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Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life. Michael Greenberg

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  181 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Michael Greenberg regales us with his wry and vivid take on the life of a writer of little means trying to practise his craft or simply stay alive. He finds himself doctoring doomed movie scripts, selling cosmetics from an ironing board in front of a women's department store, and botching his debut as a waiter in a posh restaurant.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Bloomsbury UK (first published January 1st 2009)
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Kressel Housman
I heard the author of this book on a radio interview while reading The Well-Fed Writer, which sort of reads like a get-rich-quick book for writers. Then along comes this guy who says that if you want to be a writer, you're not going to be "well-fed," so be prepared to beg, borrow and steal. I appreciated his gritty honesty, so I ordered the book from my library.

Well, I have no doubt that the author depicted the writing life as it is, but the book was just a bit too gritty for me. The poverty may
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Sarah
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stand alone essays that are loosely about writing, as they're about the life of the writer, which is always strange and interesting.
AGMaynard
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More than 40 mini-essays about the writing life, the "begging, borrowing and stealing" that a memoirist does, and the hand-to-mouth existence that some endure while they try to make it. Also autobiographical pieces about parents, children, etc.
Katie
Jan 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read a proof I picked up at a book show, so I can't say for sure if it's identical to the finished product. Other Press' booth was right next to my (now former) employer's, and I saw the author there, looking rather dour as he did a signing. Of course, it IS the Javits Center. I was probably looking pretty dour myself.

At any rate, I wobble between 2 and 3 stars, and have settled on 3 because come on, free book, and also because two stars I think implies a more committed dislike than the vaguer
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Cheryl
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
With so many various memoirs currently in the book market, it can be hard to choice which ones to read. Admit it, unless the book focuses on someone you are familiar with or are a fan of memoirs than you could care less about a person’s life story. I am in the latter. As a book reviewer, I have had the pleasure of being exposed to several memoirs. The latest is Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life by Michael Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg is the author of the previous novel Hurry Down Sunshine as well ...more
Anita Kelley Harris
From the title of this book. I thought it was full of essays about a starving writer doing whatever he had to do to survive. Rather, it is a collection of rather random essays, about everything from the Slave Burial ground that contractors dug up in New York City while building a skyscraper("Negroes' Burial Ground"), to the author's mother's heart attack ("Cardiac Arrest"). The title essay is actually about how authors steal other peoples' stories and write about them, such as the author himself ...more
Antonia Crane
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Greenberg's book has some terrific moments and they're not the moments I expected remember, the sordid times he reflected on as a struggling writer moving black market cosmetics under a bridge-which were really great. The scenes that left a mark were more complex: the emotional imprint his father left described as "accumulated rancor" because his father believed Greenberg's writerly pursuits were self-destructive and pretenious. Also moving were the moments Greenberg made difficult, inconvenient ...more
Alyce (At Home With Books)
Although highly entertaining, Beg, Borrow, Steal is not a humor book by any means. I was impressed by Michael Greenberg's economy of words - each small story carried the punch of a well developed theme within a few short pages.

As evident in his stories, Michael Greenberg has seen many places and known a lot of people. Spurred on by his desire to observe humanity, he worked jobs that most of us would rather avoid (a waiter, street vendor and court translator among others). Some of the highlights
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Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
Unremittingly, percussively superficial. Page after page, over and over and over, Greenberg doesn't notice, or doesn't care, that he doesn't see anything deeper in his subjects. He is a journalist in the worst sense of that word: he sees little themes, follows them a little way, and that's enough. [return][return]There is a chapter about a book he wrote about his daughter's "manic breakdown." It's about his family's reaction to the manuscript. He shows it to one person, who sounds "strained," an ...more
Jodi
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book. It was assigned for a writing workshop and the title seemed promising. The title is where the promise ends.

Each chapter was basically a sketch of a time, a place or a person that the author once knew. It felt like there wasn't enough distance between the narrator and the stories so the entire book seems self-aggrandizing. His manner of jumping from subject to subject and place to place keeps you, the reader, from getting to truly know or understand anything about the
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Helen Gallagher
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers and those interested in memoir technique.
A writer’s life is never as easy as it looks on a dust jacket – no 20 world blurb of polished prose to suggest the effortless flow of words as they land on the page.

The truth is conveyed in the hard-earned prose of Michael Greenberg, a writer of little means, who took on whatever jobs needed to keep writing. And that’s the secret here: not just telling stories, but living through them, even if it means inquiring into the life of a transgender dinner guest, with notepad in hand. He does so becaus
...more
Steve
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book like this is hard not to like because it is a bathroom-type book that can be opened anywhere, read in any order, and enjoyed simply for the three page snippet therein. It requires little devotion or loyalty, and exists for the pure need to read something thoughtful but not necessarily mind-blowing. Not quite fast-food for the brain, but more like Sudoku; good brain exercise without lingering side effects.

Author Michael Greenberg's cold-blooded love song to New York City is reflective whil
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Anthony
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I thought I purchased was a book about a writer's life struggling to make a living, and struggling to make it in the business. What I read, to my pleasant surprise, was a book comprised of forty-four short stories about the writer's life, the different people he has come across in his life, the different jobs he has had, the different places he has lived. Although not every story had me at the edge of my seat, Greenberg's writing had me turning pages at a quick pace anyway. I am usually dis ...more
Brian
Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it's the way I read, but it seems when I read books faster they're more interesting.

