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Life Itself: A Memoir Paperback – September 4, 2012
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"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
"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
"His story is inspirational, and his memoirs, Life Itself, are a pleasure to read....Spellbinding."―The Boston Review
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Roger Ebert was an intriguing man. And through his writing he still is. You can sit down and read this book cover to cover if you want, but I'd recommend enjoying it in small... Read morePublished 5 days ago by Claudia Pfeiffer
Don't fall for the award-like maple leaf designs on the cover. It's an awfully boring book written by a nerd. Read morePublished 26 days ago by G. Kanika
Reading the book was like talking to a long time friend, one that shares intimate details of their life with you. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Phyllis Frier
I personally could not slog through the minutiae—my eyes kept crossing from boredom. I decided to check the TOC and flipped to the back of the book and enjoyed it. RIP REPublished 3 months ago by J. DesForges
Loved reading this book. I grew up in the same area so it was a real trip down memory lane.Published 5 months ago by Carol Van Tine