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98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythical New York
Joseph Mitchell may be the best writer ever to have worked on the 'New Yorker' staff (the other contenders would include Edmund Wilson and A. J. Liebling). Every story in this long book is worth reading, and re-reading; the later pieces, from 'The Bottom of the Harbour' and especially 'Joe Gould's Secret' are tours-de-force of reporting. Mitchell invests his characters...
Published on December 15, 1999 by E. Hawkins

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16 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Outside The Box
Mitchell, a well known reporter has filled a role in history that will always be remembered and loved by those who lived the life he wrote about.

The people in his stories are unique and have qualities some would find interesting. His writing is very descriptive and he captures countless details not understood or seen by the casual passer-buyer. You can...
Published on October 10, 2009 by Diane Holm


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98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythical New York, December 15, 1999
By 
E. Hawkins (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
Joseph Mitchell may be the best writer ever to have worked on the 'New Yorker' staff (the other contenders would include Edmund Wilson and A. J. Liebling). Every story in this long book is worth reading, and re-reading; the later pieces, from 'The Bottom of the Harbour' and especially 'Joe Gould's Secret' are tours-de-force of reporting. Mitchell invests his characters with so much life that they take on almost mythical proportions, without ever sacrificing their humanity. Although Mitchell often chose to write about people on the margins of society -- a homeless beggar like Joe Gould, a bearded lady, the hard-drinking Hugh Flood -- he never did so in a patronising manner. He admires these people not because of their struggles or hard lives, but despite them: he sees them, and makes us see them, as fellow human beings, not social welfare cases. Mitchell freely admits that listening to Joe Gould was a strain, and that Gould could be, like people who own houses and property and know where their next meal is coming from, selfish and mean-spirited; far from making Gould unattractive, this serves to make him come alive - homeless people don't become plaster saints, and it's silly to pretend otherwise. A key component in these stories is Mitchell's own persona, which is much like his prose style: quiet, unassertive, but immensely attractive. It is a great pity that, for whatever reason, Mitchell fell silent for the last thirty years of his life; but any sadness can be assuaged by dipping back into 'Up in the Old Hotel', where Mitchell's brilliant handling of detail and character -- and his shapely way with the structure of a profile, always dovetailing to a perfect close -- can be sampled time and again.
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, January 25, 1998
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
While strolling in Soho, a friend dragged me by the ear into a small bookshop, bought this book for me and told me I had to read it. This kind of situation seldom works out for the best -- so many people have pressed mediocre books into my hands over the years, and I have slogged through them out of guilt. This volume hooked me from the start -- I very nearly missed by plane back home that day, as I became so deeply engrossed in it. Mitchell somehow managed to hold on to a wide-eyed wonder and appreciation for all things human throughout his long life. To read this book is to understand that below the surface of things -- old abandoned hotels, the oysters on one's plate, the raving lunatic on the street corner -- is a complex, moving, eloquent, fascinating story, available to anyone who would invest the necessary time, effort and love to extract it. Few of us can summon the necessary energy, but Mitchell could. I can't think of anyone who would fail to be interested in these stories, but New Yorkers past and present should, in particular, find this book fascinating.
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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars human comedy/mystery, October 6, 2000
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
One day, it would have to have been the very early 70's, we were in the car with my grandfather, driving through the Bowery, and he pointed out the window at one of the derelicts and casually mentioned : I went to school with him. School, in this case, was Harvard Law School, back when that still meant something. He said that the guy had fallen on hard times and had refused repeated offers of help, so we drove on and he went along his merry, though entirely demented, way. Had this occurred just a few years earlier, that bum might well have been Joe Gould, whom Joseph Mitchell immortalized in the pages of The New Yorker.
Up in the Old Hotel is a collection of Mitchell's otherwise hard to find essays, in which he lovingly describes haunts like the Fulton Fish Market and McSorley's, one of the last bars in America to admit women, and profiles various fisherfolk and colorful denizens of New York City's nether regions, most famously, Joe Gould, the bohemian character with whom he is inevitably and eternally linked. Mitchell first wrote about Gould in 1942, in a piece called, Professor Sea Gull. Mitchell's great skill as a writer was to let his subjects seemingly speak for themselves, but to in fact render their words in compulsively readable fashion. This works particularly effectively with Joe Gould who was a fountain of words anyway. The story relates how Gould, a Harvard grad, subsists on practically no money (one of his tricks is to make a soup out of the ketchup in restaurants), his propensity for making a spectacle of himself as he starts flapping his arms and declaiming poetry in the "language" of sea gulls, and his life's work, the nine million word Oral History of Our Time. Within the pages of hundreds of composition books, of the kind we used to use in school, Gould claimed to be writing a history of the world in the form of the conversations of ordinary people as he heard them speaking every day ""What people say is history." It was this idea that beguiled Mitchell and his readers, made Gould into a minor celebrity, and ultimately formed a tragicomic link to Mitchell's own career.
