Roger Ebert, Life Itself
I bought this when it came out and couldn’t get past the first few chapters, which is a shame, because I was a devoted reader of Ebert’s blog. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:
I’ve always thought that what makes Ebert such a brilliant blogger is that he’s doing it wrong—in the age of reblogs and retweets and “short is more,” he’s writing long, writing hard, writing deep. Using his blog as a real way to connect with people. “On the web, my real voice finds expression.” Man loses voice and finds his voice. “When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.” Blogging because you need to blog—because it’s a matter of existing, being heard, or not existing…not being heard. It’s almost as if Ebert had to become that living metaphor to show us how it’s supposed to be done.
After he died, I decided I had to go back to it and push myself through, and I’m glad I did. (Since there are so many chapters, and many of them began as blog posts, it’s definitely a book you should feel free to read non-linearly.)
While Ebert recalled his childhood, I kept thinking of Joe Brainard’s wonderful book, I Remember, which makes sense: they were born just a year apart.
My favorite chapters were about Steak ‘n Shake, walking around London, and Robert Mitchum, the fact of which makes me think of this quote by Ander Monson:
We find ourselves not by turning inward toward what we imagine is inside us, but by the act of looking outward at the world. The self is nothing without what it looks at. On its own, it’s inert. Kick it. Poke it. It seems dead. But point it at something else…and it perks up. Thus a focus on our obsessions, however nerdy, creepy, lovely, allows the self to energy and live and blink a little in the bright light. In other words, the best way to write about ourselves is to write about something specific in the world.
A few passages I want to point out. The first, on the best writing tips he ever got:
“One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damned thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?” These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.
The second is a story that’s almost exactly the same as a story my dad told me about his dad:
My father refused to let me watch him doing any electrical wiring. Here he told me, “Boy, I don’t want you to become an electrician. I was working in the English Building today, and I saw those fellows with their feet up on their desks, smoking their pipes and reading their books. That’s the job for you.”
The last, on death:
My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’s theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting, and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.
Filed under: Roger Ebert, my reading year 2013