Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
Grand Central • $27.99 • ISBN 9780446584975
on sale September 13, 2011
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has written more than 15 books, worked for the Chicago Sun Times since 1967 and been on television for 40 years. While his memoir Life Itself covers every major moment in Ebert's life, it is more than anything an example of why he has become such a preeminent cultural voice.
On the set of the show, between actually taping segments, we had a rule that there could be no discussion of the movies under review. So we attacked each other with one-liners. Buzz Hannan, our floor director, was our straight man, and the cameramen supplied our audience. For example:
Me: "Don't you think you went a little over the top in that last review?"
Gene: "Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."
"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy."
"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm. Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"
"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from Saturday Night Fever."
Buzz: "Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?"
"He wanted to wear it today, but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."
Buzz: "Ba-ba-ba-boom !"
Will you be reading Ebert's memoir when it comes out in September?
Nearly two years ago, Jaycee Dugard was discovered living in a shed in the backyard of the man who abducted her at the age of 11 and is the father of her two daughters.
Now that her court case against Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy has been settled with a guilty plea, Dugard is telling her own story in a book to be published by Simon & Schuster on July 12 called A Stolen Life.
The public hunger for details about the Dugard case creates even more parallels to Emma Donoghue's bestseller, Room, which was inspired by a similar case in Austria. Hopefully Dugard, who has not spoken publicly or given interviews since her recovery, is prepared for the media onslaught that will doubtless ensue once the book is published.
Are you interested in reading Dugard's memoir?
We were excited enough about interviewing Gabrielle Hamilton for the March issue of BookPage. Now it turns out that the author of Blood, Bones & Butter is also America's Best Chef—at least according to the James Beard Foundation.
If you haven't already read our interview with her, this would be a good time to check it out! Meanwhile, we at BookPage hope to check out Prune the next time we're in NYC.
The title of his memoir was Dreams From My Father, but Barack Obama has never hidden the debt he owes to his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (the quote in the title of this post is his). In the new book A Singular Woman, biographer Janny Scott tells the story of Dunham's life, from her early years in Kansas to her time in Indonesia and her untimely death at 52 in Hawaii.
"To describe Dunham as a white woman from Kansas is about as illuminating as describing her son as a politician who likes golf. . . . [t]he label obscures an extraordinary story," says Scott in her introduction. She spoke with Dunham's uncle and both of her children, as well as hundreds of other family members, to compile this exhaustive biography.
More books about mothers and motherhood can be found in our Mother's Day feature.
Twenty-three-year-old Alice Ozma's new memoir, The Reading Promise, is all about the joy of reading: it chronicles the more than 3000 consecutive nights that she and her father, a single parent, spent reading aloud to one another. But does a love of reading translate to an apartment full of books? Ozma doesn't think so—read on for more.
Books: Sharing the love
guest post by Alice Ozma
People always assume, when they hear that I'm an avid reader and that I wrote a memoir about my father reading to me for 3,218 consecutive nights, that I own tons of books. They make jokes about it when they visit my apartment, especially since I have a study. They imagine wall after wall, shelf after shelf, of big, sturdy books. And they're shocked when they see what I have: one tiny bookshelf, up to about my knees, comfortably full but not at all jam-packed.
But the thing is, I just can't bear to keep books to myself.
When I buy a book, it is almost always used. I love knowing that it's been read, and loved, and passed along. It's like wearing my grandmother's jewelry. And once I own it, I can't bring myself to break that cycle. Try as I might, even if I know I'll want to reread it or reference it later, I can't help but pass it on. Whether I donate it, or give it to a friend, or leave it in the break room at work, I am happiest when I imagine the book being read. It wasn't made to sit closed and idle.
As a new author, I am keenly aware that the more “free” copies of a book float around, the less the person who wrote it makes. Even that does not deter my strange, insistent desire. I've heard the quote that love should be divided, not multiplied. It's something we can't just hoard.
The books I pass along may be dog-eared, tea-stained, and worn in some places. They may contain a few of my long, auburn hairs, or even a receipt that I used as a bookmark. But they're brimming with love. True love gets dusty on a shelf.
One of the books I'm most looking forward to this fall is—surprise!—not a novel. It's the latest biography of a Russian ruler from Robert K. Massie. His last few books have been on World War I, so it's exciting to see him returning to the subject that made him famous. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) will be published on November 29.
