life itself-roger ebert

why is it that girls will read anything and boys need to be seduced into reading at all? one of the tidbits of information that has stayed with me from the toronto public library‘s last tutor training session is that boys will not read unless they witness (that’s see with their eyes) an older male figure (that they respect) in their lives reading. this detail kept coming up as roger ebert lovingly describes his father as reader. a letter that i received from the lady reverend today (which also served as a reminder that i did send her a band-aid with jesus’ likeness on it-a reminder that i should probably try to rein it in, sometimes) asking me, “what is it, dear girl, that you do for a living?” also calls into question the things we do for living, and the things we do for life. this being the beginning of 2012’s black history month, i’d like to link everything together by shouting out alfie roberts, a man invaluable to montreal’s black community. though i never met the man in person, i began to get to know him through his books. my roommate and creator of baobab magazine, shortly before her departure from the city, decided to take on the task of attempting to archive the man’s books in hopes of one day turning his personal collection into a lending library. this was a man who made a conscious choice to stay “the people”, but he lived unabashedly in his books, scribbling in margins in many a rare edition, and this most recent turn of my life to devour books like there is no tomorrow (there might not be) is less a project and more of a lifestyle.

“What’s sad about not eating is the experience, whether at a family reunion or at midnight by yourself in a greasy spoon under the L tracks. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. Unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments, and memories I miss. I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to start reciting poetry on a moment’s notice. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it’s sad. Maybe that’s why writing has become so important to me. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.” (382-3)

“Our friendship has endured despite the inescapable fact that I don’t care very much about horse racing and Bill doesn’t seem to go to many movies. Our bond is reading, and our subject is often not far removed from the Meaning of it All. We are puzzled that we are now nearly seventy. How did that happen? Our conversations all take place in the present tense. We are always meeting for the first time. When you’re young you don’t realize that at every age you are always in the present, and in that sense no older; when I look at Bill I see the same man I met in Illinois. He’s one of the lucky ones whose lifelong work didn’t change him but only confirmed the person he was all along.” (303)

mister ebert‘s, too. game recognize game, sir.


7 thoughts on “life itself-roger ebert

  1. papa knows:

    “I lived in a world of words long before I was aware of it. As an only child I turned to books as soon as I could read. There was a persistent need not only to write, but to publish.” (4)

    “He read all the time. In another generation, he would surely have gone to university and read books with his feet up on the desk, and he wanted me to do that for him. Sometimes I resented him, as when blinded by summer sweat while pulling bagworms from evergreens while he repeated, ‘If the job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ He wouldn’t let me have my dog Blackie in the house. He thought rugs were more important than dogs. Did I know how much I loved him? I do now.” (33)

    “I would watch in awe as he sprinkled it on and took his first bite. He would glance at me sideways and elevate his eyebrows a fraction. You see why as a film critic I am so alert to the nuances of actors.” (62)

    “There’s nothing unique about my behavior. There is everything wrong with it. There must come a day when parents and children approach each other as adults or simply break off ties. This is in the nature of things. That day never came for me. From early in my childhood I developed a fear of my mother’s storms, and perhaps observed my father’s strategy of detachment. My aunt Martha told me, ‘Your father lived for you.’ This was true of both my parents and possibly explains the survival of their marriage and much of their undeniable happiness. If alcoholism brought me misery, it remained in abeyance long enough to allow me a happy childhood and adolescence, which took place after the end of my father’s drinking and before the beginning of my mother’s.” (358-9)

  2. i see strombo:

    “Sometime in the 1990s interviewers started being asked to sign agreements promising to ask no questions in certain areas (politics, marriage, religion, past flops). I refused to sign anything. Since they weren’t paying my expense, they had no leverage. Curiously, I found I got better interviews that way. Warned that I hadn’t signed an agreement, stars sometimes seemed almost compelled to bring up their forbidden subjects. I got the impression the agreements hadn’t originated with the stars but from the protective publicists.
    What the interviewer has to understand is that he is not a friend or a confidant. He has engaged in a superficial process for mutual benefit.” (223)

    “To talk with Woody was like catching up with your smart college roommate every time you went to New York, and he reminded you that he had gone ahead and accomplished all the things you had talked about in school. He has averaged a film a year for more than forty years. Some were great, all were intelligent, none were shabby. He compared his work habits to those of Ingmar Bergman, whom he admired above all other directors. Like Bergman, he wrote his own screenplays. Like Bergman, he worked over and again with many of the same collaborators. Like Bergman, he could persuade pretty much actor to work for him at far below their going rate. Like Bergman, he usually had distribution lined up before shooting even began. And they both worked with small budgets that gave them artistic freedom.” (289)

    “I felt good that Herzog had been in my life close to the beginning and now probably close to the end and had never made an unworthy film. I don’t think Bahrani will make one, either. Artists like them bring meaning to my life, which has been devoted in such large part to films of worthlessness.” (300)

    “Gene and I were on with Oprah many times, starting at the studio Channel 7 built for her at 190 North State, and later at the Harpo Studios she built for herself on Washington. There was a reason for her popularity. She was gifted and had good producers. She warmed up the show beforehand and stayed afterward for photos and autographs. She wasn’t phony. She was generous with her money. Both of us have had weight problems over the years, mine worse than hers, but we never discussed them.” (333)

  3. silver screens:

