Roger Ebert began working on his memoirs during the years of his illness, and Life Itself is a volume of “memoirs” in the old-fashioned sense--an individual sharing his lifetime of personal stories, but not necessarily following the chronological structure of autobiography--rather than the more limited-focus “memoir” writing we’re more accustomed to seeing now. That said, the first third or so of the book is pretty straightforward autobiography, and Ebert’s account of his mid-century, Midwestern youth sounds like it wouldn’t have been out of place in a movie; I found it evocative and quite charming.
And that said, I suspect that it’s easier to write about one’s youth in that fashion than it is to discuss the years that follow it; adulthood tends to be a far less linear passage than childhood. Life Itself becomes more sprawling and likely to double back on itself after its midway point, but many of the stories and insights get more interesting. There’s some name-dropping, but in a work life that largely revolved around movies and the people who make them, I didn’t find it ostentatious or out of place; I’d actually rather see the names dropped in than read coy guess-between-the-lines references. And mixed in with the life stories, there’s plenty of movie talk. Ebert includes versions of several of his profiles of classic movie stars and discussions of the filmmakers and movies he’s found particularly meaningful, and most of these are insightful,
enlightening examples of the work he’s best known for.