on 28 July 1999
Joseph Mitchell writes and I become the wiser. His first story on McSorley's Irish Pub prompted my visit to same last week when I visited NY. The visit made me pick up Mitchell's book and read it all over again. Every story is worthwhile despite subjects that would, at first, seem uninteresting. His profile of Joe Gould was one of the best pieces of non-fiction writing I can recall. If only a dozen guys in the world could write this way about real people.
on 11 May 1999
Unless you have an extraordinarily adept system of tracking the books you've lent to friends (or friends far more diligent than mine) you should strongly consider buying two copies. I lent my hardcover to a friend, and mourn it. I will lend it no more, having made the same mistake with a subsequent softcover. This is a book into which you can escape. It is alternately hiliarious, troubling, deeply sad. You can pick it up and read one piece or go through it cover to cover. Mitchell was a genius. Brilliant non-fiction writers like John McPhee and Tracy Kidder had their way paved for them by Mitchell... wanna see courage in print? Here it is.
on 21 May 1999
Mitchell might've been a genius. This is an incredible book filled with personalities and observations of the human condition that are simply unforgettable. His depictions of people and places are deeply felt, and New York is as alive as it ever was. A true classic. Astoundingly good.
on 29 August 2012
Joe Mitchell had a great job.
He went to his office every day; sometimes he wrote something, sometimes he did some editing, attended a meeting or two. He'd take off and wander around outside, but not around mid-Manhattan. He'd roam lower New York - the areas that are now the places to live and work, but in the 30s, 40s and 50s were the backwaters of the city - and he'd watch the water. And then he'd - sometimes and not in a hurried way - write about the parts of his adopted city that he was most fascinated and grabbed by and he'd write about the people he met. His writing wasn't strict reportage, but his writing conveyed underlying truths and conveyed and relayed stories honestly.
This collection is more than a recorded oral history, or a document of the city: it's of the city and from the city and imbued with the city. Mitchell is on every page - the writing is glorious - and yet he's not more than a shadow at times as he allows his characters the room and space to breathe and live. Mitchell died in the late 90s, and hadn't published anything for decades (though he still showed up at the office) but writing is alive and creates a vivid, tangible and now gone New York.
I can't recommend this collection highly enough.
on 26 March 1999
Up in the Old Hotel is a collection of humorous stories about everyday people. I would highly reccomend it to anyone. Many of the stories had me laughing out loud. Up in the Old Hotel is a little peek into the past since the stories were written in the 30's to 40's era. The essays include descriptions of people and a few places. The reader is really able to see how these people lived and how they interacted with the world and people around them. I highly commend Josheph Mitchell for writing this funny, enlighting, intuitive book for readers of all ages.
on 28 July 1997
I think that any book that can make you truly long to be back in a place that you miss with all your heart is the mark of a true classic. "Up in the Old Hotel" does just that. Included here are stories of bearded ladies, clammers, eccentrics, American Indians and many of the other people residing in the most wonderful city in the whole country. That of New York City. Their lives are brought out and put into writing by Joeseph Mitchell, formerly a reporter for the New Yorker magazine. He gives these people such dignity and grace, that they almost transcend their oftentimes sparse existence. Every story is a masterpiece. There are about 25 non-fiction accounts, and 6 fiction, but the characters of the non-fiction tales are just that. Characters. The line between fictiona and non blurs due to the incredible detail and persona of these wild and charming residents of the metropolis they call home.
I don't anymore, but I used to live in New York myself. This book was more than enough for me to realize that I have to move back there as soon as I can. I would feel very proud to have the people Joeseph Mitchell displays as my neighbors. I feel like I already know them.
on 25 January 1998
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.
The Chicago Sun-Times reviews this work thus:-
"A legendary figure.....Mitchell may indeed be the best writer in America....(His) reportage is so vivid, so real, that it comes out like fiction of the highest order."
In my opinion this review is an understatement of the brilliance of this work. I can categorically state that this is the most satisfying, interesting and best written book that I have ever read in 50 years. I doubt if I'll ever be lucky enough to ever come across its near equal.
Each of the articles by Joseph Mitchell contained in this book is wonderful: beautifully written, and chronicling the mavericks, the marginal, the unusual and the idiosyncratic from the New York City of the 1930s-1950s.
Each story lovingly brings to life some extraordinary characters. I will never forget Joe Gould, aka Professor Sea Gull, who was writing "The Oral History" that was already 11 times the length of the Bible; or Lady Olga the bearded lady who had appeared in "Freaks"; or Commodore Dutch; or the King of the Gypsies; or Mazie P. Gordon who presided for 21 years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre. Really, this stuff is solid gold.
Next time I visit New York I shall visit as many of the places detailed in this book as I can, if only to gaze wistfully at the spot with the vivid recollections of Joseph Mitchell's wonderful articles to imbue each location with a special and magical significance.
I will be returning to Up in the Old Hotel to revisit these wonderful articles - I recommend you do the same.
on 3 February 1998
This is one of my all-time favorites - even non-New Yorkers will be engrossed. A loving, lyrical, touching and humorous description of a New York that died long before I was born - but Mitchell makes it come to life. After reading this book, you'll walk around Manhattan with newly keen eyesight - sometimes you may actually feel like you caught a glimpse.