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Lessons in Becoming Myself

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  576 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
In this powerful story of a woman's search for a deeper understanding of herself, Ellen Burstyn explores the unexpected paths her life has taken in this unflinchingly honest, moving, and inspirational memoir.

Ellen Burstyn has always defied expectations. Born in Detroit during the Depression, she left home at eighteen, leaving behind a complicated relationship with her mo
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published October 24th 2006 by Riverhead Hardcover
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Sep 02, 2007 Erin rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an open mind that can appreciate the life lessons of another
This book was fantastic. I admire Ellen to be able to retell the life she has lived with such detail and candor. She really opened up with deeply personal issues and situations for all the world to read. She is just a regular person, trying to live her life like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, she is able to reflect on her life realizing the spirituality in every moment, good and bad. In her writing, you can tell how discerning she was throughout her life. It seems very rare to come acros ...more
Mar 17, 2017 Alisha rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Barbara Backus
May 22, 2016 Barbara Backus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The public knows Ellen Burstyn as an accomplished actor. What I discovered in reading this exceptional memoir is that she is also an accomplished writer. Without a ghostwriter, using only the diaries, letters, notes and memories she's kept for eighty years, she has put together the story not only of her day-to-day experiences but most importantly of her search for finding her true inward self.

This is the story of her spiritual journey told honestly and without self-pity. It begins with the her c
Dec 12, 2007 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were parts of this memoir that I really enjoyed but overall there was a lot of detail about the plays and movies in which she acted in which I just wasn't interested. The book is heavy on her spiritual journey which I found interesting and from which I took away a few key ideas but it did have a tendency to be a little bit more "out there" than I could relate to in parts. My biggest issue was her description of how self-sabotaging she was and non-self-promoting when in fact each time she t ...more
Aug 04, 2007 Jess rated it it was amazing
I didn't know what to expect from this book since I usually avoid autobiographies. I saw Ellen on Oprah while flipping channels and once I started listening, I found her highly intelligent and self-aware, so I got the book. Reading through it was an eye-opening experience. To see what Ellen went through, to see what she survived, created a strong female influence. She went through emotional, physical, professional hardships and aches. I think her story has someone everyone can relate to. If not ...more
Pam Williams
Jan 22, 2017 Pam Williams rated it liked it
I enjoyed this memoir about Ellen Burstyn's life and search for enlightenment. The manner in which she faced her fears was inspirational. I enjoyed the love and humor that came through in her story.
May 26, 2017 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I wavered between 3 and 4 stars, but chose the higher number because I found Ellen Burstyn's narration so compelling. She has lived a life full of intrigue, horror, magical moments, and creativity. I liked that she spent a lot of time on her spiritual journey within this book, but the most shocking moments described her time with her schizophrenic husband. I felt genuine fear for her during those events.

The audiobook is certainly worth listening to. I enjoy her voice - never bored, always engag
Mar 08, 2017 Lauren rated it it was amazing
After it was recommended to me, I started reading due to my appreciation for the actress Ellen. I did not realize how spiritual a book it was, addressing many life's questions in straight language. The rhythm of the book was a little choppy at times but the vocabulary gave me a chance to grow.
Sheri Loftin
Feb 25, 2016 Sheri Loftin rated it really liked it
This book started out rough. It took me a while to get used to her speech and especially her descriptions as they felt abbreviated to me. And, of course, the early life in biographies seems to always be difficult to hear; maybe rough childhoods lead to interesting lives?
But, as I read on I felt more engaged and while it was difficult to identify with her situations, I could empathize. She has a way of getting to the heart of things quickly and spending very little time on the fluff that we all
Sep 02, 2007 Jenny rated it it was ok
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn to this book because of the title. I am always trying to find out who I really am.

Ellen Burstyn managed to write her life's work in 452 pages. That's no small feat.

Most of the book is deliciously interesting. I wasn't able to put it down. However several chapters were bone dry. They seems to chatter on about religious epiphanies and such. I just wanted to skim, quickly.

