Book Review: Zero K by Don DeLillo

The aftermath of reading this novel is a residual impression of the plot, characters, and imagery as a totality.  However, it is a weak impression.

As soon as I heard about Zero K I decided to give it a read.  After all, it’s seldom that a mainstream literary author ventures into the realm of science fiction, and I was curious how DeLillo would handle the material.  Unfortunately, I am at present financially challenged, and I couldn’t afford the new hardcover price, not even with Amazon discounts.  Additionally, the multiple copies in the Seattle Public Library system had long wait lines for holds.  I thought I’d have to wait for the paperback, but then a copy of the book turned up at one of the cute local neighborhood outdoor lending libraries.

I have not read any of DeLillo’s other books, so I have no basis for comparison when discussing Zero K.  I can only take it on its own merits and compare it to what I suppose that a science fiction writer would do with the material.

The story is narrated in first person by the son of a billionaire who has become fascinated by and is heavily donating to an independent organization called Convergence.  It specializes in cryogenic preservation of people who are near death with a view to reviving them and extending their lifetimes in the future.  The narrator’s stepmother is being frozen, and his father wants to do himself in too but ultimately decides to put it off for a time.  Much of the first part of the book describes the cryogenic facility set in a Central Asian wasteland.  The story then takes the narrator and his father back to New York, and finally they return to the cryogenic facility when his father decides to join the narrator’s stepmother in her frozen sleep/death.

The story moves glacially slow.  I couldn’t help contemplating, as I read, what Roger Zelazny or Samuel Delaney, both great science fiction literary stylists, would make of the material.  For one thing, I think they would write it much shorter, in novelette or novella form.  There simply isn’t enough substance to justify the length.  There are too many words, a lot of empty space within the text, and too little is said.  Some of it makes sense within the context of the novel but much of it doesn’t.  The characters, too, are like shadows: vapid, shallow.  They do things that appear random and unmotivated.  They are privileged people, and not people with whom one can empathize.  DeLillo does not make much effort to give them the touches of humanity that would draw a reader into the story.  Even when the narrator describes his past life and the events that precede his present actions, it is all laid out as an abstraction, like the description of the monotonous hallways in the underground complex.

I almost gave up on this book, it was so slow, but I persevered because I was curious how the author would resolve things.  It all came out as I expected, no real surprises, and in the end I had the feeling that the story was okay but it would have been much stronger if at least half the extraneous material had been edited out.  DeLillo is obviously a more than competent craftsman of the English language; he simply took the material that would have been concise and dynamic as short fiction and extended it too long.

As a foot note to this review, after I finished the book, I returned it to the neighborhood library where I had found it.  These libraries are common around the area I live in, and are a relaxed and magnanimous way to share books with other bibliophiles.  I have read comments in online forums by the paranoid that people might take some of the books and sell them on Amazon and other outlets.  I don’t think that happens too often, as I often monitor the contents of the little library boxes around our area while I’m out for walks, and turnover is slow.  But my response to this is: So what?  If someone is so poor that they have to rob neighborhood libraries to earn a couple of bucks by selling books, I say that they’re welcome to them.  There are plenty of books in the world, thank God.

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“Heroes” in Space and Time

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Most of my short story sales in recent years have been to anthologies, or book-length collections, so it’s fun to have a story appear in a magazine.  The Fall 2016 issue of Space and Time: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction just came out, and it includes my story “Heroes.”  Although the magazine has not retained the same editor/publishers, Space and Time has been in continuous publication since 1966, so 2016 is its fiftieth anniversary.  You can order single issues of the current magazine directly from the Space and Time website and electronic issues from Weightless Books.

Space and Time is one of the longest-running of the small press magazines devoted to the genre of speculative fiction.  Such magazines contribute regularly to best-of-the-year anthologies and awards lists and are a viable alternative for authors who find it difficult to break into the few top-tier science fiction and fantasy magazines.  They offer exposure to an established network of readers and a paycheck as well.  It’s a win-win situation.

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Book Review: Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee

When I read books on writing, I don’t expect to agree with everything the author says.  There are as many theories on writing as there are writers, and that’s as it should be.  Still, the opinions and advice of others can help me sharpen my own tools of the trade.  Robert McKee is renowned as a writing teacher, especially of screenwriting.  I read his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting years ago, and though I have never attempted to write a script, I found it valuable in planning the structure of some of my novels.  This new book, Dialogue, takes a wider approach than Story, and encompasses not only writing dialogue for the screen, but also for plays and novels.

