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Up in the Old Hotel Paperback – June 1, 1993

4.8 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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Journalist Joseph Mitchell, whose death in in May 1996 at the age of 87 merited a half-page obituary in the New York Times, pioneered a style of journalism while crafting brilliant magazine pieces for the New Yorker from the 1930s to the early 1960s. Up in the Old Hotel, a collection of his best reporting, is a 700-page joy to read.

Mitchell lovingly chronicled the lives of odd New York characters. In the pages of Up In the Old Hotel, the reader passes through places such as McSorley's Old Ale House or the Fulton Fish Market that many observers might have found ordinary. But when experienced through Mitchell's gifted eye, the reader will see that these haunts of old New York possess poetry, beauty, and meaning.

From Publishers Weekly

In this omnibus collecting decades of his work, Mitchell offers compassionate, wistful examinations of early-20th-century New Yorkers who existed on the margins of society.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Revised edition (June 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679746315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679746317
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By E. Hawkins on December 15, 1999
Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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