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Review: "Life Itself a memoir by Roger Ebert"


The most important directive in the title of this book is "memoir". My understanding is that a memoir is not an autobiography but a series of snapshots into a life, different reminiscences brought to life and memory by the writer. It is a venerable old form with little structure. "Life Itself" was well written, a talky kind of narrative as if one were sitting across from Mr. Ebert having a bit of a long chat. It was in parts excellent, in parts mundane. I will give Ebert credit that he took advantage of the format and informed us quite a bit about his early life and his family. He did not shy away nor downplay the darker parts of his 70 years. I also credit him with facing is last illness with calm and blunt honesty. One more allowance is that he was writing this at a time when his health was clearly failing, he was aware of impending demise, and used that as a memory jog. My disappointment, if any, comes from the fact that I wanted more in certain areas (Gene Siskel, movie stars, film festivals, anecdotes and stories that he must have experienced) and less in others (family, friends, pets, girlfriends). But again, it's his memoir and I hung with it throughout. What I very much missed (and again, I have to respect that this is a memoir) is that there were no chapters at all on his ideas, thoughts and theories of film criticism. I would have enjoyed a short list of loved (or hated) films, and why. This most important aspect of his life, the reason he is famous and known to many, was really not plumbed to any depth at all. There were little glimpses into stories and snippets of anecdotes, but I craved more. I am certain, if I research, there are books by him of top movies and criticism, but in a memoir devoted to his own past it would have been satisfying to include a chapter on this topic. One chapter near the very end focuses on death, his personal exploration as he moved through dire medical interventions, lost physical strength, power and faculties and mused on his demise. It is eloquent, unafraid, thoughtful and honest. It may be both his best writing and the ultimate chapter in his book. He had the opportunity to look back. Many do not get that gift. He did so with wisdom and strength.