Book Review: Life Itself

Life Itself
Author: Roger Ebert

Publisher: Grand Central Publishers, 2011

Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

My Rating: A+

There is something natural about doing a “life review” as we age. From what I hear it’s actually a part of the aging process. We have a need to look back. Oh, I know some people say they never look back, but often those are the same people who start their sentences, “Remember the time when we . . .” This life-review need is also the reason why so many people write their memoirs.

Most memoirs are helpful only for the writers, and that’s okay. Other memoirs, like Life Itself  by Roger Ebert are pure entertainment for the reader. This memoir was entertaining for me in two respects. For one thing, Roger Ebert’s life was filled with amazing people and events. Secondly, I enjoyed it because he lived at the same time I did. (He was only two years younger.)

Roger Ebert was born in Urbana, Illinois. He went to the University of Illinois and spent his career working in Chicago. Conventionally, you would expect that, with that background, his view of the world would be very limited. Fortunately, Roger was a curious guy. He longed to see what was going on in other places and what other people were doing and thinking. He traveled the world and wasn’t shy about meeting anyone.

He lived an incredibly full life. As the Pulitzer prize-winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, he built a huge network of friends around the world. My husband and I loved watching his TV show with Gene Siskal. Do you remember Siskal and Ebert? We knew, if he and Siskal gave a movie two thumbs up, we would definitely see a winning movie. That show was on for over twenty years.

Reading about Ebert’s career and his stories of his adventures was great fun. He took his time recalling various events but he didn’t ramble or become over-sentimental. For me, the best part of the memoir was the numerous chapters devoted to various people Ebert knew. He was a skilled interviewer and he got the best out of people. Some of those he wrote about were Robert Mitchum, Ingmar Bergman, Lee Marvin, Martin Scorsese and more.

My favorite chapter featuring a person was “Big John Wayne.” Since my husband is such a big fan of Westerns, I’ve seen numerous movies by this film star, and seen them more than once or twice. But this look at John Wayne through Roger Ebert’s eyes led to lots of conversation between my husband and I. And that led to a desire to see some of his movies all over again.

I’ll give you a sample of what I’m talking about. Here’s a quote from the “Big John Wayne” chapter:

He wasn’t a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his job. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in The Quiet Man, or vulnerable, as in The Shootist, or lonely and obsessed, as in The Searchers, or tender with a baby, as in 3 Godfathers.

This led us to finding three of the movies and seeing what Ebert was talking about. I’ll tell you about those movies in the next couple of days.

If you have ever heard Ebert talk on TV, or read his movie reviews, or read his blog, then you know Ebert’s style of speaking and writing. It’s very conversational. This whole book is like that. I felt as if Roger Ebert were an old friend and I’d just had a lovely visit with him.

Life Itself is a must for anyone who is a film buff. It’s also a not-to-be-missed book for those of us who lived the second half of the twentieth century. The cultural events Ebert talks about will bring back loads of memories. But, primarily, it was just plain old-fashioned fun. Warning: Reading this book may lead to numerous trips to the library or Netflix for old movies you just have to see one more time.

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5 Responses to Book Review: Life Itself

  1. Ti says:

    I loved this one. I grew up with his reviews and since I was a film major for a good chunk of my college years, I spent many hours in the theater watching the movies he heartily recommended. The love that he felt for his wife really came through too. It was a very happy book and not at all sad, which I had assumed it would be given the medical hell he went through for his condition.

  2. I never followed Ebert’s reviews but I do love memoirs so I’ll have to look for this.

  3. I really liked the intro you posted earlier and now your review has me adding to my wish list… again!

  4. Barbara says:

    A friend of mine was a friend of Ebert’s from college through the rest of Ebert’s life. He led me to reading Ebert’s writings of various kinds and I realized what an amazing writer he was. America’s literature lost one of its greats when he died.

  5. kelley says:

    great review and great comments, this must be really good.

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