As I was reading the book, I came across a discussion of it on a blog focusing on indie writing that I frequently peruse.  Those who contribute to the discussion boards have a tendency to be very opinionated, and this thread was no exception.  There was a lot of criticism of McKee’s ideas, which is fine, but I think that some of the commentators missed the point.  They are under no obligation, when they read a work like this, to take or leave the entire work as a whole.  Some parts of it may be relevant or useful to them, while other parts may not.  For me, McKee’s credentials and opinions are solid enough for me to at least listen to what he has to say.

The book starts slowly, with explanations of the basics of what constitutes dialog and what its functions are.  Because I am so familiar with the concepts McKee presents in these chapters, I almost lost interest.  I persisted, however, and was rewarded in later chapters when McKee analyzes specific scripts, plays, and novels to illustrate the principles he propounds.

There’s no harm in having a keener appreciation and understanding of the tools that a writer uses to bring about desired effects in his work.  The danger comes in over-analysis of technique to the detriment of creativity.  Dean Wesley Smith differentiates the creative side of a writer with the critical side, and stresses that if you overemphasize the critical, you can stifle the creative.  He has a good point, of course, but there is a difference between over-analyzing your work so that it becomes a mass of disparate parts rather than a coherent whole, and being familiar with the tools of the trade with which you work.

In my opinion, McKee does fall into the trap of over-analyzing.  He acknowledges that there is a difference between the creation of a work and analyzing it in aftermath.  For writers, the best way to approach a book like this is to consider it a sharpening and fine-tuning of some of the tools that they use, and if there is any advice with which they disagree, they should feel free to completely ignore it.  This book considers many nuances of dialogue, and it may be that after you have read it, you may be able to use some of its principles to bring the dialogue that you give the characters in your own works into sharper focus.

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Book Review: I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrere

This is a very disturbing book.  It was first published in French in 1993, and the English translation was published in the United States in 2004.  Philip K. Dick died in 1982, and Carrere had several already-published biographies of Dick to draw on to fact-check Dick’s life; nevertheless, some critics consider I Am Alive and You Are Dead to be a sort of nonfictional novel that draws from the science fiction writer’s life.  Perhaps this is because it takes liberties in interpreting Dick’s state of mind as Carrere journeys through the often sordid events that constituted his life, or because Carrere blends lengthy descriptions of the plots of Dick’s books into the narrative. The biographer gets inexplicably and annoyingly self-indulgent near the end when he devotes several chapters to a sort of stream of consciousness narrative of Dick’s deteriorating state of mind just before his second attempt at suicide and subsequent stay in a mental hospital.  However, whether every detail is true or not, most of it rings true.

The fact is, Philip K. Dick wrote some popular well-received science fiction novels but lived an extremely troubled personal life.  Early on, as a young adult, he became addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, and maintained and increased this addiction throughout most of his life.  He married and divorced five times, being unable to sustain a mature relationship.  He had a number of phobias, including agoraphobia, the fear of the outside and open spaces, which caused him to sequester himself within the confines of his various homes.

He began writing and selling science fiction in 1951, when he was 22 years old, and remained a professional writer his entire life.  However, due to his only being able to sell his work to low-paying pulp markets, he was poor most of the time, adding to his stress, which he alleviated by taking downers, and then amphetamines while he was writing to stimulate his creativity.  He won the Hugo award in 1962 for his brilliant novel The Man in the High Castle, but though it brought him a measure of respect within the genre, it did not alleviate his financial woes.

Dick drew on his own fears and psychoses for inspiration for much of his work, which is characterized by confused identities, parallel universes, evil doppelgangers, and drug trips gone wrong.  Personally, I have not read many of his books, as I am partial to more stylistically elegant writers of the era such as Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delaney, Robert Silverberg, and James Tiptree, Jr.  Dick’s writing style is rudimentary, and is characterized by flamboyant ideas rather than flamboyant prose.  I read The Man in the High Castle and felt that it was an understated masterpiece.  I also read a collection of his more popular stories, and they were entertaining, but my impression was that they seemed very similar one to another.