Though Catherine's eventful life would be a gripping read in any case, I have high hopes for Massie's version: his 1981 book, Peter the Great won the Pulitzer and is pretty much the best bio ever. The first time I read it, while taking a European history class in college, I peppered my friends with tidbits about Peter for weeks. (Roach problem? Peter the Great was afraid of roaches! Your dorm room is too small? The cabin Peter built for himself was only about 700 square feet, and his bedroom was barely large enough for him to lie down! Hate your boyfriend's beard? Take a page from Peter and tell him if he enters your presence wearing one, you'll rip it out!)
By the time you finish, you feel as though you know this temperamental, 6-foot-7 red-headed Russian tsar personally—maybe that's why I hopped straight into his lap when we met inside the Peter & Paul Fortress almost two years ago.
Catherine the Great is possibly the only ruler whose life story can equal Peter's. We're lucky that Massie is planning on telling it! Apologies in advance to my colleagues and friends if my conversation this fall centers on a former German princess who was more beloved by the Russians than her native-born husband, whose assassination she may or may not have participated in . . .
Edited to add: I interviewed Robert K. Massie about this book—check it out here.
Another 2011 release we have our eye on is Ruth Brandon's Ugly Beauty (Harper). Coming in February, the book is a dual biography of Helena Rubinstein and the founder of L'Oréal, Eugène Schueller, who faced off during the early days of the cosmetics industry. Though Rubinstein's company made her into the first female millionaire, Schueller's brand eventually triumphed, albeit at the price of his reputation—his rise to the top during the 30s and 40s meant collaborating with the Nazis.
From the catalog:
[C]ultural historian and biographer Ruth Brandon uses their conflict to ask important contemporary questions about feminism, standards of beauty, and the often murky intersection of individual political aims and the role of business. Drawn from incredible archival material and a vast historical record, Ugly Beauty is a riveting true story that reads like a thriller, filled with remarkable twists, turns, and larger-than-life characters.
Kenneth Slawenski, founder of the website Dead Caufields, has signed a deal with Random House to publish Salinger: A Life in the United States. The book will come out on January 25, 2011—two days before the one-year anniversary of J.D. Salinger's death.
The biography was published in the United Kingdom in March and The Telegraph called it "a first-rate book." According to a press release from Random House, Salinger will give us "a tremendous amount of new information" on the mysterious author's life:
His wartime romance; the inspiration behind The Catcher in the Rye; the impact of his experience fighting in the D-Day landings; the true story behind Franny and Zooey; full details on his romance with Oona O’Neill (later Mrs. Charlie Chaplin); his office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers; his friendship with Ernest Hemingway; surprising evidence that he intended to continue publishing after his last story appeared in l965, and much more.
Random House executive editor Susanna Porter calls it "the most definitive Salinger biography yet published."
Michael Lewis, author of many popular nonfiction books including The Blind Side, Liar's Poker and Next: The Future Just Happened, has signed a deal with Norton to write a new book titled Boomerang. This one will be about "the effects of the U.S. financial crisis on large and small European countries and how their difficulties impact the US." According to the Norton online catalog, the book will be available in June 2011.
If you'd like some background information on how we got into this financial mess, you might check out the anthology edited by Lewis, Panic!: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity. BookPage reviewer Anne Bartlett described that book as "readable," and I can attest from reading Liar's Poker that Lewis makes finance incredibly interesting—even for those of us who snoozed through econ class in college.
In other Michael Lewis-related news, Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B Entertainment, has bought the film rights to The Big Short.
Do you read Michael Lewis? What other mainstream financial writers would you recommend?
The next few months will bring two books inspired by the life and work of a long-dead French essayist. The first is a straight biography: in How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press), Sarah Blackwell takes on the literary giant's major question—How to live?—and answers it in 20 different ways based on his work.
Well educated and wealthy, Montaigne retired from society for a long period following the deaths of a daughter (one of six), his brother, his father and a close friend. It was then that he composed his essays in an attempt to understand himself and the world. The witty, intelligent writings had instant appeal and are full of quotable quotes that are still familiar today, such as the title of the second Montaigne biography, When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know that She Is Not Playing With Me? (Pantheon), coming in March.
Have you read Montaigne? Are you interested?