Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Life Itself" by Roger Ebert

Just finished reading Life Itself by Roger Ebert and found it to be a very interesting, if somewhat peculiar memoir.

What struck me as peculiar is the writing seems to be a a set of ruminations on life, life experiences and people rather than traditional autobiography. In this regard, it made sense to me that I was told while reading about someone who loved Roger Ebert's writing, but didn't care for the book. That said, if a reader accepts that it follows a somewhat meandering non-traditional path, the book can then be an excellent and thought-provoking read.

I first developed an interest in Ebert from the highly regarding Esquire piece
"Roger Ebert: The Essential Man" (which I posted on here). What caught my eye was the profile being written by a writer I like in Chris Jones, but it revealed a pretty fascinating individual as the subject. From there, I started reading with some regularity Ebert's Chicago Sun-Times blog and found some great work by him. Some of the posts that stood out (and all of which I posted on and linked to) were "How do they get to be that way?" on racism, "All the Lonely People" on... that, and one on the value of a great video game vs The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

It was from an Ebert blog entry that I first heard about this memoir with him posting online the beginning of the book back in July. The writing both in this first chapter and throughout has very much a lyrical and pensive quality to it and Ebert definitely reveals himself as a intelligent if not brilliant guy from a young age up to and including today.

In this regard, it was borderline annoying reading about how he knew at a young age he wanted to be a writer and then devoted himself tirelessly (and with success) to the goal. Stephen King wrote in On Writing of basically having the same goal and approach at a young age. Good for both of them that they knew, but the annoying part is that most of us don't know the life or career goal that early on...


Anyhoo... not Ebert's (or King's for that matter) fault, and he wrote with this memoir an interesting almost stream of consciousness book about his life, relationships and experiences. Those people noted in the book as huge influences included the writers Studs Terkel and Thomas Wolfe and his wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert. In terms of experiences written about, good portions of the book came across almost as travelogues with detailed descriptions of Venice, London, and Boulder... specifically the Conference on World Affairs on the University of Colorado campus.

Additionally, a huge part of Ebert's story is his health problems and the aforementioned Esquire story made them known to many. It's a bit of an aside to note here, but reading of the various surgeries and rehabilitation involved made me feel Ebert fortunate to have the resources available for what I'm sure has been an incredibly costly process.

All of this said about the book, it did seem to be written by Ebert for himself as a record of his life, it's experiences and relationships... and as long as reader is fine with that, the book is a fascinating portrait of the man.