An extraordinary amount of Philip K. Dick’s novels and short stories have been adapted for film or television, the most popular being Blade Runner, from his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Total Recall, from the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”  Most of the adaptations, however, were posthumous productions, so Dick was never able to benefit from the financial bounties that might have been his had he lived longer.

The main lesson that I carry away from this book, which I knew already but which bears repeating, is that literary success does not at all guarantee a happy life.  I should know better, but I fall into the trap frequently of thinking that if only I could achieve success as a writer, my life would be more fulfilling and satisfying than it is now.  It’s a myth.  There’s nothing of truth in it.  Yes, I receive a thrill when an editor accepts a story for publication or a reviewer raves about the merits of one of my stories.  But these rushes of excitement are short-lived.  Afterwards it’s back to the struggle for survival.  What would really help me out in the long term is the financial stability that literary recognition would bring, to a degree at least.  At the beginning of this year, in mid-February, I made a big story sale and for a week or so I relaxed from the stress of our financial situation.  I had been living with that stress for so long that a non-stressed-out state felt like being high.  Alas, it was short-lived.  Soon after, emergency dental bills wiped out all the money that had just come in and much more besides.  C’est la vie.

But I digress.  In the multitudes of biographies of troubled artists, Philip K. Dick stands out as more troubled than most.  The story of his life is a sad, sad story.  At the same time, this book is fascinating as the author traces Dick’s descent deeper and deeper into drugs and confusion.  In a way, his art was the only thing that granted Dick surcease, for limited periods of time at least, from his inner demons.  At the least, his fictional chronicles of his journey through his own interior landscapes have given entertainment and inspiration to many.

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Book Review: Mr. Magic Realism by Bruce Taylor

I met Bruce Taylor at a Clarion West writer’s gathering in Seattle.  Up until then, I hadn’t met anyone in the year and half since I’d begun attending such events that had attended Clarion West anywhere near as far back as I had, which was 1973.  Bruce, however, informed me that he attended Clarion West in 1972.  Got me.

Bruce said that he wrote magic realism, so I brought up Jorge Luis Borges, one of the few writers I have read extensively whose works, at least some of them, are said to fall into the genre of magic realism.  Bruce countered that magic realism encompassed much more than the works of Borges.  He mentioned Kafka as his main influence and the defining founder of the genre of magic realism.  He himself, he said, had been writing and publishing it for decades and is known as Mr. Magic Realism.

Wikipedia defines the genre as including literature with magical, unreal, or fantastic elements in real world settings. The author often presents the material as if there is nothing extraordinary about it, and uses it to criticize society or politics.  Fair enough, although in literature genres are often fluid and not fixed, and specific works may have elements of several critically-defined genres such as magic realism, fantasy, surrealism, and science fiction.  Bruce Taylor’s stories certainly are a blend of many of these.

For an introduction to Bruce Taylor’s work, I decided to read his collection called Mr. Magic Realism.  It’s a well-packaged book, with a cover painting of all sorts of objects popping out of a magician’s hat, and a back cover photo of white-bearded Bruce himself in a white suit, white shoes, and a white top hat, smiling and pointing to the back-cover blurbs.

As I said, the stories in the book include aspects of fantasy, science fiction, and surrealism.  They all deal with the absurd or horrific intruding into the lives of everyday people, and the typical reaction is for the characters to deal with their weird circumstances as if they were normal.  The stories are light and entertaining.  One thing I enjoy about them is that for the most part they remain gentle and humorous even when the subject matter is grim.  Another aspect I find entertaining is that Taylor often breaks the fourth wall by putting himself into the story as a minor character, somewhat similar to the way you see Stan Lee somewhere in most Marvel movies.  Although the intrusions are blatant, they are deftly handled, and add to the overall surrealistic air of the tales, teasingly suggesting, or at least hinting, that all these strange and fascinating things happen, at least somewhere and sometime, and the author merely looks in and reports them as a journalist would.  That’s the enchantment of these stories.  You know they are absurd; you know that reality doesn’t work like that; but you are willing to sit down with the author, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy a tall tale well told.

