Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Book #17 Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell

Joe Gould's Secret

This book, a biography not a novel, was recommended by the writer Clare Allan at the same readers event I refer to in my last post. It is now out of print, but can be picked up for a penny plus postage on Amazon.

Mitchell, a writer comes across a homeless man in the Village in New York. Gould who would be described as a tramp or hobo in today's vernacular, is somewhat kindly and exotically described as a Bohemian, after the style of the artists and poets of the era. Gould himself is working on a book, an Oral History reflecting contemporary life in New York through the conversations of its inhabitants. He is celebrated by some of the greats of the day, for example E.E Cummings is a personal friend, but lives a very odd lifestyle subsisting on handouts, black coffee, cigarette butts, fried eggs and ketchup.

I was a little frustrated to discover there were two parts to this book, Joseph Mitchell's original profile for the New Yorker called 'Professor Sea Gull' and then 'Joe Gould's Secret' an expanded biography of Gould, but one which unfortunately and unbeknownst to me repeats some of the same anecdotes from the Professor Sea Gull section which I'd thought was the beginning of the book. I think its still important to read Professor Sea Gull, because the moment Joe Gould's Secret expands from follows the aftermath of the publication of that initial profile.

I had further problems with Joe Gould's Secret. I didn't much care for Gould himself, a man I found to be a conceited bombast, and I didn't much care for his biographer Mitchell either. Although I entirely understand the reasons why Mitchell got fed up with Gould and ultimately found him a nuisance; it must be remembered that Mitchell was the one who tracked Gould down, got involved in his world and used his story for professional gain, not once, but twice.

This book with both the profile and the biography is just 187 pages long, but I found myself page counting calculating how long I had left to go, which is to me, a REALLY BAD SIGN. Although, it's cover and inner page are littered with quotes praising it. Clearly the book has fans, so if you like stories about real life folk, you may like this. I'm afraid I didn't really. 5/10

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