    “A movie critic gets up in the morning and in two hours it is dark again, and the passage of time is fractured by editing and dissolves and flashbacks and jump cuts. ‘Get a life’, they say. Sometimes movie critics feel as if they’ve gotten everybody else’s. Siskel describes his job as ‘covering the national dream beat,’ because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.” (156)

    “Color is sometimes too realistic and distracting. It projects superfluous emotional cues. It reduces actors to inhabitants of the mere world. Black and white (or, more accurately, silver and white) creates a mysterious dream state, a world of form and gesture. Most people do not agree with me. They like color and think black-and-white film is missing something. Try this. If you have wedding photographs of your parents and grandparents, chances are your parents are in color and your grandparents are in black and white. Put the two photographs side by side and consider them honestly. Your grandparents look timeless. Your parents look goofy.” (159)

    “Gene and I would never have had that happen to us. In our darkest brooding moments, when competitiveness, resentment, and indignation were at a roiling boil, we never considered it. We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing. ‘You may be an asshole,’ Gene would say, ‘but you’re my asshole.’ If we were fighting, get out of the room. But if we teamed up against a common target, we were lethal. Our first time on his show, Howard Stern never knew what hit him. He picked on one of us, and we were both at his throat.” (313)

  4. alone in a crowd:

    “I was not gifted at sports but was sought after as an entertainer. I had the knack of reading a book and repeating its dramatic highlights, and I’d walk around the block regaling my followers with the career of Harry Houdini.” (46-7)

    “As an only child I was sometimes content with my own company, especially after I discovered science fiction. In a corner of the basement I positioned my cast-metal bookshelves, for which I redeemed three books of Green Stamps each. On these I placed the old s-f magazines that two foreign brothers, graduate students on my /Courier/ route, had given me. /Astounding, Galaxy, Fantasy & Science Fiction/. Then I discovered, more to my taste, /Amazing Stories, Imagination/, and the final issues of the full-size pulp /Thrilling Wonder Stories/. Science fiction itself somehow had an aura of eroticism about it. It wasn’t sexually explicit, but it often seemed almost about to be.
    Down there in the basement it was cooler. I reclined in an aluminum lawn chair and played albums on my record player-Pat Boone, Doris Day, the McGuire Sisters, Benny Goodman, Les Paul, and Mary Ford, Polly Bergen, who sent me an eight-by-ten autographed photo. I wrote to Percy Faith and he mailed me a dozen of his 45s. I wrote asking Stan Freberg for an autographed photo, and he wrote back regretting that he was all out of photos, but as a consolation was enclosing a hairpin from Betty Furness. A lot of my records evoked thoughts of lost romance, about which I knew nothing. I grew sentimental second hand.” (54-5)

    “A bore, Travis, is someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”
    For me, that’s the problem with cats. (65)

    “I went to Urbana High School between 1956 and 1960, walking the four blocks to school. We were the first generation after Elvis, and one of the last generations of innocence. We were inventing the myth of the American teenager. Our decade would imprint an iconography on American society. We knew nothing of violence and drugs. We looked forward to the future. We were taught well. We had no idea how lucky we were.” (84)

    “This was Henry Togna Sr. He appears in a Dickens novel I haven’t yet read. He had a drink in my room almost every afternoon when I stayed at the Eyrie Mansion. It was not difficult to learn his story.” (123)

    “I’ve known a couple of heavy drinkers who claimed they never had hangovers. I didn’t believe them. Without hangovers, it is possible that I would still be drinking. I would also be unemployed, unmarried, and probably dead. Most alcoholics continue to drink as long as they can. Unlike most drugs, alcohol allows you to continue for what remains of your life, barring an accident. The lucky ones find their bottom and surrender.” (194)

    “Two days later I flew to Toronto for the film festival. At least here no one knew me. I looked up AA in the phone book and they told me there was a meeting in a church hall across Bloor Street from my hotel. I went to so many Toronto meetings in the next week that when I returned to Chicago, I considered myself a member.” (195)

  5. interesting idea about males having to be seduced into reading. I have been reading all my life. My mom reads more than anyone I know – I have always attributed it to my mother’s reading to me when I was child. My father is usually much too busy to read. So the theory may need some reworking.

    By the way Roger Ebert is a brilliant writer, don’t you think?

  6. This:

    “girls will read anything and boys need to be seduced into reading”

    is only true because we believe it, because the media, publishers, librarians, teachers, adults, kids, internalize and propagate it.

    I am black, 26, grew up in NYC. My father passed away when I was very young. I was raised amongst women for most of my life. My mother has 4 sisters, and I have 2. I never really had a strong male figure in my life as a child, and most of the people around me never really read for any sort of fun or leisure activity. I chew through books regularly and just graduated with a degree in literature. Everyone in my family has anecdotes about me walking around with books, forcing them to read me books, etc. And I don’t believe myself to be some kind of weird exception. I know plenty of other males who enjoy reading as well, just because it’s something enjoyable. If people continue to believe things like that, and market books like that, etc., then the reality will stick.

    Food for thought:

    Why is so much literary scholarship composed of men (writers, critics, professors), yet most literature programs in schools are composed largely of women?

    Great blog btw…

  7. thank you. i questioned the stat myself, which is why i threw it up there. i’m glad you shared your experience with this comment. i also know many girls and women who don’t/aren’t interested in reading. i also recently received a note on ok cupid from a dood who called me “bookish” (all of my friends better be laughing right about now), so it’s interesting what people assume. i’d love to hear more of your thoughts and i hope you return…

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