Nobody can fault her for putting her point of view down on paper, and everyth
Jul 01, 2008 Caryn rated it it was amazing
I saw her appear on a late-night re-run of Oprah promoting the book. For some reason I was very drawn to her, even though I've only seen a handful of movies she was in. But she presented herself well both on TV and in the book. She has quite the amazing memory. It's a long book, but never dull. I've since rented a lot of her movies and she truly is a talented actress. What I enjoyed most was her depiction of her spiritual journey in Sufism; visiting various temples, going up mountains for spirit ...more
Vali Heist
Sep 08, 2016 Vali Heist rated it it was amazing
I am in awe of this book. Officially on my list of my favorite top five.
Jan 01, 2009 Kirsten rated it really liked it
I love Ellen Burstyn's acting work, and this autobiography made me appreciate her even more. The first few chapters are written in present tense, which I thought was a great device for making her early experiences really pop and underscoring their importance in her later development. There is a lot of hardship to get through, but along the way you get the backstory on her stage and film work, and lots of tales of lumnaries of the acting world and the Actor's Studio. I enjoyed the book more for t ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Marni rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir-biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dale Stonehouse
Dec 31, 2012 Dale Stonehouse rated it really liked it
This was on my list for a long time, primarily because Burstyn struck a friendship with Buckminster Fuller, and to a lesser extent, Carlos Castaneda. Among the running themes of her life were mother issues, sexual abuse, feminist awakening, a few addictions here and there, and of course the accompanying search so many of us are primed for by those experiences. She talks about struggling with judgment, another type of reaching for control. But control is a tough one because how can one give up wh ...more
Jul 25, 2015 Sull rated it liked it
Recommended to Sull by: Used book sale
OK, this autobiog was an interesting read, though I had grave doubts about it to start with. An actor searching for herself, hmmm.... But in the end, most of it--even the Sufi religious element--was intriguing enough to keep me reading. Ellen Burstyn was/is a dogged intellectual, which puts this memoir at least one notch above the usual Hollywood reminiscence.

She did learn some useful lessons about herself, mostly concerning men and career, and had some hair-raising adventures along the way. It
Wren Andre
Nov 08, 2011 Wren Andre rated it it was amazing
Loved it! I took away a lot from this book. It is not your typical "celebrity" memoir. It is brutally honest about a person's inner journey combined with their outer one. There were some surprising and shocking moments, and interesting revelations. For those who have an open mind, are inner seekers, and also like to hear trivia regarding a couple of the biggest classic films of the seventies (Exorcist, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), you will find this book compelling and difficult to put down ...more
Denise Ervin
Jul 23, 2013 Denise Ervin rated it really liked it
I learned a great many things reading this autobiography. One is that Ms. Burstyn is from Detroit and a fellow alum of Cass Technical High School. Two is that she has had a long and storied career as an actress. Three is that her troubled personal life has led her on a profound spiritual journey down the path of Sufism, a mystic form of Islam that fascinates me. Her life story, aside from having one of the most intriguing titles to date, is a inspirational piece that will leave the reader feelin ...more
Jan 08, 2008 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-read
This book surprised me. I thought I would get a typical actor's biography that focused mostly on movie roles and naming names. Instead she puts all her cards on the table from her mom's abuse to her husband's mental illness. She takes you on her spiritual journey as well which is something I rarely hear about from actors in their interviews. Burstyn is a survivor. Her acting is part of the story but it is only a fragment of all of the other experiences that have shaped who she is as a human bein ...more
May 22, 2009 Katherine rated it it was ok
I hate to give this book a low rating because it was a gift from wonderful Alexis. Ellen Burstyn is, indeed, a cool lady who has many stories to share about a terrible childhood and her experiences in Hollywood during a fantastic period in film. I struggled to feel interested in her spiritual journey, however; these sections of the book were either boring or uncomfortable. As the title suggests, this journey is the main focus of the work and so to have it be less than compelling is truly unfortu ...more
Nov 04, 2009 Kyle rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this memoir, because I think Burstyn is one of the greatest actresses ever. She had many horrible events occur in her personal life, which she bravely opens up about. It was neat to hear all of the behind the scenes tidbits from a lot of the movies that she worked on like The Exorcist, Requiem for a Dream, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She has a deeply spiritual side which comes out through much of her writing as she seeks "truth." Recommended for fans of movies, autobiog ...more
Nov 19, 2009 Rachel rated it it was amazing
I have been giving 5 starts to all the actress autobiographies I have read so far. That's because all the ones I have read have just been incredible. I would have to say this one, though is by and far the best because Ellen Burstyn opens up about some deeply personal things that few women dare share. I was so moved. I actually first listened to this as an audiobook but loved it so much I bought a print copy and read it and then sent a copy to a friend, who also really enjoyed it.
Sep 26, 2011 Tess rated it it was amazing
After watching Ellen Burstyn in many films, I decided to read her story. What a fascinating life she has led. I found myself intrigued by her past and fell in love with her sense of self and acceptance of her childhood. This book was hard to put down and left me wanting to delve more into my spiritual side to find out my purpose in life. I highly recommend this book for anyone who questions their past and wants to move on with their life.
Dec 17, 2008 AuthorsOnTourLive! rated it it was amazing
In this powerful story of a woman's search for a deeper understanding of herself, Ellen Burstyn explores the unexpected paths her life has taken in this unflinchingly honest, moving and inspirational memoir. For this podcast, Burstyn is interviewed by television critic-at-large and author, Greg Moody.

