Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Beg, Borrow, Steal by Michael Greenberg

Beg, Borrow, Steal – A Writer’s Life
Michael Greenberg
Other Press, 2009

Many readers are likely to come to this book having read the Michael Greenberg’s much-lauded Hurry Down Sunshine, a 2008 memoir about his daughter’s breakdown. I haven’t read that book, but now that I’ve read Beg, Borrow, Steal I almost certainly will. He’s an engaging writer, with a style and approach that admit the existence of other people and the world around him. In other words, he’s not, at least in this book, the self-absorbed memoirist who gazes no further than his navel. I like that.

This book also appeals to me because of its structure. It consists of 44 short essays, each only about five pages long, dealing with some incident in the author’s life, usually something involving his family members or other people he’s come into contact with. The reader gets to know something about the writer through these vignettes, but the “writer’s life” is the context in which the writer finds himself, and that’s fascinating. In one chapter he writes of the rat problem in his New York City neighborhood and how he and the tenants of his building coped. In another he writes about his “inheritance” from an uncle and what it revealed about his relationship with his father. Another, “Kill What You Eat,” reminded me of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma in its approach to the subject of getting to know your dinner. I especially liked the title chapter, “Beg, Borrow, Steal,” in which he deals with the consequence of having used acquaintances as characters in his earlier book – having, in effect, stolen their souls. Common problem for writers. We can relate.

If there is one chapter that’s a bit self-absorbed it’s “The Writer’s Stock Exchange,” but again writers will relate. The title refers to a book’s rankings on Amazon.com. My own book isn’t selling so many copies that there’s much point in looking at these rankings, but of course I do anyway. I can tell, actually, from a movement in the rankings, when a copy has sold.

There’s a good deal more here, and it’s a book that is definitely worth the read.

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