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Joe Gould's Secret

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  837 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
Now a major motion picture starring Ian Holm, Hope Davis, and Stanley Tucci, who also directs.Joseph Mitchell was a legendary New Yorker writer and the author of the national bestseller Up in the Old Hotel, in which these two pieces appeared. What Joseph Mitchell wrote about, principally, was New York. In Joe Gould, Mitchell found the perfect subject. And Joe Gould's Secre ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 7th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,648)
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Jigar Brahmbhatt
Mar 03, 2015 Jigar Brahmbhatt rated it really liked it

Of Bohemianism and Creativity: Life as Narration

By the time I finished reading this haunting and poignant book, I was wondering whether there is a connection between self-exile (a term I use very loosely) and man’s unending desire to narrate. Creation is a solitary act. When I was still living in my hometown, I loved escaping to my bedroom after dinner, making myself detached from my people, who used to sit in the drawing room watching soap operas. I used to read stuff here and there, mostly my
...more
Bill
Jan 18, 2016 Bill rated it it was amazing
Take an hour or two to read about one of the more fascinating street characters that haunted the Greenwich Village streets in the first half of the 20 th Century.

This was a time when painters and poets, novelists and other artists made the village their home and workplace, and Joe Gould was one of those.

Well, sort of – that’s Joe Gould’s secret after all.

For Joe Gould, the son and grandson of Boston doctors would describe to nearly all he met his grand project – to write an oral history of his t
...more
Jonfaith
Mar 06, 2013 Jonfaith rated it liked it
Imagine Hamsun's emaciated artist taking his defiance to Greenwich Village and living hand to mouth for twenty years. No pawning of underwear and top coats here, the intellectual vagrant would require a different angle. He'd have to shuffle, he would need to embrace his humility. Such was what I initially divined to be at the core of Mitchell's book, an outgrowth of piece he wrote on Gould in the New Yorker in 1942. That isn't the case.

An expose lies at the heart of the tale, but the story of Jo
...more
hay man
May 11, 2014 hay man rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty cool little biography or character study or whatever you like. Some funny parts and well... kind of a bummer in the end. There were a lot of times that I felt like I related to Joe Gould more than is healthy.

Here's a funny passage

"I can't stand them and they can't stand me, but the hell of it is, I enjoy them and I enjoy their meetings. They're so bad they're good. Also, after the program they serve wine. Also, there's a high percentage of unmarried lady poets among them, and sooner or la
...more
William Koon
Aug 03, 2016 William Koon rated it it was ok
Like Holden Caufield, I have always had an aversion to phonies: Milli Vanilli, the Ramones, the Kardashians, J.T. LeRoy. Therefore it was with more than a grain of locally sourced organic sea salt that I read Joseph Mitchell’s Joe Gould’s Secret. The work had some prominence when it was published (actually re-published and re-re-published) as pieces from the New Yorker spread over a twenty-two year period.

To explain: Joe Gould was a character back when such people did not have reality shows or
...more
Sharry
Mar 29, 2016 Sharry rated it it was amazing
Reading this book was a real treat. I breezed through it in a couple of days. There are two parts of this slim volume - "Professor Sea Gull" and "Joe Gould's Secret" - both written by Joseph Mitchell as Profile pieces for The New Yorker (although spaced 22 years apart). The subject of both pieces was Joe Gould, a penniless and unemployable odd little man who first came to live in Greenwich Village in 1916 where he remained a fixture until the mid-1950s. He felt he fit in with the other bohemians ...more
Erin
May 13, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it
Half profile and half expose, the book is a tender look at a local hero who is crazy but loved for it. Joe Gould says he was a mucus-y and ambisinistrous child. He beat Howard Zinn by a few decades with his "Oral History," which purported to tell the real history of the nation -- the history of the people living their day-to-day lives. It was supposed to have weighed in at 9 million words, nearly 13 times the length of the Bible! He was writing down the "Oral History," sometimes being paid in fo ...more
Nick Sweeney
Nov 09, 2011 Nick Sweeney rated it it was amazing
Joe Gould was certainly beat, though, like Jack Kerouac, proudly not beatnik, one of those mercurial American eccentrics, messianic when it suited him, pathetic when it didn’t, diplomatic or direct when he needed to be. When New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell first encountered him in the late 1950s, Gould was living semi-rough in New York, though he was a Harvard graduate and had been a professional ethnographer and a journalist. He was known as Professor Seagull, and frequented poetry readings, ...more
Rachel
Oct 28, 2015 Rachel rated it liked it
"I am an introvert and an extrovert all rolled in one…. a warring mixture of the recluse and the Sixth Avenue auctioneer. One foot says do, the other says don't. One foot says shut your mouth, the other says bellow like a bull. I am painfully shy, but try not to let people know it." (p.21)

