Friday, October 14, 2011

Excellent Reads: Roger Ebert's "Life Itself"

When I go book shopping, I generally like to buy mass-market paperbacks. They're the cheapest of the bunch and they're the most reasonably priced when it comes to a novel. In this day and age, they range from $8 to $10. In contrast you have the trades at around $15 and hardcovers at around $30!!! The fact that a novel costs $30 when it first comes out is kind of surprising. Even at the movies, you pay $10 for most movies, $7.50 for a matinee, and a little more than $10 for a 3D. Then when you buy the DVD, it generally starts out at around $20 and shrinks in price as it ages. Speaking of movies, there was a book that I had to buy in hardcover, at its immediate release. While I bought it from BJ's at a lower price than I would most books from Barnes & Noble, I still had to own it and read it nonetheless. This book happened to be Roger Ebert's autobiography, Life Itself. I expected to enjoy it and enjoyed it I sure did.

Being a columnist who writes about various subjects, movies being one of them, Roger Ebert is a writing role model of mine. I collect his books, read his reviews every week, and watch his TV shows. He is arguably the most famous film critic in America and has a strong resume that includes the accomplishments I listed above, plus a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975 for his work as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. However, this book is more than just a man's passion for cinema, but more about the man himself.

In Life Itself, Ebert talks about his childhood and family, his rise to fame, as well as his battle with alcoholism and his many relationships. The chapters in this book are designated to a specific topic and aren't necessarily in chronological order. While the book tends to be in chronological order for the most part, there is more organization in the respect of the topic than there is in the timeline. There were also chapters about people that stuck out in Ebert's life, such as John Wayne, German film director Werner Herzog, broadcaster Studs Terkel, and the list keeps going on. There were also some passionate chapters written about Ebert's TV colleague/foil Gene Siskel and his wife Chaz. Toward the end of the book, Ebert discusses his cancer and the surgeries that left him unable to speak, eat, or drink. Nonetheless, Ebert continues to remain strong as a writer and keeps coming out with reviews of the new releases week after week. Some of which are wide release, some of which are limited release, and some of them are hidden gems that many of us would overlook. He also contributes on his cinema based sensation, Ebert Presents At The Movies.

While Ebert hasn't spoken a word since 2006, anytime I read his work, I picture him reading the review himself as he would review a movie on television. This book is no different. The difference between this book and his many others is that I now know who Ebert is as a person and how he's just as human as the rest of us. He discusses his fondest memories, some of which I remember from previous reading or watching, and some of which are completely new. This book was easy to follow, just enough pages for each chapter and for each topic, and I came out satisfied by the way this book was written.

Those who are not into the cinema or into Roger Ebert may not enjoy it so much as I did, but this is an autobiography, in which the writer recalls their fondest memories or highlights in their life. Ebert did just that and entertained us with his emotion, his sense of humor, and most of all his brutal honesty. The way he writes and the way he expresses himself puts him high on my list of people I would most want to meet. While he's not able to speak, he still expresses his opinion better than many people who can. The stage was his with this book and it was a very good show indeed.

I will surely keep reading what ever material Ebert releases. Whether he's praising a great film, bashing a bad one, or writing about anything else that may be on his mind, Ebert does it like a professional. Telling us about Life Itself is no different.

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