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Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert

"Life Itself," a Memoir by Film Critic Roger Ebert

A review by Gerald Bartell

In the 1950s, long before he won a Pulitzer Prize for his film criticism, Roger Ebert spent many a Saturday afternoon sipping root beer and munching jawbreakers, Necco Wafers and licorice at the Princess Theater in his home town of Urbana, Ill. Five cartoons, a newsreel, a Batman, Superman or Rocketman serial and then a double bill -- a Lash LaRue western followed by a Bowery Boys or Abbott and Costello comedy -- flashed before him.

Ebert's memoir, Life Itself, resembles one of those movie marathons. Tales from childhood, interviews with film stars and directors, funny and touching stories about colleagues, and evocative essays about trips unspool before the reader in a series of loosely organized, often beautifully written essays crafted by a witty, clear-eyed yet romantic raconteur.

Ebert begins with his childhood, a time when he did not, as one might think, escape an unhappy home at the movies. His parents sometimes quarreled over money, but mostly Roger's account of the...



Previously Reviewed by National Book Critics Circle
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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

In most novels it takes only one strong voice to make an impact on the reader, or sometimes two to expand a plot. Three voices may liven things up, while any more than four require a quiet room and, perhaps, a flowchart. In Julie Otsuka's latest novel, The Buddha in the Attic, the author brazenly...


Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall

By 1771, a conflict over frontier settlements in what is today Vermont had begun to turn violent. Colonial officials in New York, eager to profit from making land grants in the territory between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River, refused to recognize grants already made there by the New...


Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial by Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm's Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial, an expansion of a 2010 New Yorker essay, explores Mazoltuv Borukhova's trial for the murder of her husband, Daniel Malatov. Malatov was brazenly assassinated in a Queens playground in 2007. The prosecution, which ultimately won...


Partitions by Amit Majmudar

Like some other North American writers of his generation -- Chris Adrian and Rivka Galchen come to mind -- Amit Majmudar is a trained physician, working as a diagnostic nuclear radiologist in Ohio. (Galchen no longer practises medicine.) He is also an accomplished poet, having been published in the ...


The Chitlin' Circuit: And the Road to Rock 'n' Roll by Preston Lauterbach

It's 1951, and a group of teenagers who call themselves the Kings of Rhythm are motoring up Highway 61 from the Mississippi Delta, their instruments tied to the top of the car. A 19-year-old named Ike Turner is driving, and he and the band are on their way to Memphis when they hit a bump that sends ...


Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

In Ben Loory's wild, dreamy debut collection of short stories, he explores the deepest recesses of the imagination, where even the most outlandish tales can yield profound insights. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day contains 40 featherweight fables, with a diverse cast of characters that...


Centuries of June by Keith Donohue

In the opening scene of Keith Donohue's novel Centuries of June, we see the bloody collision of the narrator's head against the bathroom floor. "In that instant," Jack says, "the blood became a secondary concern to the hole in the back of my head." When Jack rises from the bathroom floor, his head...


Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America by Christopher Turner

Today when sex combines with politics, the likely result is humiliation. We think of the crotch shot, the Sofitel suite, the airport restroom stall, the stained blue dress. The sex, which we see as sleazy and compulsive, is a sign of a defective self: risk-prone, greedy, compartmentalized, deluded, ...


The Beginners by Rebecca Wolff

Poet Rebecca Wolff's first novel, The Beginners, draws on a long lineage of American stories either riffing on witchcraft in American history (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson) or witchy fairy tales (Lorrie Moore's "The Juniper Tree," short stories by Kelly Link and Aimee Bender). In all these...


The Land at the End of the World by Antonio Lobo Antunes

For many years, Antonio Lobo Antunes and the late Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago have been widely considered the two leading men of letters in Portuguese literature, each with his own defenders and detractors. As men of Portugal, their various approaches to the country provide a striking comparison...



More Than Three Decades of Quality Writing and Criticism

The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, honors outstanding writing and fosters a national conversation about reading, criticism, and literature. To learn about how to join, click here.

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