"I never felt at home. I stuck out. Even in my own home, I never felt at home. In New York City, especially in Greenwich Village, down among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has-beens and
...more
Paul Bond
Jul 04, 2015 Paul Bond rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
JOE GOULD'S SECRET is a marvelous account of a homeless New Yorker who popped up all over the city saying he was writing a million-world oral history and just needed small contributions to keep the project going. It is a fabulous read in two parts, the original, naive story that Joe Mitchell first wrote, and the second story, decades later, when "the secret" had been revealed. In a sense, Joe Gould's secret is the most common hidden truth among would-be writers and artists of all stripes, but st ...more
Mark
Jun 27, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it
When I watch a documentary, I almost always wonder about how the presence of a film crew affects the real-life story. I very rarely have the same reaction when I read journalism. Joseph Mitchell's profiles of Joe Gould suggest that I should change my ways. The first 40 or so page section of the book is Joseph Mitchell's original profile of Joe Gould from 1942, "Mr. Seagull", the story of a Greenwich Village oddball who claims to be writing a voluminous Oral History. In 1964, Joseph Mitchell, rev ...more
Russell Bittner
Sep 22, 2015 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“‘When I’m hungry, I don’t have any self-respect,’ Gould said” (p. 66). “Necessity knows no law” is a Latin proverb (“Necessitas non habet legem”) that I once erroneously attributed to Mark Twain – but which, in the case of Joe Gould's Secret, I find to be at least tangentially related to Gould’s statement.


By way of analogy (if I may be so bold), I would suggest that Joe Gould’s hallucinatory ambition to write the definitive Oral History of Our Time is similar – at least in scope – to Howard
...more
tortoise dreams
Aug 05, 2016 tortoise dreams rated it really liked it
A compilation of two New Yorker Profiles written by legendary journalist Joseph Mitchell about Greenwich Village bohemian and eccentric, Joe Gould (1889-1957).

Unfortunately, I read Jill Lepore's book Joe Gould's Teeth (2016) prior to reading Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell. Actually, I read this because of Lepore's book, which was a response to Mitchell's articles. If you have the choice, read JG's Secret before reading JG's Teeth, and you'll have a better view of the whole picture here; i
...more
Mike
Jan 23, 2015 Mike rated it it was ok
Sorry folks, but Joe Gould's Secret was just meh to me.

