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Roger Ebert may have “the most famous thumb in America,” said John Powers in NPRâ€‹.org. The Chicago Sun-Times film critic has been a major cultural figure for more than 35 years, thanks to various editions of the television show on which he and co-host Gene Siskel turned film criticism into a thumbs-up/thumbs-down exercise. Today Ebert is also a hugely popular blogger, having taken to the medium after cancers of the jaw and thyroid eliminated his ability to eat, speak, and drink. The influence of the blog, which includes some of “the best writing he’s ever done,” can be felt in his new book. A “chatty, upbeat, and structurally loose” affair, it’s “wholly free from the complaining and self-pity so popular in memoirs these days.”
It helps to have lived a mostly charmed life, said Craig Seligman in Bloomberg.com. Ebert sometimes has difficulty “separating the fascinating from the mundane,” but he’s an engaging narrator, leading readers through his happy Midwestern upbringing, his discovery of newspapers in college, and his out-of-the-blue assignment to the Sun-Times’ film desk at age 25. As a Chicago newspaperman, he ran with his heroes Studs Terkel and Mike Royko, but “he writes most affectingly about Siskel,” whom he worked with for 23 years, until Siskel’s death, in 1999. They began as real rivals, but grew close. Siskel, Ebert writes, “became less like a friend than a brother.”
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Ebert is what might be called a “first-rate second-rate memoirist,” said Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. He’s prone to oversharing, including the “names of every childhood friend, even his phone number when he was a boy.” Yet he’s clearly “so happy to be expressing himself in one of the few ways he has left, it’s hard not to be swept up in his enthusiasms.” Writing about his illness, he’s able to see his circumstances with a combination of wistfulness—at the loss of his ability to converse—and humor, comparing the face that surgery has given him to that of the creature in Alien (better, he says, than The Elephant Man). On the page, he’s still “exceptionally good company.”
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