Where I share my love of books with reviews, features, giveaways and memes. Family and needlepoint are thrown in from time to time.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life by Michael Greenberg (Book Review)

Title: Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life
Author: Michael Greenberg

Publisher: Other Press

About the book: In Beg, Borrow, Steal Michael Greenberg regales us with his vivid take on the life of a writer of little means trying to practice his craft or simply stay alive. He finds himself doctoring doomed movie scripts; selling cosmetics from an ironing board in front of a women's department store; writing about golf, a game he has never played; and botching his debut as a waiter in a posh restaurant.

Central characters include Michael's father, whose prediction that Michael's "scribbling" wouldn't get him on the subway almost came true; his artistic first wife, whom he met in a Greenwich Village high school; and their son who grew up on the Lower East Side, fluent in the language of the street and in the language of the parlor. Then there are Greenberg's unexpected encounters: a Holocaust survivor who on his deathbed tries to leave Michael his fortune; a repentant communist who confesses his sins; a man who becomes a woman; a Chilean filmmaker in search of his past; and rats who behave like humans and cease to live underground.

Hilarious and bittersweet, Greenberg's stories invite us into a world where the familial, the literary, the tragic, and the mundane not only speak to one another, but deeply enjoy the exchange. (inside cover)

My Thoughts: Being neither a writer or a New Yorker, I wondered if I would enjoy this book - as that is what some of the previous reviewers seemed to elude to on some level. Surprise, surprise - I enjoyed it very much. I don't read a lot of non-fiction work and I don't read a lot of short stories. As this was an autobiography that was composed of essays, I would have to say it doesn't fit my "type".

The essays were not necessarily chronological, but they were so entertaining. Like the one where his wife Pat, brings home a transgender friend named Georgina and he impulsively pulls out a tablet and begins taking notes. Or when he was working in a Manhattan criminal court as a translator for Spanish speaking defendant.
The spell finally broke when I was in court with a repeat violent offender who was about to be sentenced for kidnapping and "deranged indifference." The judge asked him if there was anything he wished to say for the record. The felon launched into a barrage of terrifying threats, each of which he vividly described. I stood mutely by his side until he ran out of steam, at which point I said in my politest voice: "Thank you, your honor. I have nothing to say." Amused, the judge let my omission slide, and handed down the mandatory sentence: twenty-five years with no chance of parole. (p92)

Bottom line is - this book doesn't take long to read, the chapters are each just a few pages long, so it is easy to read if you are sitting in your car waiting for your child's bus, sitting in a doctor's office, or standing in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil. While it doesn't do a lot to pump up a would be writer's hope, it does give an open look into the early years of Michael Greenberg. I haven't read his earlier work, Hurry Down Sunshine, but have a feeling I will be picking that one up soon.

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life
Publisher/Publication Date: Other Press, Sept 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59051-341-5
232 pages

~I was provided this copy for review from Tony at Random House.~


lilly said...

Hhhmmm, I haven't even heard of this book or this author. I might give it a try in 2010 as my stepping out of the box reading since I don't usually read essays of any kind.

bermudaonion said...

This doesn't fit my type either, but since you liked it, I'm very curious.


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