Teaser Tuesdays: Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.


This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Please pardon the double-teaser. I couldn’t choose.

First and more complicatedly, Lepore quotes her subject, Joe Gould, in a letter to Ezra Pound in 1930. Gould is known (among other things) for being supposedly at work on a massive “Oral History of Our Time.” The parenthetical is hers.

joe gould's teeth

“Of course, I am a book-reviewer not a critic. That, I fear, is a distinction. It seems marvelous how many critics there are. And the blathering pother they make… Here is something cheerful to think about. To some extent the radio will supersede printing. That is good. There will be fewer books.” (The Oral History, he once explained, would include a discussion of this transformation: “I intend to write a series of chapters on the various means of communication, from oxcarts to airplanes.”)

I really wanted to share the oxcarts-to-airplanes concept because I thought it was delightful. But of course I couldn’t help going up a bit to see the book-reviewer-vs.-critic question, too! And as a bonus: people have been predicting the death of the printed book since way before e-readers. (Spoiler: Joe Gould died in an insane asylum.)

I was also struck by Lepore’s observation, below.

It has taken me a very long time, my whole life, to learn that the asymmetry of the historical record isn’t always a consequence of people being silenced against their will. Some people don’t want to be remembered, or heard, or saved. They want to be left alone.

Compared to the tone of the first teaser I chose, this second is more sober, and sobering. It’s an interesting concept for a historian to keep in mind – for the purposes of research strategies, but possibly ethics as well.

Check out Joe Gould’s Teeth. It’s outstanding.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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