The Oral History of Our Time…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about several similes relating to the story of Joe Gould…

I had never heard of Joe Gould until I read the fascinating New Yorker article, “Joe Gould’s teeth,” by Jill Lepore.

It turns out that Gould (1889—1957), was an American eccentric, also known as Professor Seagull. Often homeless, he claimed to be the author of the longest book ever written, an Oral History of the Contemporary World, although it is unpublished and doubts remain as to whether it ever existed. His story inspired the book Joe Gould’s Secret by Joseph Mitchell the 2000 film adaptation by the same name.

The friends of Joe Gould included artist Don Freeman, and writers e.e. cummings, Malcolm Cowley, William Saroyan and William Carlos Williams.

Jill Lepore’s story is both sad and beautifully written. Here are two of the similes I appreciated most:

For a long time, Joe Gould thought he was going blind. This was before he lost his teeth, and years before he lost the history of the world he’d been writing in hundreds of dime-store composition notebooks, their black covers mottled like the pelt of a speckled goat, their white pages lined with thin blue veins.

and, later…

He called it “The Oral History of Our Time.” (The title, with its ocular “O”s, looks very much like a pair of spectacles.)

The story of Joe Gould intrigues me. I’d like to learn more about this interesting, intriguing man who Lepore speculates may have had hypergraphia. I think I’m going to have to watch the movie and read the book Joe Gould’s Secret.