Book Review: Life Itself by Roger Ebert

Title: Life Itself
Author: Roger Ebert
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Memoir, Non Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: I purchased this book

Roger Ebert is a top film critic whose career and life were shattered by cancer. The various cancer treatments have left him unable to speak except through a computer. He finally started a blog to write his thoughts down, and the blog posts have eventually morphed into this book. Ebert tells the story of his life, starting with his childhood in Urbana, Illinois and his education at The University of Illinois.

He fell in love with journalism, and started writing for newspapers. He was a long-time film buff, but fell into film criticism by accident when he was assigned film reviewing by an editor.

This book is interesting when he tells about his family and his complicated relationship with Gene Siskel, his follow critic on several television shows. It is also interesting when he chats about some famous film stars and directors. Ebert also goes into detail about some of his personal friends. I’m sure that these are nice, interesting, quirky people if you know them personally, but frankly, they aren’t too interesting to read about. Sometimes “colorful” characters fall flat on the printed page, especially if you don’t know them.

I wish that there had been more stories of the famous people Roger has known, and fewer stories of his personal friends. I also wish that he had discussed his favorite films in more detail and how they affected him, but I suppose his numerous books of film criticism fill the need for that.

Ebert also talks about his alcoholism, and his many years of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and devotion to the AA cause. He mentions that one day he just stopped drinking. He didn’t know it was his last drink at the time. I was wondering, however, when he KNEW he was an alcoholic and when he knew he had hit rock-bottom. Perhaps he didn’t have a rock-bottom. He doesn’t discuss the drinking bouts in any detail. Perhaps the drinking was part of that whole hard-drinking reporter crowd, where Ebert and his friends hung out in bars after work. His mother also developed a drinking problem later in her life.

Ebert does discuss his great love for his wife, Chaz, and he was lucky to have her when numerous cancer operations and treatments when awry. Fortunately, he had her and her extended family to give him comfort. If you are interested in films and a fan of Roger Ebert, you may well like this book. But if you aren’t, you probably won’t find it that interesting.

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