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Life Itself: A Memoir [Kindle Edition]

Roger Ebert
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Roger Ebert is the best-known film critic of our time. He has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and was the first film critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He has appeared on television for four decades, including twenty-three years as cohost of Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.

In 2006, complications from thyroid cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his ability to eat, drink, or speak. But with the loss of his voice, Ebert has only become a more prolific and influential writer. And now, for the first time, he tells the full, dramatic story of his life and career.

Roger Ebert's journalism carried him on a path far from his nearly idyllic childhood in Urbana, Illinois. It is a journey that began as a reporter for his local daily, and took him to Chicago, where he was unexpectedly given the job of film critic for the Sun-Times, launching a lifetime's adventures.

In this candid, personal history, Ebert chronicles it all: his loves, losses, and obsessions; his struggle and recovery from alcoholism; his marriage; his politics; and his spiritual beliefs. He writes about his years at the Sun-Times, his colorful newspaper friends, and his life-changing collaboration with Gene Siskel. He remembers his friendships with Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Oprah Winfrey, and Russ Meyer (for whom he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and an ill-fated Sex Pistols movie). He shares his insights into movie stars and directors like John Wayne, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese.

This is a story that only Roger Ebert could tell. Filled with the same deep insight, dry wit, and sharp observations that his readers have long cherished, this is more than a memoir-it is a singular, warm-hearted, inspiring look at life itself.

"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."
-from LIFE ITSELF


Editorial Reviews

Review

"Ebert is exceptionally good company. Like Christopher Hitchens and Kirk Douglas, he works prodigiously and narrates his Job-like woes with a surprisingly chipper voice....and a captivating, moveable feast it is."—Maureen Dowd, New York Times Book Review

"As Ebert notes in his new autobiography, "Life Itself," his silence has made his inner voice more vivid, and-as he himself says in his introduction-the book is proof of it. In particular, he summons his youth (he was born in 1942) and those who were close to him then-family, friends, neighbors, teachers-with a wealth of detail that is at once a tribute to the vigorous fullness with which he has lived and to his power of perception, recollection, and description. ...The treasure of the book is Ebert's portraiture-whether of family, friends, colleagues, or celebrities. He speaks lovingly of actors ("I am beneath everything else a fan. I was fixed in this mode as a young boy and am awed by people who take the risks of performance"); in particular, his sketches of Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, and John Wayne pulsate with life (they're juicily quotable, but I won't bother quoting; just do read them), and he conjures a remarkable character, Billy "Silver Dollar" Baxter, a former wheeler-dealer at the Cannes Film Festival who, Ebert writes, now "lives not far from Broadway, which is to Billy as the stream is to the trout...." The dialogue Ebert reproduces is a comic masterwork; I feel as if I'm seeing a version of the American tycoon from Jacques Tati's "Playtime," only smarter, raunchier, and more inventive: Irving! Take care of Francis Ford Chrysler over there! And set 'em up for Prince Albert in a can! Whatever he's having. Doo-blays!"Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Candid, funny and kaleidoscopic...This is the best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written...The book sparkles with his new, improvisatory, written version of dinner-party conversation...Its globe-trotting, indefatigable author comes across as the life of a lifelong party."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Ebert is best known, of course, as the nation's most prominent film critic; but in recent years he's turned to exploring more personal concerns on his widely read blog, leading to this poignant memoir. Five years ago, surgeries following thyroid cancer left him unable to speak, eat, or drink, but as he recounts, he "began to replace what I lost with what I remembered." This enhanced recall allows him to relate with exhaustive detail his halcyon if unremarkable childhood in a small town in the Midwest and his life changing college days. When the narrative turns to journalism and, inevitably, movies, as Ebert falls into his reviewing gig at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, the focus becomes sharper, and even the tangential chapters-devoted to topics ranging from his encounters with film legends to his stormy relationship with TV partner Gene Siskel-are cogently engaging. But it's the most personal segments, dealing with his struggle with alcoholism, his supportive wife, Chaz, and his recent illness, that give the book its considerable emotional heft. Ebert illuminates and assesses his life with the same insight and clarity that marks his acclaimed movie reviews."—Booklist (starred review)

