Friday, April 20, 2012

Roger Ebert, My New Best Friend

Yes, I 've always had a soft spot for Roger Ebert. As a former movie addict I used to love his show with Siskel and would watch online whenever I could. I've followed his horrific battle with cancer and have marveled at the way he has adjusted to his new, circumscribed existence, one that no longer allows for the luxury of travel, and the pleasures of eating and drinking in exotic locales.

Life Itself, Ebert's low key description of his remarkable life has been in my car's cd player for several weeks now and I feel as if he's sitting next to me in the seat. Such an enjoyable companion! I make up errands so that I can spend more time with him. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I think that part of the attraction is that he reminds me of myself in many ways. No drama! He's a full throated optimist without an ounce of bitterness about his current illness and situation.

Can you imagine what a joy it is to listen to a person describe their childhood as normal and happy? What a relief! No half broke horses, drinks under the tree of forgetfulness, or running with scissors. Ebert was just a bookworm with two loving parents from a middle class home in a middle class neighborhood, Urbana, Illinois - I should add the caveat that this is what we USED to call middle class and not what currently passes for it. A former Catholic who questioned the dogma early on - I'm talking before the age of 10 - as I did, he still maintains a lovely spiritual aura that comes across loud and clear in his book.

Unlike so many celebrity writers of autobiographical material, Roger Ebert exudes kindness. It seems like he ascribes easily to the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything" approach. Opting for humor over snarkiness, he manages to unearth the goodness in every person he meets, perfecting the non-confrontational interview techniques so eschewed by today's OMG standards. From Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin, to Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese, Ebert has elicited insightful interviews published in every major magazine and newspaper in the country with his laid back style. His friendships have endured for a lifetime. Oh, and did you know that he won a Pulitzer?

I especially took to the early chapters where he speaks of his travels overseas, his love affair with London and the solitary walks that gave him such a knowledge of the city. He was an early bloomer in terms of his writing skills, developer of his high school newspaper, editor of one in college, and the youngest member of the Chicago Sun Times esteemed staff, taken under the wing of Mike Royko, and introduced to his future wife Chaz by none other than Dear Abby.

Thyroid cancer may have taken away Roger Ebert's voice but it only enhanced his ability to tell a story. Life Itself is a must-read for anyone who considers himself an afficianado of film, books, newspapers, or history. Does that about cover it? Do yourself a favor and spend some time with Roger. You'll find that he's like an old friend that you haven't seen in a while but can strike up a conversation with immediately. Follow his blog at the Sun Times

Just finished a new book from Library Journal. Will keep you posted on that. Should also have Paul Theroux's new book reviewed in the 4/15 LJ. Loved it.

No comments: