I am reading the BEST book... Joe Gould's Secret.
I fell in love with the story after watching a movie version that came out a few years ago, starring Stanley Tucci (who also produced and directed) and Ian Holm. It was obviously a labor of love for Tucci. It casts a spell. So on Friday, I walked into my library and THERE IT WAS.... right in front of me, this tiny volume on a high shelf, sitting there, waiting for me to see it. I swear it called out to me, because there is no way I would have noticed it, until I was literally standing right under the book and looked up.
The book is the real life true story of Joe Gould, as told by author, Joe Mitchell, who worked for the New Yorker for nearly 30 years. A beautifully simple account of a homeless man, a writer, and the artistic and bohemian society that was Greenwich Village in New York in the 40's and 50's. Just as William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life captured my imagination years ago, weaving it's magic myth of the down and out, this little man's story won't let go of me.
Joe Gould was a writer, larger-than-life personality, and vagabond, a homeless man, who carried bits of his 'great' manuscript with him everywhere, in a greasy pasteboard portfolio, until he found hiding places for those notebooks at strategic points around the city. He did this from the 1920's until 1952, when he fell ill and ended up in a state home where he finally died in 1962. A man described as shy but also as an exhibitionist, Gould would cadge meals or money from a surprisingly diverse group of famous artists around NY, perform outrageous dances at poetry readings, decry the arts at parties and imitated a sea gull on occasion. He wrote a few brilliant articles published in literary magazines, one of which inspired Saroyan, oddly enough. He would quote passages out of his great work, supposedly the longest written history of the world, which he called The Oral History. It was composed of conversations he had had, or overheard with people, just everyday people, those same down and outers so beloved by Saroyan, anyone whom he found interesting. He was loved and loathed, bordered on the insane, and yet still retained an almost mythic status amongst the intelligentsia of the city.
The author, Joe Mitchell, a quiet southern gentleman, became fascinated with Gould, whom he saw all over town, even in the middle of the night, and started taking notes on him in 1942. His writing is easy going, but deceptively so. There is a lot of depth in what he puts in and what he leaves out. The book is constructed of two articles, the original one written in the 40's, and then another postscript written in 1964, in which Mitchell reveals "the secret". It's obvious that Mitchell, like everyone else in Gould's life became disenchanted with the sometimes painfully badly behaved fellow, but the book holds no rancor.
If you are interested in New York, in the arts and the artists colonies of the time, or in human nature this short book is a must. But be careful, there is something magical and sad about this story that will get ahold of you.