Monday, July 1, 2013

Life Itself: A Memoir

By Roger Ebert

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Of the 21 books by Roger Ebert listed on the page before the title page of this book, I have read . . . let’s see . . . exactly zero of them. I watched some "Siskel & Ebert" shows, but it was more likely to be by accident (surfing through the channels) than anything purposeful. I always liked their reviews, however. My point: I went into this book with very little previous information.

Ebert is an excellent writer. The narrative flows smoothly, and his detail is amazing. Also, his stories are captivating and engaging.

Several things that I found particularly outstanding include, first, Ebert’s memory. It wasn’t just the experiences he recounted but the specifics about each event in his life that was phenomenal.

The second thing I found fascinating was how open Ebert was about his life. He really self-discloses, and it is not just appreciated, but it is truly involving. You not only get wonderful glimpses into Ebert’s personal life, but you get a view of all of life during his lifetime. For example, I learned how to set type in junior high school, and Ebert’s recollections about setting words into hot lead on Linotype machines (p. 101) brought back vivid memories of Mr. Yeakle’s printing class. How things have changed!

Third, Ebert makes his chapters (there are 55 of them) just as long as necessary to tell his story. Some tend to be shorter than others (one was just three pages!), but they average about 7 ½ pages each, which is just about perfect.

There is a fourth element, too, that I found amazing. Ebert has led an incredible life. My goodness! It is hard to fathom that any single person could have had all the experiences, met all the people, and completed all the writing he has. That is one thing that makes this book an interesting read: variety!

The fourteen pages of pictures (some black-and-white and some in color) are very good, and I absolutely loved the final one of Roger Ebert at home in his office. His description of all the stuff he has and has collected and treasures (Chapter 27, pages 202-205) was delightful, to say the least.

The chapters covering celebrities Russ Meyer, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorese, Werner Herzog, Bill Nack, and Studs Terkel were worth reading, but I found the other material in the book more interesting. I loved his chapter on Gene Siskel (Chapter 41, pages 312-323).

His problems with alcoholism, involvements in romances, and relationship with Chaz were fascinating and fun reading.

I loved this book. It is, perhaps, more than I ever expected or wanted to know about Roger Ebert, but because he is a great writer and tells engaging stories, he makes this 436-page book worth reading.








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