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Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life Hardcover – September 8, 2009
April's Book with Buzz
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"The short pieces in Beg, Borrow, Steal are in the tradition of the literary-journalistic essays that Europeans call feuilletons. Although flexible, this form requires skill and concision, and Michael Greenberg uses it brilliantly. Personal experience is at the center of each piece, but none is solipsistic; the tone is understated and ironic, and every essay contains a hard-won glimmer of insight… Greenberg is a poet of New York, evoking in these fleeting pieces the city in all its scuffed and squalid grandeur."—Juliet Wittman, The Washington Post
"[A] terrific new collection…. It is as though Bellow or Alfred Kazin were transported to post-millennial New York, bringing their toughness and romanticism to bear on our softer and more familiar world…. This book, with its intrepidity, humor, and dark insight, offers its own, irrefutable justification for the 'writer's life.'"—Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“Binding together this episodic autobiography is the series of marginal jobs—mover, Bronx street vender, author of voice-over narration (“Golf. Simple. Majestic. Timeless”)—with which Greenberg supported his literary career….The real attraction, however, is…the everyday texture of metropolitan life, which Greenberg captures with diaristic immediacy.”—The New Yorker
“Beg, Borrow, Steal is a delightful journey through a well-lived life in New York City. The 44 chapters-once-columns stand alone and yet, pulled together, flow like a river of many surprises…The more I read of Greenberg's life, the more I wanted to keep reading. The chapters are short, up to 5 pages each, and loud with wit, wisdom and irony. Many are simply perfect.”—Kassie Rose, WOSU Radio
“Darkly comic…Most of Greenberg's tales are set in New York City, where he is often an endearingly hapless companion… [His] gifts as a storyteller—his spare style, shrewd use of detail, easy way with unpredictable references…lack of sentimentality, and sense of the surreal in the ordinary—are evident throughout the book, whether recounting adventures in South America, or observing a New York City street scene.”—The New York Review of Books
“[Beg, Borrow, Steal] amounts to a history of a man from nowhere determined to be, and continuing to be, a writer no matter what….Greenberg’s unsparing, ferric style of truth telling [is] direct, unbuffered, sharp-edged….He was variously a peddler of cosmetics and fire alarms, cab driver and chauffeur, Spanish teacher and court interpreter, furniture mover, bookstore clerk, mail sorter, waiter, and hack writer, all pursuits providing subjects for these essays in which the quotidian is illuminated and refracted through a cool, audacious eye.”—Boston Globe
“Interesting, forthright, and funny... In these finely turned columns, Greenberg’s candid, disarming voice reveals a honed sense of irony gained over a lifetime spent befriending the oddballs, con men, and hard luck types who comprise a significant segment of New York City…This is a rewarding encounter with an engaging, unusual literary sensibility.”—Jewish Book World
"Greenberg's book is an important reminder to writers that they don't need to write 'important' stories, but rather, they need to give each story importance."—Carol Hoening, The Huffington Post
“Beg, Borrow, Steal is a series of reflections on the hardships, delights, and moral dilemmas one encounters when trying to get through life primarily by means of stringing words together. As a stylist…Greenberg is at the top of his form… He has the rare ability to say exactly what he needs to say in order to make the story work and, at the same time, to give his sentences a felicitous rhythm that doesn’t call attention to itself.”—The New Criterion
"Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life will become a bestseller today and a classic inspiration tomorrow. Just as people carried Kerouac and Bellow in their back pocket, Greenberg's conversational tone stays with you, and you want to read his essays again and again….We hope by now, with thousands of Hurry Down Sunshine fans ready to read Beg, Borrow, Steal, that Greenberg will be motivated to keep observing, writing, and counting us among his grateful audience."—Blogcritics.org
"Quietly elegant, effortless, valuable, and perfectly crafted, like gems or teardrops…[Greenberg writes] the way Chagall would make a stained-glass window, using familiar materials and skills to create something delicate and undeniable and new."—Bookslut.com
"[Greenberg] creates poignant subtexts involving fundamental human values and emotions like love, desire, honesty and malice…skillfully explores issues that range from the profoundly tragic to the delightfully funny."—Kirkus Reviews
"In these 45 thoughtfully crafted short essays written for London's Times Literary Supplement from 2003 to 2009, Greenberg (Hurry Down Sunshine) touches on his decades of trying to make good as a writer in New York City...These are graceful ponderings by a deeply sympathetic soul, a consummate New Yorker and terrific writer."—Publishers Weekly
