Misty's Reviews > Life Itself

Life Itself by Roger Ebert
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Oct 29, 11

Read from September 29 to October 29, 2011

In his chapter on Studs Terkel, Ebert relates how Studs said this about how Ebert's writing has changed since his cancer, "This -- what you write now -- is a richer one -- a new dimension. It's more than about movies. Yes, it's about movies but there is something added: A REFLECTION on life itself."

And as I type that quote, I'm realizing that that's where the title of the book must come from, and that quote does describe this book so well.

I've long been a big fan of Roger Ebert, but I don't know if I ever realized what a beautiful writer he was. And if Studs is correct, maybe he hasn't always been as good a writer. There are multiple passages in the book that brought tears to my eyes because they were so beautifully and richly written, with such feeling, openness, and insight.

The book is more like a collection of essays on his life and doesn't really tell the sequential story of that life. It's not clear how he became a movie reviewer, for example. He mentions winning a Pulitzer, but we don't know what he won it for. If you are looking for a conventional autobiography, this isn't it. You could pick up this book at any time and read a chapter as a standalone piece.

Instead of the chronological story of his life, we get brief glimpses into the corners of his life and the things that influenced the person he became -- a chapter on his father who died when Roger was young, chapters on London and Venice that probably would rate among the best travel writing, loving portraits of the characters he's encountered in his life including of course Gene Siskel. I say "loving" portraits, because everything in the book is from his unique point of view and written about because they represent something special to him. You won't find a hard hitting examination of the art of criticism here. It really feels like fiction much of the time. Ebert loves Dickens, and there is something Dickensian in the writing for me.

Ironically, the book drags in the middle when he starts talking about movies and has chapters on his favorite actors and directors. Anybody can read most of the book and find something engaging, but in these chapters it's only really engaging if you are interested in the actor or director he's profiling.

Of course he talks about at length what it's like to not be able to speak, eat, drink. By way of this, we get reflections on life, death, religion, fulfillment, and most of all the power of love. The love in his heart for friends and family and his work and the love he shares with his wife Chaz suffuse every page of this book.

I love this book, but also Roger Ebert is a hero of mine. I've long admired his love and passion for movies. He symbolized for me someone who was doing work that he loved. I'd be interested to hear what people who don't love Ebert think.
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