Typing my way to the heart of Joseph Mitchell

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.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)

Comments

  1. Rob, whenever I see you talk about books and typewriters I can’t help but smile and be enthused due to your excitement on these subjects. The fact that you are doing this in the age of iPhones and Tablets shows that there is some hope for the history of language and writing to survive with enthusiasts like yourself.

    Bravo that man!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Dan,
      Thank you! It’s comments such as yours that makes all of this website running malarky worthwhile. And yes it’s SO IMPORTANT to keep the typewriter alive in this world of iPhones and Tablets, lest we forget how valuable they were (are) to those who came before us. To be honest though, it’s such a pleasurable experience to me, that little effort is required.

      Thanks again Dan x
      Warmest
      Rob

  2. stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)
    says:

    wonderful edition to add to the collection rob ,great see him getting attention but of course they follow your lead ,I heard of him first via you ,all the best stu

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      If only everybody had followed my lead Stu. You did, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
      Warmest
      Rob

  3. This is a really interesting project, Rob! I have to wonder, with my way of thinking and absorbing, if I would get more or less out of a project like this. I’ll be waiting to hear your thoughts on the process when you are done!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      So far, so good Kristen. I’ve only been retyping for 3 hours in total so far, but feel I’m getting Mitchell on a deeper level. If nothing else it’s making me slow down and absorb every word, while realising what those words have in relation with one another.

      Of course, it’s too early to vocalise my thoughts and feelings on this to any great degree, so *watch this space* 🙂
      Warmest
      Rob

  4. Rob,

    This is an interesting experiment and I’m curious to see it through. I think HST did very well to absorb Fitzgerald’s style – it’s evident if you read The Great Gatsby in HST’s voice! I wonder whether spending an hour a day defeats the object of the continuous roll of paper, though?

    I hope you’ll be writing your experiences down, it would make for fascinating reading. And, I daresay, a proposal that publishers might consider…

    I’d love to talk with you more about this. Please email me (if you can see it!).
    Best wishes,
    Steve

  5. Hi Rob, It’s great to see someone giving Joseph Mitchell the attention he deserves. I first came across him in a book of 50 Great American Short Stories that my parents had. It included The Death of Fascism in Black Ankle County. I read and reread that story many many times and would consider it one of the defining moments in my reading life.
    When I found an old Penguin copy of McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (after looking for years – the days before the internet) I was hooked even more. Since then I’ve read The Bottom of the Harbour and Joe Gould’s Secret but have held off Up at the Old Hotel. Sometime Soon.
    It’s been great seeing him in blogs and on twitter in the last couple of weeks and even better to find a true evangelist. Keep up the good work!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Dear Seamus,
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving such warm and heartfelt comments. You’ve made me smile from ear-to-ear. I thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.

      I’m thrilled that Mitchell has had such a positive impact on your life too. It’s just a shame that he’s so overlooked in this country (and I’m guessing in Ireland too). With the release by Vintage UK of the first UK edition we can only hope that exposure to the great man is going to increase. As you’ve noted yourself, there has been a lot of chatter about him over the past couple of weeks, so the prospects are good.

      Keep on loving Joe Mitchell, Seamus, and when you do get around to reading Up in the Old Hotel, please come back and tell me what you thought of it.
      Thanks for stopping by, again. You’ve brightened up a rather dank and dreary day.
      Warmest regards
      Rob