Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


Episode 118: Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould’s Secret

This week’s book is made up of two long New Yorker profiles Joseph Mitchell wrote about Joe Gould, a writer and poet and all-around bohemian raconteur in 1930s Greenwich Village. The first piece, “Professor Seagull,” was published in 1942, while the second, “Joe Gould’s Secret,” came out some 20 years later. The latter was substantially longer, and covered Mitchell’s ongoing relationship with Gould in the years since the first New Yorker profile, during which he grew increasingly annoyed with him and began to suspect that the book he’d supposedly been working on for years, which Gould referred to as The Oral History, did not, in fact, exist.


We debate the relative ethics of the writer-subject relationship, and whether Mitchell was fair in his portrayal of Gould, a man who clearly suffered from mental illness. We also talk about Mitchell’s famous writer’s block: the second Gould profile was, as far as anyone can tell, the last substantial piece of writing he ever did, though he went on working at The New Yorker for years.

We’ve also got some South Philly News this week, about an aggrieved mom and a hipster coffee shop and the surveillance video that will determine who’s telling the truth about what happened between a barista, a little girl, and a noisy cell phone game. Intrigue!

As always, you can stream the episode right here on the site, or download the mp3 file. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!


Download Episode 118 (right-click, save-as)