Jo's Reviews > Life Itself

Life Itself by Roger Ebert
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May 23, 12

bookshelves: biography-memoir
Read in April, 2012

I listened to “Life Itself” by Roger Ebert as an audio book, read by Edward Hermann (due to Ebert's recent health problems he has lost the ability to speak, as well as eat, and cannot read his own work). Hermann did an excellent job.

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the book. I knew about the blog Ebert now writes since he can no longer talk, which I found through his twitter feed, and I read it occasionally. I knew he could write beautifully. I had expected “Life Itself” to be more of an autobiography—which it is, but it’s also more, and less. It is less a continuous story than a collection of blog entries, essays, articles about people important to him and some chapters written specifically for this book. As such, the book is a bit choppy, and there quite a bit of repetition. On the other hand, the chapters never failed to interest me.

Ebert is very open and honest when telling us stories about his life. He does not try to soften anything in his look back. When he lost his ability to speak, he discovered that he was granted amazing access to memories from his early life and he is unsparing of himself as he lets us into his private life, from growing up in Urbana, IL and attending catholic schools, attending the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, his edgy relationship with his mother, his short career as a sports journalist, his alcoholism, life as a film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, a sometimes adversarial relationship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, a later in life marriage to the love of his life, Chaz, and his struggles to deal with and live past the cancer which stole his ability to eat and to speak. He is a gifted writer. I replayed (& no doubt would have re-read) many parts that were beautifully written.

It was odd to me that he described his life as being one to which things happened to (good and bad), by which he cast himself in a more passive light than most would be willing to do. Despite his description of himself as someone whose life fell into his lap, I am left with the impression of a man with an incredibly full life, full of positive spirit, who is unafraid at looking at his past with an unsparingly honest eye.

The book is also loaded with anecdotes about the people he's come in contact with as a journalist and film critic. He includes interviews with John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Mitchum, Russ Meyer, Werner Herzog, Bill Nack, and Martin Scorsese. I was fascinated by the mentions of such luminaries Chicago life such as Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and Father Andrew Greeley as I’ve read (& loved) books by each of them.

All in all, despite the choppiness, and the repetition somewhat inherent in rewriting a blog into a memoir, I very much enjoyed this book to the point where I’d like to look for other books he’s written.
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