"It's hardly surprising that Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, begins this candid examination of an extraordinary life with an allusion to Ingmar Bergman's Persona, about an actress who loses her voice in mid-performance. Though three thyroid cancer surgeries resulting in the removal of his lower jaw have left Ebert unable to speak, eat, or drink, these are not famous last words. Forgoing a traditional linear format, each chapter--particularly "My Old Man" and "Big John Wayne"--could function as a stand-alone essay. Born in Urbana, Ill., in 1942, Ebert spent a carefree childhood, often with his nose in a book. Drawn to newspapers beginning in high school, he became the sports reporter for his school paper before rising to the rank of co-editor. The position of film critic fell into his lap at the Sun-Times--a paper he joined after leaving a graduate English program--and Ebert hasn't looked back. And while films have governed his life for close to 50 years, he wisely doesn't choose the greatest hits version of his reviewing career, focusing instead on the life he's lived in between screenings: his battle with alcoholism; tight-knit friendships forged in the newsroom (and bar); and his marriage to Chaz, whom he calls "the great fact of my life." Hollywood gets its due, but it's an ensemble player, sharing the screen with reminiscences both witty and passionate from one of our most important cultural voices."—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"Thoughtful, entertaining, and emotional...Ebert comes across as smart, bighearted, and eccentric...and writes with unflinching candor about difficult subjects."—Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"Tales from childhood, interviews with film stars and directors, funny and touching stories about colleagues, and evocative essays about trips unspool before the reader in a series of loosely organized, often beautifully written essays crafted by a witty, clear-eyed yet romantic raconteur....Ebert's work as a film critic sent him traveling, and his wonderfully personal essays on places around the world where he seeks solitude are highlights of the book, rich in reflections, imagery and sensory detail."—Washington Post

"A gentle look back, "Life Itself: A Memoir" is as moving as it is amusing, fresh evidence that Roger Ebert is a writer who happens to love movies, not a movie lover who happens to write."—Associated Press

"Ebert's new memoir, "Life Itself," is an episodic, impressionistic and skillfully written exploration of his life, from his 1950s childhood in Urbana, Ill., to his recent battles against thyroid cancer, which have left him unable to speak, or to eat or drink through his mouth. What shines throughout the book is Ebert's humility, his down-to-earth and powerful sense of decency."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"So he lost his speech but not his voice; it rings out with greater clarity and authority than ever."—Time Magazine

"A beautiful memoir of staccato sentences and chapters... a well-honed voice, familiar sounding, even though silent."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"His story is inspirational, and his memoirs, Life Itself, are a pleasure to read....Spellbinding."
The Boston Review

About the Author

Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975, and his reviews were syndicated in newspapers around the world. He was cohost of Siskel & Ebert and Ebert & Roeper for thirty-three years, and was a managing editor and reviewer for Ebert Presents At the Movies. He was the author of seventeen books, including Scorsese by Ebert and Awake in the Dark. Roger Ebert was also an honorary member of the Directors Guild of America. He received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award of the Chicago Public Library and won the Webby Awards Person of the Year in 2010. His website, rogerebert.com, receives 110 million visits a year. He lived with his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, in Chicago. Roger Ebert passed away in 2013.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1568 KB
  • Print Length: 427 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004QX07GO
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,758 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
107 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At The Movies September 13, 2011
Format:Hardcover
This memoir opens as though someone had created a set, arranged the lights, positioned actors, and yelled "Action!" Ebert is three years old, sensing the motions of parents, aunts, uncles and extended family, reacting to various stimuli, seemingly aware, even at this age, the cameras are rolling.

The book has a lot in common with the Gunther Grass novel The Tin Drum, as Ebert recalls his early years, then in vivid detail, matinee afternoons with his parents watching the Marx Brothers hit, A Day At The Races, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and one of the first 3D films, Bwana Devil. Early screen heroes were Whip Wilson and Lash LaRue, characters who carried guns but didn't need them because they also carried whips and could slash a pistol from your grip before you could aim it. He remembers the ubiquitous aroma of popcorn, the high movie house ceilings, and girls with rolls of Necco wafers.

Then came college, 1963, the year Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski led the University of Illinois to the Rose Bowl. "I became friendly with a voluptuous woman under a grey woolen blanket. In the middle of the night, rocking through the midlands, we made free with each other." He had fun, but also vigorous preparation, working for the Daily Illini newspaper with its Associated Press affiliation, spending hours setting hot lead Linotype, and reading the voluminous novels of Thomas Wolfe.

