Roger Ebert: Reading and Remembrance

The groundbreaking critic, and three of his favorite works of fiction.

Earlier this month, American journalism lost one of its singular voices: Roger Ebert, voracious writer and reader, and the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.  In 2008 he was deemed by Forbes to be “the most powerful pundit in America.”  In addition to his annual Movie Yearbook, he was the author of several published volumes, including review compendiums, essay collections, a novel, and even a cookbook — 2010’s The Pot, and How to Use It,  remarkably published after the author lost the ability to eat solid food following jaw surgery. Ebert began reviewing movies in 1967 and in 1975 began reviewing movies on TV, joined three years later by fellow Chicago film critic Gene Siskel for what would become their long-running program, At the Movies.  Ebert’s bestselling memoir, Life Itself, chronicled his childhood and career, offering a unique perspective on the evolution of journalism and cinema over the last four decades, as well as an unflinching account of his battle with thyroid cancer — all in the context of a life the author insisted was blessed.  In October 2011, Ebert here recommended three of his favorite books that helped him beguile the hours he wasn’t spending in screening rooms.

Books by Roger Ebert

A Fine Balance

By Rohinton Mistry

“Here is the best new novel I’ve read in recent years. It centers on two poor tailors in India, whose lives reflect the great changes in their nation during their lifetimes. Mistry is a natural storyteller, and here he has the sweep and fascination of Dickens, and a similar cast of unforgettable characters. How will I ever forget the affluent man who discovers by accident a legless beggar at a street corner is his brother? At a loss how to help him, he realizes that money would only destroy the beggar’s role as a neighborhood gossip and ‘post office.’ So he buys him ball-bearing wheels for the cart that supports his trunk.”

The Quincunx

By Charles Palliser

“Speaking of Dickens, here is a deep, vast, and richly Dickensian modern novel of London. A quincunx is ‘an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth at its center.’ In this case, Palliser deals with five generations of five families, and five codicils to a will, all with his hero at the center. The portrait of life in those days includes harrowing details about how people could be signed away for life in a madhouse against their wills, and a trade of scavenging for coins and other treasures in the sewers beneath the city (where a rising tide can trap and doom you).”

Act of Passion

By Georges Simenon

“Few novelists are more readable than Simenon, whose prose flows like running water. This is a new title in the New York Review of Books‘ ongoing republication of his best books. It’s told in the form of a self-justification written to a magistrate by a man ho is being tried for a heartless and inexplicable murder. Simenon is masterful in the way he toys with point of view, so that in this man’s words, and through his eyes, we see what others must have seen in him. One of the romans dur that Simenon wrote apart from his popular Maigret novels. Oh, I wrote the introduction to this edition.”