Review: Life Itself

Life Itself

Life Itself 
By Roger Ebert
(Grand Central Publishing, Paperback, 9780446584968, September 2012, 448pp.)

The Short of It:

Written with humor and heart.

The Rest of It:

Everyone is familiar with Roger Ebert, right? His characteristic “thumbs-up” rating for movies he enjoyed, his battle with cancer that destroyed his face and took his voice forever, his antagonistic but often funny interactions with Gene Siskel? I grew up watching him. I spent hours in theaters watching the movies he recommended and he was probably one of the main reasons I entered college as a film major. But what I didn’t know and really didn’t begin to know, was the man behind the famous rating system. I didn’t really get to know him until his battle with cancer and I didn’t read this book until he passed away this past April. What a life.

Life Itself is a treat for anyone who enjoys small town life and nostalgia in general. Ebert’s small town of Urbana, Illinois provided a safe, comforting backdrop for his childhood. His trips to the local movie theater are written about with the care and gentle handling of a man in love with his childhood. He was always a wonderful writer, but the sense of place he conveys in this memoir will bring tears to your eyes for what once was. I loved these glimpses into Ebert’s life. His funny perspective, his awkwardness and his ability to break it all down into pleasant digestible bits.

There are some things I learned that I was not aware of before reading his book. I had no idea that he was a recovering alcoholic. The section on him joining Alcoholics Anonymous was told with such honestly, that I wanted to just reach through the pages and offer him a gentle, guiding hand. I also didn’t know that Gene Siskel, the critic that was forever (in my mind) arguing with Ebert over the movies they reviewed, was actually a very close friend and that their success on TV came quite accidentally. Additionally, I had no idea that Ebert was such a reader! Lots of book love in this one.

What I did expect and did not get was more insight into his battle with cancer. This part of his life is told in a very matter-of-fact way and details are kept to a minimum. He doesn’t dwell on what he lost. In fact, I’m not sure I expected him to be as optimistic as he was in the book, but in the end, I am glad that the cancer did not rule his life even though on the outside looking in, it certainly seemed that way.

I don’t read many memoirs but this book was a real treat. There’s quite a bit of humor and the stories from his youth are told with a lot of heart. I found myself yearning for simpler times and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the man is missed. I never look at movies quite the same way. His sense of wonder, his ability to appreciate the small, creative nuances that directors injected into their films and his knack for saying exactly what he means is what made him a favorite in my eye.

Source: Borrowed
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14 Responses

  1. I love memoirs so will have to look for this book.

  2. Yummy review but I could not read a memoir if my life deepened on it…I read one once because I didn’t know it was a memoir…when I found out it was I was in shock and didn’t like the book any more! Lol….shame on me!

  3. Thanks for this excellent review of an inspiring memoir… brings back a fond memory. I had the chance to meet Roger Ebert and got an autographed copy of this book. That was a most memorable moment. You just might be interested in some of the answers he gave in the Q & A session. ;)

  4. I read this one as an audiobook earlier this spring (obviously NOT narrated by Ebert, but very well done by actor Edward Herrmann) and truly enjoyed it. I’m glad you did too!

    • I did listen to a bit of it on audio as I happened to have both formats available to me and I must say, I really wanted to hear his voice on the audio. I know it wasn’t possible but still.

  5. Great review, Ti. This is a memoir I really want to read. I’ve read a few interviews he’d done, and he was so smart and so inspiring.

  6. I do really enjoy a well-done memoir and this one sounds like just that…will have to give a try :)

  7. I’m interested in this one and I hope to get to it. I knew he was an alcoholic and that he and gene were friends, but the stuff about cancer and his small town nostalgia would be new to me.

    • You didn’t know about the cancer that caused his facial disfigurement? Well, it was more than that since it took his voice forever. So tragic. Visit my blog: Book Chatter

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  8. I used to watch their movie review show every week. This sounds like an interesting memoir!

  9. […] 24. He’s Gone by Deb Caletti 25. Benediction by Kent Haruf 26. Joyland by Stephen King 27. Life Itself by Roger Ebert 28. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver 29. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut […]

  10. […] Life Itself by Roger Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan Night Film by Marisha Pessl After Her by Joyce Maynard Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach This Cake is For the Party by Sarah Selecky Panorama City by Antoine Wilson The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer […]

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