Book Review: Up in an Old Hotel – Joseph Mitchell

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

In 1929, a 21 year-old farmer’s son from Fairmont, NC moved to New York City to try his hand at journalism. He ended up documenting the extraordinary lives of ordinary people – bartenders, street preachers, gypsies, and bums – with such honesty and interest that they seem like old friends. Mitchell may have been one of the first reporters to profile non-famous people; he certainly remains one of the best. One of the best things about his writing is the sense you get that he genuinely likes the people he interviews, and – what’s more – he just genuinely likes people. The age of the essays (ranging from the 1930s to the 1950s) provides a nice glimpse into how much times have changed, and how much human nature hasn’t. In an increasingly polarized and suspicious world, Mitchell’s enthusiasm for his fellow cranks is infectious; you may come away from this book liking your neighbors a little better, or at least better able to empathize with their quirks.

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