We met Ellen Burstyn when she visited the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. You can listen to her talk about Lessons in Becoming Myself here:
Apr 11, 2007 Tonya rated it really liked it
This is one of the best actor's biographies I've read. Burstyn has an amazing journey from childhood abuse to being under the thumb of the men in her life to her search for spirituality and meaning in her life. My only quibble is that more time is spent on the beginning and middle years than her later life, but that's small when I consider what she was willing to share.
Mario Saverino
Aug 04, 2016 Mario Saverino rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. I loved all of it until the very ending. But it was worth the read. It's long and at times winded and at times she goes on and on and on. But she had a very hard and amazing life which I kind of feel she created for her self. Now I need to caught up on all her movies I've never seen. Thanks for the good read.
Jan 29, 2014 Kira rated it it was amazing
An invitation to view a full, well lived life. I enjoyed Ms. Burstyn's memoir greatly. I am in awe of how one person can experience such hardships can still push forward in pursuit of dreams. This memoir taught me that our experiences don't have to crush our spirit, yet it can be used as a catalyst to teach us great lessons about lives and ourselves. I re read this book often.
Jan 17, 2015 Florence rated it it was ok
I found the early years of Ellen's life (when she was still Edna) to be fascinating. She had a difficult home situation to overcome and she was determined to do so. Later, after she became a famous actress, as she focused on soul searching and exotic religions, I became less interested. I was disappointed that she didn't tell us more about her experiences in theatre and film.
Jun 14, 2008 Dawn rated it it was amazing
WOW! I really enjoyed this book. So much so- I took notes. I saw her on Oprah and could tell she had some good stories to tell. The beginning is giving you her history/background so you see where she comes from. And then she gets into the knitty gritty. She really opens up and shares her wisdom with you. Very poignant. I highly recommend.
Feb 08, 2008 Bryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-favs
I read this book from cover to cover in 2 nights ! It is truly an actors manual and speaks to us on many levels. Her honest and vivid words create a colorful and interesting story that is fun to follow. I read it on the subway to work once a month to help get me back in touch with myself. Go on Miss Burstyn !
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“Bob had a great voice and was an expert horseman, which I found very sexy. But that wasn’t the real reason I was attracted to him. The real reason was that he was trouble. He had been brought up in an orphanage, was emotionally unstable, drank way too much, and was self-destructive. It’s a gift. Some people have perfect pitch or photographic memories. Me? You could put me in a roomful of handsome, healthy guys, blindfold me, turn me around three times, and I would walk directly to the one guy in the room who was trouble and lay my head in the guillotine of his lap, smiling all the while like I’d finally come come.” 0 likes
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