“Greenberg’s [Times Literary Supplement] editor gave him simple instructions: for each piece, spill a drop of blood, give it a sense of urgency….Greenberg skillfully meets his editor’s requirements and seems to have carefully and artfully selected words and constructed sentences for maximum impact….His narratives, which mostly take place in New York City, include an entertaining cast of characters and span from his youth in the 1970s through marriage and raising his own children to the near present day, with the underlying theme of a writer eking out a living by any means possible and, in turn, living a full life.”—Library Journal
"Beg, Borrow, Steal is a writing memoir that belongs in the company of like classics such as Grace Paley's Just as I Thought, Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction, William Gass's Fiction and the Figures of Life, and Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings…What is often thought of as an intangible, cerebral activity—writing—is made palpable in this book."—ForeWord Magazine
"Greenberg's descriptions of his encounters with mentors, his dealings with the movie world and his endless family dramas are rendered with biting humor and insight. The unflinching stories are so well written, readers will wince."—Florida Times-Union
Read a Q&A with Michael Greenberg, author of Beg, Borrow, Steal [PDF].
Top Customer Reviews
Don't get me wrong--Greenberg is a fine writer, and reading this book for review made me aware of Hurry Down Sunshine, which I look forward to reading one day. But I think the author would have been better served with promotion that states clearly, "This book is a collection of short essays about how complex life with humans can be at times." It is a "writer's life," but it is not at all about his writing life, and for all that, could be Anyman's life.
They are extremely intimate and bare personal tidbits that most would not confess. He started out pretty average. Middle-class, Jewish family in Rockaway, New York, his father a blue collar scrap metal merchant sent his son to a strict, academically demanding Hebrew school. But adolescence kicked in and the fights between father and son "were famous" for their intensity. Ultimately, he dropped out of school at 17, never went to college and broke his parent's hearts.
He wanted to be a writer and as he learned his trade he had to eat and support himself so he, in the New York City tradition, held a wide variety of jobs. He was a Spanish tutor, a street peddler, a waiter, a postal worker and of course a taxi driver. They not only kept body and soul together but they provided fodder for his writings. His life has been anything but boring. Exciting and terrifying at times, but never boring.
A victim of phony friends and con artists, he never gave up. He once sold counterfeit cosmetics in front of a woman's store,after bribing the store's security guard. His price of $3.50 for his products made the women suspicious, so he raised his price to five dollars and sold more. Unfortunately after a particularly good day, he was mugged by three teenagers. They took all his money and merchandise. So it was on to another adventure. And they were many and varied.
He took off to Argentina with his high school sweetheart because "as an aspiring writer, I figured I would do well to experience a place other than New York.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Honest, insightful and deeply humane. I enjoyed and admired these essays. Michael Greenberg is a gifted writer.Published 6 months ago by Anya
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. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Anita Kelley Harris
Greenberg has the same s***ty life that most of us do, except he dresses it up in pretty language to make reading about it, if not interesting, then somewhat mesmerizing. Read morePublished on April 17, 2014 by Luis A. Hernandez
I won't say that this book is bad -- it's not, the collected essays are interesting, succinct and written with an understated punch -- but that what pleasures there are in it will... Read morePublished on May 8, 2013 by gtra1n
I'm a writer. I wish I could write about my life with the poignancy and power demonstrated by Greenberg. These essays are breathtaking. Read morePublished on September 27, 2012 by Sandy Nathan
I can't think of one negative thing to say about this book. I've never read a better book on the morality of being an artist. Read morePublished on September 22, 2012 by GiovanniGF
I hate giving this book a bad review, because I love writers in general and had such high hopes. Unfortunately, that is what I have to do. Read morePublished on June 21, 2012 by Esther B.
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. Read morePublished on January 13, 2011
The writer's roving eye is a funny thing. It sees this and that, tiny details most of us miss. It sometimes places importance on those details; importance that doesn't actually... Read morePublished on September 7, 2010 by Eric San Juan