One of the greatest recurring pleasures of my life is discovering a writer or performer who’s been around forever, but of whom I’ve never heard. I’m not shy to admit my ignorance; it’s a big world out there.
My unabashed willingness to admit an ignorance stems from a remark my father made when I arrived home from my first three months at college, smug in the belief that I’d picked up reams of life experience equaling and probably surpassing that of my parents. I don’t recall his specific reference, but Dad’s response, not meant unkindly, was, “It’s amazing how much you don’t know.”
I remember glaring at him, thinking but not daring to say, “Wow! If only you knew what I know now that you don’t suspect I know!”
I was knocked down a few pegs, and have lived the rest of my life in the spirit of acknowledging that I don’t know something or haven’t heard of someone. But I always follow up. I see that wagging finger of Sister Mary Robert in sixth-grade parochial school advising her pupils, “Always maintain an intellectual curiosity.”
It is in that very spirit this week that I’ve entered the world of Joseph Mitchell. “Ever read Joseph Mitchell?” a friend had asked.
“Nope, never heard of him. “
“Oh, you should. He wrote for the New Yorker years ago. I think you’d like his writing.”
I went on to inquire of another Susan who is possibly my most well read friend, “Do you know the writing of Joseph Mitchell?”
“Joe Mitchell? Of course! I love Joe Mitchell.” I had already bought one book on the first friend’s recommendation, not liking it as much as I thought I should.