You see, Mitchell gradually came to suspect that Gould's magnum opus did not really exist. When, upon Gould's death, Mitchell went in search of the Oral History and could find only a few garbled fragments, he decided, with some qualms, to expose the hoax that he had such played a central role in propagating. The result was the elegaiac Joe Gould's Secret which was written in 1964 and proved to be the last piece Joseph Mitchell ever published. For the next thirty years he showed up at The New Yorker every day, went into his office and seemed to work, but never produced a word. He became legendary for his "writer's block," a staple figure in the many novels featuring a New Yorker like magazine, such as Bright Lights, Big City. Rumor had it that he was emulating his hero James Joyce and writing a Ulysses-type novel set in the New York he knew so well. But like Joe Gould, his masterwork does not appear to have been committed to paper.
There are many fine essays in the book, but you really should, at least, read these two Joe Gould profiles. They stand as masterpieces of the journalist's art on their own, but when Mitchell's subsequent problems are taken into account and the eerie parallels become clear, these stories become transcendent and genuinely haunting.
GRADE : A+
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love sentences ..., January 29, 2000
By 
T. McGohey (Pfafftown, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
Yes, as the other reviewers have already noted, it's true that Mitchell captures a sense of place and character as well as any writer working today, but the real reason to buy this book is the opportunity it will give you to revel in the rhythm of some of the most hynpotic sentences you will ever read by an American writer. If you think I'm exaggerating, then just open the book to a piece called "The Rivermen" (pg 574) and read the opening paragraph, in which Mitchell describes the Hudson River and his sighting of a sturgeon:
" ... it rose twice, and cleared the water both times, and I plainly saw its bristly snout and its shiny little eyes and its white belly and its glistening, greenish-yellow, bony-plated, crocodilian back and sides, and it was a spooky sight."
If you love sentences like this, get this book. I've been teaching college composition for a dozen years, and can think of no better model for clean, elegant prose.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly enlightening and entrancing, November 7, 2001
By 
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
I was so engrossed in this book that everything else stopped for me for about a week. Joseph Mitchell's language is easy and clever, always informational and so entertaining that you read every word instead of skipping. The sentences themselves are so beautifully crafted that you find yourself anticipating their rhythms in your head as if following along with a beautiful melody. Not only does he tell you more than you'll ever want to know on any subject he writes about, but he does it in such a respectful, compassionate way to the subject of his attention that you can't help but love him. My favorite story was "Up in the Old Hotel." Throughout this entire tale, I was entirely riveted waiting for the disclosure, excited in a way that only the very best movies elicit. When I'd read it, I laid the book down and thought about it for a long time. It was such a cliffhanger, and deeply interesting. Joseph Mitchell has definitely had his influence on other writers -- for instance, I seem to sense that Susan Orlean ("The Orchid Thief" -- another excellent book crammed full of interesting information and human insights) who also works for "The New Yorker" is a disciple of his. I will definitely be revisiting this book to experience his magical world, and I have it in my library of "don't lends".
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Mitchell : The Fly-on-the-Wall of the Bronx, July 21, 2005
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
I had read, and re-read, Joseph Mitchell's "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" as a 15-year old and promptly lost the copy, but the book stayed in the mind and I have been looking for a replacement over the last 30 + years!I had little hope of finding the book again as I thought it must be out of print and, being from India, I assumed Mitchell was one of those obscure and unrecognised American writers.I knew little or nothing about him until recently but I wanted badly to get hold of the book again, so powerful was the effect of the writing even after 30 years.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I traced, on the Net, recent editions of all of Joseph Mitchell's works - I promptly ordered both "Up in the Old Hotel" and "My Ears are Bent".

Up in the Old Hotel is a collection of four of Joseph Mitchell's published works:McSorleys,Bottom of the Harbour, Old Mr.Flood and Joe Gould's Secret. And with the addition of My Ears are Bent, I now have all of Mitchell's published works.

Up in the Old Hotel is the one to go for and, within the collection, McSorley's remains my favourite for it is Mitchell at the height of his reportorial powers - the eye for detail, the unerring instinct for a good story, the ability to bring the obscure and seemingly mundane into pulsating life.Most of the stories in the Old Hotel collection - almost all of them from real life - are about New York street life, about the people in the Bronx or the Bowery that one would pass by without a second look.

