Life Itself by Roger Ebert
I really wanted to like this book, and I’m reluctant to say anything negative about something written by a man who has made his living at writing for over 50 years. It wasn’t the writing that I had trouble with, however; it was the content. I guess I was initially drawn to buy this book because I love a good memoir, and this one is authored by someone who battled and survived cancer – a topic near and dear to me.
If the book could be broken into three parts, I would say that I really enjoyed the first and last parts – dealing with Mr. Ebert’s childhood and late adulthood. The middle part, however? Not so much. The filling of this particular sandwich is a very esoteric recounting of his career in the newspaper business and his encounters and relationships with various Hollywood personalities he met through his career as a film critic: Lee Marvin, John Wayne, Martin Scorsese, and Robert Mitchum, to name a few. I had a lot of difficulty paying attention throughout the middle portion of the book and found myself doing quite a bit of skimming (which always makes me feel like I’m cheating, for what it’s worth).
I had hoped for more about his battle with cancer; but the book isn’t about cancer, and he hasn’t allowed cancer to define him, so it makes perfect sense that his battle with cancer is but a chapter in his life.
He writes beautifully and introspectively, and despite being bored with a good deal of his book, I was moved by parts of it:
[On his relationship with his mother] –
“My mother was a good woman, and I loved her. I had a happy childhood and was loved and encouraged. Alcoholism changed her, and I should know as well as anyone how that happens . . . . Alcoholism is a terrible disease and I am glad I had it because I can understand what happened to her, and how it damaged my own emotional growth. I buried myself in movies that allowed me to live vicariously.
“There’s nothing unique about my behavior. There is everything wrong with it. There must come a day when parents and children approach each other as adults or simply break off ties. This is in the nature of things. That day never came for me.”
[On coming to terms with his current disfigurement resulting from cancer] –
“I’ve written before about how I’ve come to terms with my current appearance. The best thing that happened to me was a full-page photo in Esquire, showing exactly how I look today. No point in denying it. No way to hide it. Better for it to be out there. you don’t like it, that’s your problem. I’m happy I don’t look worse. I made a simple decision to just get on with life. I was a writer, and so I was lucky. I wrote, therefore I lived. Another surgical attempt was proposed, but I said no. Enough is enough. I will look the way I look, and express myself in print, and I will be content.”
[On life itself] –
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. 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.”
All in all, it’s worth the read . . . even if you skim parts of it.