Inside Scoop: An Act of Devotion

Tim Youd has undertaken to retype one hundred classic novels over the course of five years. As part of his undertaking, Tim Youd will retype Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye at MCASD, not far from the La Jolla residence where Chandler wrote the novel. Here Youd discusses the nuts and bolts of his painstaking process. 

See his exhibition, Tim Youd: The Long Goodbye at MCASD's La Jolla location from May 17 to August 31. 

MCASD: Your current objective has been the retyping of 100 novels over a span of five years. In addition to retyping each novel on a typewriter much like the one originally used by the author, another aspect of your project requires that you travel to locations near where the original authors lived or worked. What is the significance of presenting the work in these specific contexts?
Youd: As a society, we’ve done a very thorough job fetishizing the lives of famous authors. Sometimes the best way to meet the absurd is with a different flavor of absurdity. At the same time I truly appreciate being in these different locations. Important work has been done by dedicated people to preserve literature’s heritage and to celebrate the work of great writers. And, really, it feels more authentic to do the work on location, than just typing 100 novels in my studio.

MCASD: Beginning with The Big Sleep in Los Angeles, you began retyping all seven of Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction novels. How do these novels connect you to San Diego?
Youd: One of the satisfying things about this 100-novels project is that I learn something about each of the authors whose work I retype. Chandler was something of a lonely and tortured soul…and he was married to a woman 17 or 18 years older than he was. She became ill around the time they moved to La Jolla. It was there that she died and it was during the time of her illness and death that he wrote The Long Goodbye. Chandler’s own experience pretty clearly translated into the novel. He acknowledged it as his most personal novel, as well as the favorite among all his work. The house on Camino de la Costa where Chandler lived is marked by a bronze placard on the sidewalk. Chandler died at Scripps Memorial Hospital and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego.

MCASD: You retype each novel on a single 8.5” x 11” page with a carbon copy sheet directly behind it. This page is repeatedly threaded into a typewriter as you type and read the novel aloud. Tell us about how you arrived at this process?
Youd: The second sheet is a slightly heavier weight paper, designed to take the indentation of thousands of typewriter key strokes. In many instances, the ink bleeds through the top sheet, and often the top sheet tears—occurrences which create marks on the second sheet that imperfectly mirror the top sheet. So the end result is a diptych that serves as a formal representation of the two pages of an open book—a format well grounded in art history, going back at least to the middle ages.

MCASD: Do you stop and talk with curious observers? Have you had any odd reactions or responses?
Youd: I’m happy to talk with anyone who comes by. I’ve gotten a lot out of these interactions. On the first day of the first performance I did back in New York in May 2013, I had a little sign explaining what I was doing and indicating I wouldn’t be stopping to talk. I took it down after the first hour because I felt I was missing something. Reading is a solitary exercise, but also something people love to share. And my project fits somewhere in there. Of course, more than a few people have basically said I’m nuts.

MCASD: Why do you choose the novels you do? Is it the stories or the authors? A mixture of both?
Youd: For starters, the novels have to have been composed on a typewriter. So that generally means I’m looking at work from 1900 to about 1985–although there are a few authors who still work on tyepwriters. Tom Wolfe, Don DeLillo, and Will Self come immediately to mind.

MCASD: How do you combat fatigue?
Youd: Fatigue is no doubt a real part of typing for hours at a time, day after day. I think the trick is to remain engaged in the book. As I noted above, it’s really an act of devotion to the text. And I can get really locked in to the story and the hours go by. Of course, I inevitably come out of it, need to stretch or walk around a bit, and then try to recapture that meditative state. And believe it or not, I try to exercise daily. That seems to even me out both mentally and physically.

MCASD: Lastly, we have to ask: what do you read for leisure?
Youd: I have two little daughters. I try to read to them most every night. We just finished Little House In The Big Woods and have just started on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.