Mitchell writes about freaks and oddballs and also about ordinary folk engaged in apparently obscure,hum-drum occupations such as a river fisherman or a community of African Americans on Staten Island.He is the proverbial Fly-on-the-Wall(with composite eyes) and this gives a rare immediacy to his stories and, while he sometimes bludgeons you with detail, he takes you there - be it a Bowery flop-house or a speak-easy, with the characters and their lives, thir hopes, their fears, coming alive in all candour and engaging sidelights .Mitchell awakens you to the human interest and, indeed, the essential humanity in his (real) characters and that is his special quality as a writer.

These are period pieces about a New York long past but they have a contemporary feel about them; as you read on, you begin to appreciate that the faces, the appearance and the occupations may have changed but the characters remain and that the people are essentially similar to you and me whilst being different, being themselves.

I wish more of Mitchell's Southern stories had been included in the collections for they have the same appealing quality of his Big City pieces but with a different setting, context and a different set of characters, Hopefully, all of his New Yorker output will, one day,be published.

Meanwhile you couldn't do better than get hold of Up in the Old Hotel and My Ears are Bent (though the latter is somewhat patchy and uneven, it is the young Mitchell discovering his metier, honing his skills) and read the stories and re-read them, perhaps every three years!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book I Ever Read, October 5, 2005
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
I just got done reading this book and I'm sad that it's over. I figure I'll wait a couple of months and then read it right the way through again. I won't go into a lot of boring detail outlining Mitchells fantastically readable writing style and the ease with which he relates incredibly detailed stories and histories he's heard from other people, suffice to say this book will take hold of you and it won't let go. I just feel like this is the book I've been waiting for all my life. Never before has a book fascinated me so much. What struck me most was that I never once became tired of reading it, even right up to the end...usually with a 700 page book I'll be pining for the end by page 500, or I'm bored of the style or the subject matter - not so with "Up in the Old Hotel". It'll have you both regretful that you weren't around 60 years ago, or else wondering if such interesting characters still exist in New York today. Of note are the two incredibly detailed and accurate chapters about gypsies, and the fictional Mr Flood stories. Oh what the hell, it's ALL amazing stuff. I think I decided that Mr Mitchell is the best writer who ever lived by page 100. How come I never knew about this book until I saw it piled high in a second hand book store - and how come they aren't forcing kids to read this alongside such classics as "Huckleberry Finn" and "Life on the Mississippi"? I intend to make it my lifes work to turn as many people as possible on to this incredible book. Don't hesitate, buy it!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, August 19, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
I was first introduced to this author through his obituary (odd, I know). He appeared in an anthology of obituaries (Last Word - Obituaries from the NY Times) and I was intrigued enough to buy this collection of stories and profiles that appeared mostly in the New Yorker in the 30' and 40's. What a talent! His work is evocative and caring. The most ordinary citizen (or not so ordinary) has a story that he hears and probably no one else listens to. He conveys to his reader a gentle sense of life and
struggle and humor.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Storied Nonfiction, July 2, 2000
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
Joseph Mitchell is perhaps the best argument for never bothering to write again. He has said it. Why bother?
This book is a collection of four books, including the classic Joe Gould's Secret (the last piece he ever wrote). He shows us what writing is meant to be: lyrical, poetic, filled with detail and observation, full of life about life full of meaning.
The Rivermen, which details the life and times of Edgewater, New Jersey, is my favorite piece. It dodges and meanders, building a backdrop and developing some characters, and then WHAM, the meaning of life. I remember my wife asking me what the piece had been about, and I think my only clear response was: everything.
He has style, and he also has meaning. His prose drives the reader toward his final sentence, and like Joyce he manages to leave the reader awed at his conclusions. And wiser.
Of course, the most astonishing aspect of all is that it was all true. I suppose that shows how much meaning we miss in the living of life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Terrfic Look at NYC Characters in a not so long ago age!!, December 16, 2001
By 
Hans Castorp (Devon, Pa United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
Mr. Mitchell's lazer beam ray into just about every nook and cranny of Manhatten from around 1930 to the early 1960's, will make you wish you were his sidekick. Originally a Southerner,his reporting and stories makes us believe that outsiders, who are curious about everything in their new surroundings, may be the ones who know it best. And his empathy for even those who appear the lowest in the social stratum shows that there is something special in all of us. My personal favorite is hearing the police detective describe some of the shady tricks that some gypsies, ususally recently from Europe, were up to in getting certain naive homemakers to part with their money. Some con game!! But every yarn is true and enjoyable. Don't miss perhaps the most famous, about Joe Gould's Great Literary Work "In Progress."...All in all, a special voyage into the labyrinths of our greatest city!
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Up in the Old Hotel
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell (Paperback - June 1, 1993)
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