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Book Review: Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle by Murray Morgan

I was born and raised in Seattle, but back in the 1950s and 60s when I grew up, Seattle was very different than it is now.  It was a backwater, in fact, compared with many of the rest of the big cities in the States.  There were no tech giants here to raise the cost of living through the roof; the only local company of any fame or economic consequence was Boeing, and although it was powerful, it was somewhat removed in its own sphere of influence.

Seattle was a cheap place to live back then.  Nowadays a one or two bedroom apartment in a fairly decent area – or even in some areas that are not so decent – runs a minimum of $1500 to $2000.  Back in the 70s, I once rented the two-bedroom top floor of a duplex in Wallingford for $100 a month, and on another occasion rented a three bedroom independent house in the University District for $200 a month.  Those were the days.  Sometimes I wax nostalgic for those times before Seattle got caught in the spotlight of the elite.  Ah, well, what’s done is done.

This book goes back much further.  It roughly covers the 100 years from about 1850 to 1950 when Seattle grew from being a settlement of a few hardy pioneers on Puget Sound to a major metropolis.  It’s broken into chapters to correspond to the various stages of its growth, including its selection as a site for a deepwater port, its dealings with Native Americans and its local Indian war, the rise of the gambling houses and brothels, the struggle its citizens waged to make it the western transcontinental railroad head, the devastating fire that wiped out the entire burgeoning downtown area in one fell swoop, its importance as a hub of supplies and banking for the Alaskan gold rush, the evolution of its politicians and newspapers, its notoriety as the first city in the nation to call a successful general strike, and its role in the consolidation of organized labor.  The author tells all these tales with a deft pen, focusing on the larger-than-life characters that played crucial parts in all these historical events.

In the midst of reading this fascinating look back into the local past, I thought it might complement the book to see some photos and artifacts from these eras.  Fortuitously enough, when I got the idea it was the Wednesday before the first Thursday of the month, when most Seattle museums allow free entry for the day.  So along with my fourteen-year-old son, I traipsed off to the Museum of History and Industry on the south shore of Lake Union.  The main feature of the museum, which wraps around the second floor balcony and fills numerous rooms, is the Seattle history display.  The various exhibits, starting with the Native American presence before Seattle was even an idea, follow the chapters of the book quite closely and greatly aided me in bringing the stories to life in my imagination.

This is an older book, first published in 1971.  I found it at a Seattle Friends of the Library book sale; it’s a paperback edition, and I picked it up for 50 cents.  It’s well worth the four bits, that’s for sure.  It stoked my imagination and made me think of what the Northwest was like before Seattle grew immense and powerful.  The area I live in today was once wild evergreen forest.  In a way, as few cities I’ve lived in, Seattle retains remnants of its wilderness, as interspersed among the rows of houses in the suburbs is an abundance of towering evergreen trees.  As you’re walking along the sidewalks, if you keep your eyes focused above the rooftops, you can almost imagine you’re hiking through a forest, or at least just a few steps away from one.  And this book gives a good overview of the background that made the city what it is.  It’s a good read even if you’ve never visited Seattle, let alone lived here.

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Book Reviews: Bleed Into Me: A Book of Stories and After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones was one of the guest instructors at the 2016 Clarion West Science Fiction Writers Workshop.  I first met him at a Tuesday night reading at the University of Washington Bookstore.  Since he’s a Blackfeet Native American, I asked him what I could read of his work that reflected Native American themes.  He suggested Bleed Into Me, his first short story collection.

It turned out to be the only book of his that wasn’t available to order on Amazon.  A search turned up a copy in the Seattle Public Library system, so I reserved it and waited for it to arrive at my branch.

Bleed Into Me is a collection of literary fiction on the Native American experience.  Some of the stories are short almost stream-of-consciousness vignettes, while others read more like traditional stories.  Jones has a lean, honest style that tells the bare bones of a tale but leaves much for the reader to fill in.  Some of his stories reminded me of the work of Sherman Alexie, only Jones’s stories are less comedic; they are darker, bleaker, and in some instances full of despair.  The Native American experience, yes.

However, I felt my foray into the works of Stephen Graham Jones was incomplete.  After all, during his reading and during a conversation we shared during a writer’s gathering, it was obvious that the fantasy/horror side of his writing was very important, perhaps even of paramount importance, to him.  He loves the horror genre, particularly the subgenre of werewolf stories.  That’s why he was a teacher at the workshop, and I have a feeling that writing horror is one thing that helps him cope with the unresolved bleakness and despair I found in his first collection.

