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My Ears Are Bent Hardcover – June 5, 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I don't think anything could be as much fun as to get a good hold on a pompous person and shake him or her until you can hear the false teeth rattling," says New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno to journalist Mitchell in a World-Telegram profile from the 1930s, but the sentiment could be applied to Mitchell himself. With the ability to turn bluntness to beauty, sarcasm to sincerity and plain speech to poetry, Mitchell who worked at the World-Telegram from 1930 to 1938 and spent the rest of his career at the New Yorker was a reporter and literary artist par excellence, interested in nearly everyone and everything. His profile of a stripper who begins naked and puts on her clothes is as fascinating as his sketch of George Bernard Shaw. Similarly, he is as empathetic toward Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan (the speakeasy queen usually called "Texas") as he is to the plight of Anne Morrow Lindbergh testifying at the kidnapping trial of her infant son. These 37 pieces and profiles most from the 1938 edition of this book, but with some new material added are breathtaking in their simplicity and honesty. Written at a time when newspapers tried to be as sensational as possible without appearing vulgar "belly" would be changed to "tummy" and "raped" became "criminally attacked" Mitchell made New York City shockingly vibrant and colorful without cheapening his subjects. He also evinced an empathy for African-Americans that's startling for the period (and the genre). In all, his liberating and refreshing honesty makes these pieces as vivacious, original and important as they were 65 years ago. (June) Forecast: The Stanley Tucci movie Joe Gould's Secret (1999), based on Mitchell's New Yorker piece and book by that title, has helped revive Mitchell's reputation and may be a useful hand-selling tool for this collection, which should sell in respectable numbers in the northeast and in literary outposts. Also in June, Pantheon will bring out the Mitchell collection McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, with a foreword by Calvin Trillin. ($25 384p ISBN 0-375-42102-5.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Mitchell was a cherished columnist for the now-defunct New York World-Telegram in the 1930s. He wrote primarily about the variety of street characters who seemed to be abundant in the great metropolis, and his columns read like Weegee photos transformed into words. These two volumes collect dozens of those portraits: My Ears Are Bent covers a variety of subjects, while McSorley's, which features a new foreword by Calvin Trillin, is a gallery of the customers at the famous Bowery watering hole. Great pieces of Americana.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Revised edition (June 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421037
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #445,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph Mitchell came to New York from North Carolina the day after the 1929 stock market crash. After eight years as a reporter and feature writer at various newspapers, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, where he remained until his death in 1996 at the age of eighty-seven. His other books include McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, My Ears Are Bent, Up in the Old Hotel, Old Mr. Flood, and Joe Gould's Secret.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The good news is that all of the Mitchell virtues displayed in "Up In the Old Hotel" are emphatically present in this welcome collection of his earlier work for divers New York newspapers of the Depression era. Whether interviewing boxing promoters, or anyone in else George Bernard Shaw or the purveyors of Harlem "voodoo" products, Mitchell never lost his sense of courtly curiousity or his unerring ability to choose just the right word to express the outre character and often heartbreaking earnestness of his human subjects. Here's a worthy companion to sit on the shelf between A. J. Liebling's "Back Where I Come From" and "Up In The Old Hotel." It it also, by the way, a far better buy than the newly-republished "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon," the lion's share of which was reprinted in "Up In The Old Hotel."
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Format: Hardcover
A Joseph Mitchell anything is worth my time, but after having read UP IN THE OLD HOTEL, other writings will suffer by comparison. The works in this particular volume are a compilation of Mitchell's newspaper stories from the 1930s. While Mitchell's prose is sharp and illuminating, the subject matter comes off as slight compared to Mitchell's other labors. Mitchell had such a reputation for wanting his magazine stories to be perfect that these newspaper stories have the sense of being rushed to the presses.
Having said that, there are some great moments in the book. The book has a nice profile section of 1930s cartoonists, which is just the kind of subject matter that Mitchell handles well in that it gets past the part that everyone sees to the part Mitchell wants to know about. The section on Voodoo is hysterical and very much like his later New Yorker work. The book ends with a funny profile of playwright George Bernard Shaw.
If you have never read Mitchell, start with UP IN THE OLD HOTEL, but if you are already a fan, there are enough gems in this collection to make it worth your while.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Couldn't get my hands on this book fast enough.
The delight of My Ears are Bent lies in seeing the early output of one of America's best-ever writers. It's a little like watching a great artist in the process of creation. All of the elements are there - the fascination for the darker sides of human nature, the peaks into odd little corners of old New York, the genesis of some of his recurrent themes.
While Mitchell's later New Yorker work contained wit and very subtle, very dark humor, some of the pieces in My Ears are Bent are laugh-out-loud funny. And some of it is positively chilling - his absolutely stone-faced report on witnessing an execution leaves one feeling nothing but creepy.
But while there's some great stuff here, the book is uneven. For one thing, Mitchell was working for a newspaper when these stories were written, cranking out text at a ferocious volume, and didn't have the time to create brilliance he was later afforded at The New Yorker (to say nothing of the gem-cutting skill of New Yorker editors). And it's also clear that at the time these stories were written, Mitchell did not yet have the subtlety and flawless control displayed in his later work.
One caution: I suspect that some readers may find some of the descriptions of various ethnic groups - particularly African Americans - condescending or worse. These stories clearly reflect a somewhat different ethic than we expect to see today.
On a standalone basis, this is NOT a fabulous book. . I gave it the 4 stars because of Mitchell's importance as a writer, the fascination of being able to so clearly see his skills evolving, and because anyone who was touched by Mitchell's later writing MUST read it.
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Format: Hardcover
"Up in the old hotel" was a fantastic book, with Joseph Mitchell's New Yorker stories. Perfect stories in poetic, crystalclear prose. Pure joy. The stories in "My ears are bent" were written before he became a writer for the New Yorker, and they are absolutely great. They have a kind of rough quality that makes the New Yorker stories seem too polished in comparison, too perfect. And I was a fan of these stories! But this book is, although it may seem a little less perfect, even better. A treasure!
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Format: Paperback
Drunks, cheesecake, Jesus, sports, work, poverty--these topics were the early obsessions of one of the best feature writers to walk the streets of New York City.

After eleven years as a reporter for three New York newspapers, Joseph Mitchell shifted to The New Yorker. He once called his early newspaper writing "a different kind of writing," but even if the articles collected in My Ears Are Bent serve as records of his apprenticeship, they still are an impressive and interesting set of feature stories.

All of these articles were written between 1929 and 1938, but the characteristics of Mitchell's later writing--painstaking attention to facts and visual details, immersion reporting/observation, humor, and a compassionate liking for the oddballs, the poor, and the fringe radicals--are all present.

Mitchell enjoyed moving past New York's businessmen and politicians and showing his readers some characters from the vast array of humanity that always populates a great city.

He let his interview subjects talk, while he listened. One scene in which he encounters a young woman with an idea for a "reverse striptease" is vintage Mitchell: "`Now look,' she said, unnecessarily. `This is the way I start my act.'" The word unnecessarily is an example of how he could blend dry humor and efficiency in ways that few writers are disciplined enough to manage.

The Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli reminds us that Mitchell's interviews are "not verbatim--of course . . . Mitchell was a reporter before tape recorders. But it's not fiction either." Mitchell's genius as a reporter was his ability to find interesting people that his readers almost certainly never would meet and to share with us detailed portraits that forced our recognition of our common humanity.
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