First of all, it is not the mistake of the narrative, or even the author himself - or Joe Gould's, for that matter - that his "secret" is yawningly predictable. So predictable, in fact, that the tragic nature of it reads a little bit banal. It's so baseline realistic and understandable as to lack the ability to compel. The lessons to infer, the character of the man, are so obvious that the insight one could garner is a miniscule non-event. I
...more
Douglas Dalrymple
Jul 16, 2014 Douglas Dalrymple rated it liked it
I don’t know if people were simply more gullible in the New York City of the nineteen-forties and fifties or if my easy cynicism has finally paid off in actual enlightenment, but I guessed Joe Gould’s “secret” long before the author himself stumbled upon it. Gould himself seems to have been an intolerable person – a willful eccentric, a drunkard, suspicious and needy, suffering from delusions of grandeur. The last (perhaps) of the old Village bohemians, he claimed to be writing an Oral History o ...more
Steph
Jun 25, 2016 Steph rated it really liked it
Admittedly, I knew nothing of Joe Gould when I decided to read Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell, and I intentionally kept away from finding out anything until I read the book. The experience couldn't have been better.
While I don't read much nonfiction, this is one of those books that makes me wonder why. Joe Gould's Secret isn't only stranger than fiction, but it offers real sustenance that sticks with a reader. Joe's story is like no other. During the time when Greenwich Village is filled
...more
Giorgio
Jun 09, 2014 Giorgio rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
**1/2

"Il segreto di Joe Gould" è formato da due racconti: Il professor Gabbiano del 1942 e Il segreto di Joe Gould del 1964.

Il primo è un "profilo" scritto per il New Yorker che presenta questa simpatica e bislacca figura di Joe Gould, un barbone "bohémien" impegnato nella scrittura del libro più lungo di tutta la letteratura: la "Storia orale del mondo".

Questo "profilo" è una cronaca più che un vero racconto: è piatto e superficiale, riporta la descrizione di Joe Gould e del suo ambiente senza
...more
Freder
Nov 09, 2009 Freder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first legitimately great book that I've read in some time, and all the more so for being so compact and circumspect. In some ways deeply distressing, full of real pain and disillusionment, and hope, too. A great True New York story that rises far above the genre. Run, do not walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and get a copy.
Loren
Jun 13, 2016 Loren rated it liked it
I'm sorry for lacking the vocabulary & eloquence to fully extrapolate on the problems I have with this work. Please bare with me as editing will surely befall my refrains from profanity.

I found this book terribly redundant. It was like an ongoing merry-go-round of anti-capitalism, self-fullfilling prophecy, unneccessary self-mutilation to justify dire circumstances, and an incessant need of public approval. Where it stops? Everybody knows. Cliche. It was a sort of bohemian re-education from
...more
Art
May 16, 2015 Art rated it did not like it
Boring, for the most part. The unquestioning indulgence of a writer, Joseph Mitchell, intrigued by the bohemian life of a self-proclaimed misfit, Joe Gould. Is this what passed for a profile in the forties at The New Yorker? A period before fact checking?

Memoirs of this type bother me. This one to an extreme. Mitchell pretends to quote Gould at length, sometimes for over a page, often in a single paragraph. Long before recorders, there was no way that Mitchell could capture such long quotes. An
...more
Steffi
Mitchell beschreibt in zwei Geschichten seinen Begegnungen mit Joe Gould, einem Bohemien, der tatsächlich lebte- im New York der 30er/40er Jahre. Obdach- und besitzlos streifte Gould durch die Straßen, an einer "Erzählen Geschichte" arbeitend. Mitchell findet heraus, dass diese Geschichte aber nie geschrieben wurde; nur einige andere Texte hat Gould in Zeitschriften veröffentlicht und damit das Aufsehen wichtiger Schriftsteller wie E.E. Cummings, William Saroyan.
Geschrieben sind die Geschichten
...more
Daniel Murray
Jan 24, 2010 Daniel Murray marked it as to-read
I'm reading Mitchell's book, Up In The Old Hotel, and came across the Professor Seagull piece in McSorley's Wonderful Saloon. This caused me to dig deeper into the story of Joe Gould.
GK Stritch
May 22, 2015 GK Stritch rated it really liked it
Humbling, touching little book, please see Beatdom.com essay for more:

