Thursday, September 8, 2011

Joseph Mitchell/UP IN THE OLD HOTEL

Some books come along in a person's life and becomes a friend that gets her through hard times. This book has been one such friend to me. My copy is bound with Scotch tape, I've read it so many times. If I were ever a victim of a fire, I think I would mourn losing this book. Sure, I could buy another copy, but it wouldn't be the same. 

Joseph Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker. Up In the Old Hotel is an omnibus of his four previous books, plus never-before-gathered profiles he did in the magazine. Mitchell had a real talent for picking out truly original characters to profile, but for the most part he writes with such empathy no one comes off as a character at all. These are not caricatures.

Mitchell's nonfiction reads like good fiction, and his profiles of the bums, outcasts, and miscreants of New York are poignant and heartbreaking and sometimes exalting. Ironically, his attempts at fiction fall short of his profiles, but they still retain the same graveyard humor. There are profiles I go back to reading over and over and over again. (The profiles about the gypsy women and the plague scare are two of my favorites.) 

I've read this book many times over. In fact, it's in the list of my top ten all-time favorite books. It just never gets old—even though the New York that Mitchell explored is, for the most part, gone. It takes a writer of real skill to make a reader miss the bygone qualities of a city she's never visited. I don't think I'll ever tire of this book. 


JES said...

I'm with you, Stacy. So much to love here.

(Incidentally, I just found it available via preview on Google Books, so you can read quite a bit of it online if you're not convinced!)

Have you ever read the follow-up to "Professor Seagull" -- I think it's called "Joe Gould's Secret"?

stacy said...

I did. "Joe Gould's Secret" appears near the end of the book, and I've read that profile several times. Like Mitchell, I was torn between exasperation and compassion for Gould. I think in the end Mitchell's compassion won out, and so did mine.

Even though he published quite a lot, I always find myself wishing Mitchell published more.

stacy said...

Crap. I just realized I forgot to add labels.

moonrat said...

no problem, stacy! you should be able to go back and edit.

stacy said...

thanks, moonrat! just added.