So I decided to try out some of his more recent work, and I got hold of his fantasy/horror collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off.  And yes, this is where it all came together.  Not to minimize his earlier work, but the combination of his Native American background and his interest in horror and the macabre makes for some good reading.  When he spoke and answered questions after the reading, he made it clear how much horror means to him.  He’s one of those writers (like me) who can’t not write, who feels compelled to write as a calling, and in his case, horror is the means to let out whatever is screaming to burst free from his heart and mind.

As I mentioned, he is particularly enamored of werewolves, and his latest novel, Mongrels, from which he read, exudes his fascination with them.  In fact, After the People Lights Have Gone Off has the werewolf story that turned out to become the first chapter of that novel, and it’s one of the strongest stories in the book.  The other stories vary in intensity but are all entertaining.

So in attending the reading, I experienced a thrill every reader looks for: a great new author to read.  Horror is not really my preferred genre for reading or writing, but once in a while an author comes along and compels me to make an exception.  Stephen Graham Jones is one such writer.

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Book Review: Telling Tales: The Clarion West 30th Anniversary Anthology Edited by Ellen Datlow

While I was at the Norwescon science fiction convention last spring, I attended a panel on the value of workshops for writers.  There are all sorts of different types of such workshops, from local meet-ups of aspiring writers who informally read each other’s works to workshops led by professional writers or editors that may last from a day to several weeks.  All the panelists agreed, however, that at the topmost tier were the Clarion workshops.

I attended Clarion West way back in 1973 when I was an immature but enthusiastic writer who had just turned twenty years old.  I raised my hand and explained to the panel and audience that I had been unready back then to profit much from the specific writing advice proffered by the professional guest instructors and my peers.  What did stick with me is the sense of community.  Before I went to Clarion West, I didn’t realize that there were others such as myself, people who were obsessed with writing and thought that nothing on Earth compared to the thrill of making a career of putting words together into stories.

None of the stories I wrote back in the seventies survive.  What survives is the community.  Four decades later, when I finally found myself back in Seattle after wandering far, including thirty-five years of living overseas, the fellowship of Clarion West graduates and instructors welcomed me with open arms.  It’s a tight-knit and yet wonderfully open and accepting group of intelligent, sympathetic, and encouraging individuals devoted to the reading, writing, and promotion of speculative fiction literature.

At the core of Clarion West is the workshop.  It’s an intensive six-week immersion into writing and critiquing science fiction and fantasy short stories that takes place every summer in Seattle, Washington.  Each week a different instructor teaches the students, who are expected to turn in a story for critiquing every week.

Telling Tales is an anthology of short stories from students of the workshop who have made a successful go of professional writing. The stories are reprints from as far back as the 1990s, and they have been donated by the authors to help raise funds for the workshop.  They have all seen previous publication in renowned science fiction magazines and anthologies.

It’s a good collection.  Some of the stories are not exactly my cup of tea, but all of them are nevertheless good stories.  One of the best is “Beluthahatchie” by Andy Duncan, which is my second-favorite deal with the devil fantasy of all time.  (First, for the curious, is “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet.)  Another story that stood out to me is “Bitter Dreams” by Ian McHugh.  I’m not a fan of zombie movies or zombie stories, but McHugh brings a fresh take to the idea by injecting local Australian color into it with the background of the Outback, the local slang, and the concept of dreaming as a source of dark power.  “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” by Kij Johnson starts out slow, I think, but grows in intensity as it goes along and arrives at an immensely satisfying conclusion.

Other stories in the anthology are very entertaining as well.  Overall it’s an anthology of strong stories that’s well worth reading, and it has the added advantage that purchasing it helps the Clarion West writers workshop, which relies heavily on donations to keep helping new writers in the science fiction and fantasy genres find their unique voices year after year.