One of Ebert's transcendent skills has always been the interview, and the book is full of them - John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Woody Allen and the enigmatic Igmar Bergman are represented, but the best one takes place with Robert Mitchum. You can hear Mitchum speaking the interview lines, and for a brief time, you are in one of his movies. "I knew him," Mitchum says of Humphrey Bogart.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Put This Book Down September 15, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I loved this book for a lot of reasons, but bought it for one reason. I LOVE MOVIES! I've spent decades going to the movies and loving even some really bad ones. I was certain Roger Ebert would have plenty to say regarding film, its directors, its writers and its stars.
In this book, Ebert delivers. It is loaded with anecdotes about the people he's come in contact with as a film critic, but it also has a huge amount of heart and is surprisingly revealing in regard to the private person who is also known as Roger Ebert. If Ebert is unsparing in his film criticisms, he is also unsparing when he covers his own life. From growing up in Urbana, IL and attending the home town University of Illinois, he covers his short career covering sports, a fortuitous shot at the Chicago Sun-Times film critic job which established his reputation as a sharp reviewer, a brush with alcoholism, a sometimes adversarial relationship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, a later in life marriage with his soulmate Chaz, and a decimating encounter with cancer which even after several surgeries has robbed him of his ability to speak and eat. For someone who was not only a fluid writer/speaker this was one heck of a challenge.
While getting personal, I found he really seemed to leave nothing out. Be it his complex relationships with women (he had three very serious ones with divorced ladies who coincidentally had children) or his even more complex relationship with his widowed mother Annabel, he apparently left nothing out. From my pov, anyone who writes about themselves are wise to be as honest as possible.
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars WHY WE TELL STORIES November 23, 2011
By Nancy J
Format:Hardcover
We tell stories for different reasons. If you're about to read Ebert's LIFE ITSELF, it might be helpful to consider why he writes these memoirs as he does.

He's not really telling his stories to inform us or to broaden our knowledge about large and small eating places that he has loved around the world, or the great pals he has accumulated in a very full life. He's not primarily interested in entertaining us or holding our attention, though I think he expects that will happen--and it probably will.

I believe Ebert is telling these stories the way people do in the later years of our lives--as a precious kind of taking stock for ourselves, a summing up (the title of Somerset Maugham's memoirs), a saying of the rosary of our days. Every bead is cherished. The litany of names of pals and what they drank and where they sat and who they out-smarted and how much they loved us and we them--this review and re-telling is as much a part of the so-called third stage of life as learning to talk is of the first stage.

If you know this in advance, then you can sit back and let Roger tell you all the details, and smile and nod in appreciation of the man telling the stories. I skipped a number of chapters--each too long for too little of what I was interested in. Other chapters I read slowly, gleaning every grain I could.

I don't think I could have NOT read this book. Roger Ebert's is the major voice on a subject I've been passionate about for more than seventy years. I advise potential readers of the book to sit back, enjoy, be patient, skip when you feel like it, and realize how lucky we are to have the book and the man.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Ebert casts his shrewd perceptive mind onto himself
Emotional from the first few paragraphs, and (as you might expect with Roger), a heartfelt, honest, revealing, candid, and insightful examination of how the chubby smart kid came... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Dennis Fitch
3.0 out of 5 stars Fair read
On his personal early days, it did not interest me. But, the contacts with various movie stars, directors and authors was fascinating.
Published 7 days ago by PETER ALLOTTA
2.0 out of 5 stars I found it boring, unfortunately
I found it boring, unfortunately. Roger rambled from present to past and back and forth too much. RIP, Roger.
Published 13 days ago by Gloria
5.0 out of 5 stars it is with great pleasure that I am reading his memoir
Having long been a fan of Roger Ebert, it is with great pleasure that I am reading his memoir.
Published 17 days ago by Richard H.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read!
I am such a fan of Roger Ebert, and this memoir is really interesting and sometimes heartbreaking.
Published 27 days ago by HumorLover
5.0 out of 5 stars a national treasure, that Man.
Like many, Sunday night at 6:30 was required and desired At the Movies. It is wonderful to have learned here about the rest of the life of this wonderful man.
Published 1 month ago by el guapo.
4.0 out of 5 stars but stay with the book and be wonderfully rewarded. I have revisited...
You may have to slog through a few chapters here and there, but stay with the book and be wonderfully rewarded. I have revisited several sections to share and enjoy.
Published 1 month ago by Skufaki
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A beautifully written book that makes me miss Mr. Ebert
Published 1 month ago by Ashton B. Suttle
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Information Makes the Book Drag
I read this book after watching the exceptional documentary started in the last year of Ebert's life. The documentary was quite good. Sadly the book disappoints in comparison. Read more
Published 1 month ago by R. Spell
4.0 out of 5 stars funny, and written in the accessible Ebert style that ...
Not gripping but poignant, funny, and written in the accessible Ebert style that I loved about his reviews. I miss him.
Published 1 month ago by Edwin Phelps
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More About the Author

Roger Ebert is the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic from the Chicago Sun-Times. His reviews are syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and Canada. The American Film Institute and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have awarded him honorary degrees and the Online Film Critics Society named his Web site (rogerebert.com) the best online movie review site

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