Saturday, January 06, 2007

Over Rated / Under Rated: Burroughs Vs. Mitchell

I admit I am totally stealing this idea from a magazine I read a few years back. I want to say it was the Utne Reader, but I am not too sure. Every so often they'd look at what was popular at that time and what is going unnoticed. Since I don't have any other ideas I figure it wouldn't hurt to do a few of my own from time to time. For the first I am looking at non-fiction writers.

Over Rated: Augusten Burroughs
This guy is the big man on campus right now. On top of the best seller list for an infinite number of life times this guy got rich telling all about his struggles with alcoholism and growing up in a wacko Doc's house. The premise sounded promising and potentially quite an amusing and touching book. I bought it with much glee just to give up on it with about 30 pages left to read when I realized I just didn't care what happened and I didn't believe a word the guy was saying. Having grown up on fantasy and sci-fi novels I have no problem dispelling disbelief if it's well done. This book doesn't cut it at all. For a book that is supposed to be about his life I am not sure if I believe he's telling the truth. More than likely he is, but I still find it hard to believe. They just finished making a movie based off the book. I'll probably go see it and be amused, but not too overwhelmed by it. Snakes on A Plane is a much more convincing premise.

Under Raterd: Joseph Mitchell
He had brief re-emergence of fame in the late nineties thanks to Stanley Tucci making a movie based on Joe Gould's Secret. Mitchell was a boring average everday guy. He didn't have a wacky life of misadventures. He wasn't a drunk or a social misfit (other than being a southerner in New York and extremely self-conscious). Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker ignoring the big news stories of the day to write about common characters, bums, rejects, street preachers, strippers, etc. because those are the stories worth hearing. He visited dive bars and cheap flop houses hoping to meet someone who was worth writing about. That's where he met Joe Gould an eccentric who came from a family of means who wandered the streets of New York looking for people to listen to in order to add their stories to his "Oral History Of The World". A book claimed to be ten times as long as the Bible. Mitchell wrote a profile of him for the new yorker which is part one of Joe Gould's Secret. The second part was written several decades later going into a more detailed account of their friendship. It is a strange book, but it is so believeable. It is a shame that Mitchell is forgotten. His writings have the truthfulness and honesty that is lacking in a lot of modern literature. No matter how strange or honest a subject is if you don't have the qualities Mitchell had all you are writing is a forgettable little story.

Pic of Joe Gould the eccentric. I also highly recommend: My Ears Are Bent & Mcsorely's Wonderful Saloon.

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posted by Out Of Jersey | 1:22 PM


Blogger Too_Lively said...

I admit, as much as I enjoyed Running W/Scissors, I often doubted just how true it all was. I have little doubt that it was based on real events in Burrough's life, but I think he may have exaggerated a bit (probably a lot).

I don't know, maybe the people in Burrough's childhood were just too different from anyone I've ever known for me to believe in them.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Too_Lively said...

BTW, Nick Nolte would be perfect to play Joe Gould in a movie!

1:22 PM  
Blogger Dan Morehead said...

Interesting idea...wherever it came from.

2:42 PM  
Blogger jasdye said...

maybe nostradamus can play gould.

good idea, btw. i don't trust burroughs. something about him rubs me the wrong way.

3:30 PM  
Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

I never noticed how much gould and nostradamus looked alike. Funny stuff. Yeah, he rubs me the wrong way too.

11:55 AM  

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