As a movie critic, Roger Ebert’s writing was always thoughtful without being pretentious and charming without being manipulative. In just a few words he could get across big concepts and a lot of personality, but, though he was a great entertainer, he was always honest and never pandered to his audience. His memoir continued this tradition.
The early portion of Life Itself gave a very thorough account of his childhood. While the level of detail he recalled in portraying his perspective of the world as a child impressed me, this was probably the least accessible chunk of the book. It felt a little indulgent, which is certainly forgivable given the circumstances. (He wrote it toward what he knew would be the end of his life.) I’d guess these details mean a lot to his family, but as a reader I felt a little left out and bogged down at times.
As it progressed through his college and adult life, however, the book picked up. I laughed out loud several times at funny anecdotes and observations, found some of his obsessions and odd rituals sort of inspiring and, of course, reflected on a number of depressing moments. Just like his reviews, he found a way to make each of these topics along the way very entertaining.
I feel like more than anything, Roger Ebert was a person looking for meaning – in earnest, which I think is rare. He looked for it in movies. He looked for it in his relationships. He looked for it in the deaths of his family and friends. In his last years, he spent a great deal of time looking for it in his impending death. I hope he found it.