It’s something of a coincidence that Joseph Mitchell was featured in the Guardian at the weekend (and most gloriously may I add), because not less than a week ago I finally took receipt of a 1992 first edition hardback copy of Mitchell’s finest collection, Up in the Old Hotel, which I’ve finally added to my personal library.
For a while now I’ve owned a 2008 paperback edition of the publication that collates all of Joseph Mitchell’s published New Yorker articles, and it stands as one of the most treasured books in my collection. However, I’ve always wanted an original edition, not least because it was published when Mitchell was still walking the planet (he sadly died in 1996, age 87).
Now that I have this hardback edition, I’m going to do something special with it. Since reading about how Hunter S. Thompson retyped F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby on his typewriter – so that he could learn the intricacies of one of his favourite writer’s prose – I’ve wanted to do a similar thing. And seeing as I want to absorb the writings of Joseph Mitchell to a similiar depth that I presume Thompson did with Fitzgerald (I’ve read and reread Mitchell to the point where he’s touching my soul, but I want more), I thought I’d retype Up in the Old Hotel in its entirety – on a typewriter of course (1952 Hermes 2000, a favourite of Sylvia Plath) – in Jack Kerouac style, on a single roll of paper.
How long this is going to take me I don’t know, but I’m aiming to spend about an hour a day with Mitchell and the typewriter. However, in all honesty time isn’t a factor because for me this is more of a meditation than a race. I want to get myself to the state where my mind is fully open – to a point where I’m able to absorb each and every word of Mitchell on a deeper level – and that takes time.
In embarking on this project I hope that I not only gain the deepest of insights into Mitchell’s writing, but that I also build an even deeper affection for the writer (if this is at all possible). My retyping is certainly going to be a labour of love, but I’m hoping that it will also end up being a journey of enlightenment.
I should add that the article that I mention at the top of this post forms part of the introduction to a new edition of Up in The Old Hotel that is being published by Vintage Books next month, as part of their ‘Classics’ series. Needless to say I couldn’t be more excited about this, because I’m hoping that the publication of this new edition – the first in the UK – will shine a much needed spotlight on a most deserving writer; one who is woefully ignored in this country. I really do feel almost jealous for those of you who have yet to discover Joseph Mitchell, because I know what a glorious reading experience it is that awaits you.
I’ll post updates on my own deeper journey through Joseph Mitchell, in the pages of my Reading Journal. If you’ve read or intend to read anything by Joseph Mitchell (aside from Up in the Old Hotel, there’s a collection of earlier (not quite as glorious) pieces by Mitchell collected in My Ears are Bent), then I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a comment in the box below.