhanced by the monumental fiction it birthed. From McCarthy’s Wikipedia entry, Glenn Horowitz, a book dealer, said it was akin to the mighty Mount Rushmore being etched with a humble Swiss Army knife.

As the decades passed, the famed Olivetti found itself under the gavel at Christie’s, where the auction house anticipated it would fetch between $15,000 and $20,000. Yet, it commanded a sum of $254,500. Every penny was directed toward the Santa Fe Institute. But what of McCarthy, you wonder, stripped of his constant literary companion? His friend, John Miller, replaced it with an identical model that cost $11 and an additional $19.95 for shipping and handling. One can find a similar version on Etsy today, grant they go for a pretty penny these days. But maybe, it’s worth it?


  • Nobody writes likes you anymore. Washington Post Obit.
  • The picture is of the book, All the Pretty Horses. I should have taken it next to my saddleback satchel, but I think it works all the same.