Funny thing is this is another book by another Jewish Dad, so there are curious parallels with Lessons for Dylan - in particular the lobster shift.

One of the chapters on New York rats was fascinating -- early in the book, but the good stuff is reserved for the end. Not that I remember it that well, I'm tired enough I can't remember much other than I liked it a lot. The chapters are all pretty bite-sized, so
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Elizabeth
Mar 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed whipping through these slices of the NYC I used to know - and his immigrant Jewish lower-east-side family mini-histories. There are some repeats from his memoir and at times I even feel uncomforable with the details of his assesment of his immediate famiy (daughter, wife, ex-wife) - perhaps too much information. I agree w/ another reviewer her on his economy of words - good clean prose that packs some punches (love the one on the rejection by one of his esteemed editor/writers).

I'd onl
...more
Zoe Kipping
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Greenberg's memoir reads like a series of connected stories about the alternately colorful and grim working class conditions of being a struggling artist in New York City. His prose is brilliant, reminiscent of Germany's literary darling, the tragically late W.G. Sebald,, particularly in his piece on an encounter with a Holocaust survivor and their palimpsest experience around traumatic memory. Purchased on a whim for $1.00 on Border's last day of business, I hit a jackpot and I plan on ...more
DilanAc
Despite the subtitle, this is not really a book about writing. There is almost nothing about process or craft in this book. Instead, what Mr. Greenberg gives us are vignettes about his life with family and friends. They were interesting to me especially the ones about New York back in the day but not the intimate glimpse into the process of writing that I crave. In fact, most of the sections, especially in the first half of the book, were much more about how to make money.
Linnea
I was torn about the rating on this one--I wanted to give it 2.5 stars. I was interested enough to keep reading it because there were a lot of compelling images of life in New York, in particular, but the short essay format and the author's style left me feeling disconnected from him and from the people he wrote about. I felt like I was piecing together bits and pieces to figure out why he sounded emotionally stunted. Maybe I should have read his full-length memoir first?
Iva
Oct 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Greenberg never goes far from NYC and that serves the reader well. All the material in these short essays is influenced by living, observing and analyzing both his own family and his present life there.
These highly readable and thoughtful pieces were commissioned by the Times Literary Supplement. There is a lot about becoming a writer and a lot of wisdom. Excellent writing.
Tony Viardo
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is such a pleasure to read, Michael Greenberg can be writing about making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and it would be both entertaining and fascinating. It's what he does so well here with his collection of anecdotes about the City that Never Sleeps, what a fun, wonderful way to experience New York, and be entertained by a fantastic writer
John
Dec 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is a writer, and these are stories from his life, but not all of them are stories about "the writing life" (as such). Greenberg presents us with a memoir in essay format, which I read as my carry-around book (restaurant lunches, etc.), a few small chapters per day. An impulse loan off the New Books shelf that worked out well.
Kathleen
Most books of short stories are a mixed bag. Thisonetakes place in NYC by a Jewish baby boomer. His father wonders if he will ever amount to anything and why doesn't he join the family business. Some days, Michael wonders the very same thing. He marries twice, becomes a father at 21, struggles for recognition, and after being published wonders what number his book is on the Amazon list.
Catherine
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful prose. These essays read like thoughtful/wry New Yorker "Talk of the Town" pieces—great bite-size vignettes of a life spent doing wildly interesting (and wildly mundane) things in and around NYC. Beautiful blend of personal anecdotes with New York City arcana.
Meagan
Oct 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some interesting tidbits and a great narrative voice. But, tidbits is the key word because these are just snippets from the author's life, not fleshed out or even fully figured out memories. Some really shine, but most are underwhelming.
Satia
Sep 24, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, writing
As much as I appreciated his previous memoir, I had high hopes for this one. There was only one chapter that touched upon the ethical issues of writing memoir. For more:

http://satia.blogspot.com/2009/11/beg...
Carol Kowalski
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
I read this memoir on the strength of NY Times Book Review, and had high hopes. It was hard to keep rooting for this author, who didn't learn from past experience, and only seemed to run in place.
Rosalind Reisner
Sep 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great collection of short, zingy personal essays originally written by Greenberg for the Times Literary Supplement.
Tracy Smith
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting vignettes. Quick read.
Hanje Richards
Some of the essays were excellent. Most were okay. I was not hugely moved by this book but 1) it has an awesome cover and 2) it has an interesting format.
Amy Gray
Sep 06, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A annoying read, if only because the writer (central character of each story) is so infuriatingly unlikeable and awkward.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

A native New Yorker, Michael Greenberg is a columnist for the Times Literary Supplement (London), where his wide-ranging essays have been appearing since 2003. His fiction, criticism and travel pieces have been published in such disparate places as O Magazine, Bomb, The Village Voice, and the Boston Review.

His
...more
More about Michael Greenberg...
“Plato believed that insanity was essential to our nature and assumed that it held esoteric knowledge about who we are.” 2 likes
“I rehearsed Foucault's argument that the presence of madness on our doorstep is good for us, for it reminds us the life we live is only one among several human possibilities.” 0 likes
More quotes…