"Joe Gould's Secret" Discovered in the Afterword of Hippos

www.beatdom.com/?p=2641
Nina
I would have never expected the ending of a non-fiction narrative to hit me as hard as this one had. Joseph Mitchell had so clearly and eloquently personified Joe Gould that I felt that I could have known him myself. And throughout the book, I wished more and more that I could have known him myself. He was a rough-around-the-edges, mysterious, chaotic, yet fun, lovable and endearing character. He left me frustrated, but at the same time always wanting to know more about him. Every angle that Mit ...more
Abimelech Abimelech
Apr 05, 2013 Abimelech Abimelech rated it it was amazing
Superb on scattered levels. First off I'm a fool for ignoring my old friend's urgings of Mitchell two years ago whereas when you live in New York the whole goddamned book after book about it is just much better when you're on if you're on vacation, whatever that means.

Gould is the New York Quixote. Homeless Bowery bearded chain-smoking alcoholic slob who graduated from Harvard and wore Cummings's hat around the village. His Oral History was seven million words long, a manuscript taller than the
...more
Daniel Magner
Jun 20, 2014 Daniel Magner rated it it was amazing
Thought a bit about the five stars, but I couldn't help it.

This is just such a well-composed piece. Gould was an enthralling main character/antagonist, and the split nature of Mitchell's opinion of him as it changed before and after Professor Seagull is perfect.

If this book could be summed up in a single cliche, that cliche would be that the truth is stranger than fiction. But it really can't be summed up in a single cliche. If you're still reading this review, stop and go read this book instea
...more
Josh Luft
Jun 25, 2015 Josh Luft rated it really liked it
As Joan Didion said, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Greenwich Village bohemian Joe Gould had a story, "An Oral History of Our Time," which was handwritten in numerous composition books, and reported to be millions of words long and stored safely underground on a duck farm in Long Island. Joseph Mitchell had a story about Joe Gould. Well, two, really. His pair of pieces for The New Yorker are combined for this fascinating book. While written in 1942 and 1964, respectively, Mitchell ...more
Owen Curtsinger
Jul 02, 2011 Owen Curtsinger rated it liked it
I achingly realized Joe Gould's 'secret' about halfway through the book, and was thereafter in a constant state of pity for him, for Joseph Mitchell, and for many of the various characters swept up in the Oral History. I think he was an interesting and respectable guy, but it made me sad to realize that if he were still around today, he would be brushed off as a destitute panhandler so much more easily now than in the Bohemian scene of the 1940's. It was also fun to read about New York at that t ...more
Katherine
Dec 30, 2015 Katherine rated it liked it
This book is just 186 pages long; about a man born to a wealthier Boston family but he eschews all that to be a bohemian (read bum) on New York City streets as he writes his "Oral History". The writer of this book was a long-time writer for the New Yorker (which is where I heard about it). It's interesting inasmuch as it's a slice of life of a certain segment of the population at a certain point in time. I'll not reveal his secret...
Bedbyas Datta
Sep 10, 2015 Bedbyas Datta rated it really liked it
A haunting read about a dysfunctional person.It makes me want to know more about the bohemian lifestyle although Gould seems to have been an outlier even with respect to that group.Hope to read more of Joseph Mitchell's writing.Mitchell's lucid style helped me stay awake and (more importantly) engaged half the night even when my personal health was ubiquitously tetchy.
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Goodreads Italia: Il segreto di Joe Gould - Joseph Mitchell 1 12 Oct 30, 2013 10:33AM  
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Joseph Mitchell was an American writer who wrote for The New Yorker. He is known for his carefully written portraits of eccentrics and people on the fringes of society, especially in and around New York City.
-Wikipedia
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“I was coughing and sneezing, my eyes were sore, my knees were shaky, I was as hungry as a bitch wolf, and I had exactly eight cents to my name. I didn't care. my history was longer by eleven thousand brand-new words, and at that moment I bet there wasn't a chairman of the board in all New York as happy as I.” 0 likes
“A veces, cuando bromea, la gente ignorante tiene una especie de inspirada temeridad que es de lo más alegre y contagiosa. Le levanta a uno el ánimo.” 0 likes
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