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Book Review: “Not So Much” Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick

Not So muchMultiple Hugo and Nebula winner Michael Swanwick writes both novels and shorter works, but it is in short stories that he truly shines.  He’s one of those writers that is at home in the shorter length; others that I can think of right off include Harlan Ellison, James Tiptree, Jr., Jorge Luis Borges, and R.A. Lafferty.  Some of the stories in this collection, in fact, remind me of Lafferty’s stories: spare, precise, poetic, and with just a few subtle tweaks of reality to spin the reader off into an alternate dimension or situation.  Like Lafferty’s too, not all of these stories make any sense or have any internal logic, but they are not meant to have these qualities.  Instead, the author puts you into a situation that may be only slightly different from so-called reality, gives you a shove, and propels you farther and farther into an abyss or a labyrinth or a rabbit hole until you end up at some surreal, strange, and absurdly other sort of location and wonder how you got there.

As Swanwick states in the introduction, many writers give up short stories for pecuniary reasons – there just isn’t enough money in it.  However, he has persevered out of a deep love for the form, and the results show. Sure, I like some stories in this collection more than others, but they are all entertaining.  Few if any aspire to deep meaning or relevance to current situations, but they are all damned fine tales that can keep you company on a quiet evening or a long journey.

Among my personal favorites are “Passage of Earth,” about a grotesquely alien life form that possesses a coroner during an autopsy, “The Woman Who Shook the World Tree,” about a homely-looking scientist who follows her true love into another dimension, and “Tawny Petticoats,” about a fascinating scheme in an alternate New Orleans by the recurrent con artist characters Darger and Surplus.  I also enjoyed the deep appreciation for the Irish countryside and culture manifested in the moody romantic tale “For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again.”

My only criticism of the collection has nothing to do with the stories.  In my opinion, the fascinating introduction was too short.  Swanwick briefly summarizes his genesis and early years as a writer, and I hungered for more details.  I would have appreciated not only a much longer introduction, but also introductions or afterwards about each of the stories detailing what he was going through in his mind and his life when he wrote the tales.  I understand that some writers like the stories to stand on their own and are reluctant to say more about them, but the sparse introduction is so good it makes you long for more.

All in all, this is a solid, entertaining collection by one of the masters of the short story form.  Swanwick is someone you can count on to deliver quality goods, and these stories do not disappoint.

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Book Review: Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert

As I mentioned in my recent essay on movies, Roger Ebert is the only film critic whose opinions I seek out about films I am interested in, at least those films made before 2013, when he died.  Although I don’t always agree with his analyses of films, he brought intelligence and insight to the reviews he wrote for over four decades.  He died of cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands, and for the last few years of his life, after three unsuccessful surgeries, he was unable to speak, eat, or drink normally.  It was during this time, in a profoundly contemplative state of mind, that he wrote this touching memoir.

Although I read the entire book, including the beginning chapters, out of respect for the conditions under which the writer was working, you can easily skip over the early part if you want.  The book gets interesting on page seventy-five of my hardcover edition, with the chapter titled “Newspaper Days.”  The chapters before talk of Ebert’s parents and grandparents and other relatives, but it’s sort of like paging through someone else’s family photo album – it doesn’t really mean anything except to the family involved.

With that eleventh chapter on his beginnings in journalism, though, Ebert gets into the shaping of his career as one of the most famous film critics ever.  He started out with small papers, eventually made it to the Chicago Sun-Times, and was handed the film critic job because it became available, without ever seeking it.  In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Sometimes Ebert moves through his life chronologically, but when he discusses famous actors such as Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, and John Wayne, and directors such as Russ Meyer, Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Woody Allen, he devotes a chapter to each.  He drank with these people, spent time on their sets, and interviewed them multiple times.  He has all sorts of interesting stories to tell about their off-camera behavior and their impressions of the cinematic process and their own work.

Ebert also traveled extensively, mostly connected with his role as film critic, and he describes his favorite places in London, Venice, and other locales with a nostalgic glow.  He also goes into his past romantic laisons and how his marriage to his wife Chaz gave him stability and companionship.

Ebert wrote this book knowing that he was probably living the last few years of his life.  He mentions this several times.  It gives a profundity and honesty to the writer/reader relationship.  You can tell that Ebert has pulled out the stops and is writing from his heart.  He has nothing to lose by telling the truth.  And the truth is that he had a huge influence on American culture.  His reviews shaped American understanding of cinema as an art form.  I recommend this book not only to those who love films, but also those who enjoy reading a good memoir.  I also recommend his website, rogerebert.com, where his reviews are archived.  There’s a search engine that can quickly put you in touch with what he has to say about almost all important past films.  His reviews are well worth reading.

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