Most of the unconditional admirers of New York are from elsewhere. People like me, who grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s, couldn't wait to trade in "the provinces" for the Big Apple, and half a century later we're still besotted with its incomparable vitality. But Michael Greenberg, a native New Yorker, loves the city as a child loves a parent, and in its honor he has put together a collection of tightly written, incisive chapters, each another tessera or tile in a big mosaicand like tesserae, they are all placed at a slightly different angle to the light.
The New York Times
The short pieces in Beg, Borrow, Steal are in the tradition of the literary-journalistic essays that Europeans call feuilletons. Although flexible, this form requires skill and concision, and Michael Greenberg uses it brilliantly. Personal experience is at the center of each piece, but none is solipsistic; the tone is understated and ironic, and every essay contains a hard-won glimmer of insight.
The Washington Post
In these 45 thoughtfully crafted short essays written for London's Times Literary Supplement from 2003 to 2009, Greenberg (Hurry Down Sunshine) touches on his decades of trying to make good as a writer in New York City. Greenberg starts with early memories of growing up in Brooklyn, where he opted out of joining his father's scrap-metal business, instead dropping out of school in the early 1970s in search of a “blunt exotic experience” in Argentina and New York's Lower East Side. He ended up strapped with a young family of two children and faced years of plying odd jobs, like driving a cab, giving Spanish lessons, selling cosmetics on the street and ghost writing, all the while trying to write his novel. He fashions an anecdote for each of these experiences, in gently self-deprecating prose, such as writing for the movies and working the stock market, both to some success despite his naïveté. He tapped into an enthusiastic group of dachshund owners when he had to find another home for his child-nipping Eli, a troublesome pooch with a “disgraceful domed head”; he devotes chapters to the Negro Burial Ground and the paupers' cemetery on Hart Island, in New York City. As well, he offers touching reflections on the life of novelist William Herrick and editor Ted Solotaroff, and chronicles some funny run-ins with New Yorkers of all stripes. These are graceful ponderings by a deeply sympathetic soul, a consummate New Yorker and terrific writer. (Sept.)
Greenberg, a native New Yorker and author of the well-received Hurry Down Sunshine, collects 45 short essays that originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. Greenberg's editor gave him simple instructions: for each piece, spill a drop of blood, give it a sense of urgency, and do not exceed 1200 words. Greenberg skillfully meets his editor's requirements and seems to have carefully and artfully selected words and constructed sentences for maximum impact, much like a haiku, to which he likened his strict parameters. His narratives, which mostly take place in New York City, include an entertaining cast of characters and span from his youth in the 1970s through marriage and raising his own children to the near present day, with the underlying theme of a writer eking out a living by any means possible and, in turn, living a full life. VERDICT Each piece is about four pages long, which makes this a quick and easy read, especially for subway or bus commuters; recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and essays.—Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress, Washington, DC\
Times Literary Supplement columnist Greenberg follows his acclaimed debut memoir (Hurry Down Sunshine, 2008) with a collection of tight, readable essays. The author's refreshing approach avoids the self-indulgent and solipsistic impulses that often characterize autobiographical writing. In a concise format-modeled on that of his column for TLS, which, the author writes, "seemed as strict as that of a haiku"-Greenberg offers concentrated excursions into a wide variety of subjects, including film, literature, Jewish identity, immigration, racism, family conflict, the wildlife in Central Park, tenement housing, New York City's rat problem ("Dozens of them were hanging out like teenagers, copulating, browsing, completely at ease") and even the politics of transgendered sexuality. Although the narrative is structured in episodic fragments, Greenberg does an excellent job keeping them unified via his plainspoken, unpretentious tone. Most chapters read like anecdotes told among friends, yet at the same time the author creates poignant subtexts involving fundamental human values and emotions like love, desire, honesty and malice. In one essay, for instance, Greenberg recounts his days as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking defendants in a criminal court, and how this experience impacted his later compassion and sympathy as a juror in a case involving a janitor accused of selling drugs to students. In another, he relates the story of a tense friendship with a black man who implies that an uncomfortable number of black Americans harbor violent fantasies about killing whites. From odd jobs and family drama to political unrest in Argentina and the many pitfalls of memoir writing, Greenberg skillfullyexplores issues that range from the profoundly tragic to the delightfully funny. Succinct, entertaining personal narratives.
“[A] terrific new collection. . . . This book, with its intrepidity, humor, and dark insight, offers its own, irrefutable justification for ‘the writer's life.’” —The New Republic
“A writing memoir that belongs in the company of classics such as Grace Paley’s Just as I Thought, Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction, William Gass’s Fiction and the Figures of Life, and Eudora Welty’s One Writer's Beginnings.” —ForeWord Magazine
“Darkly comic. . . . Greenberg’s gifts as a storyteller—his spare style, shrewd use of detail, easy way with unpredictable references . . . lack of sentimentality, and sense of the surreal in the ordinary—are evident throughout the book.” —The New York Review of Books
“Greenberg, a native New Yorker, loves the city as a child loves a parent, and in its honor he has put together a collection of tightly written incisive chapters, each another tessera or tile in a big mosaic. . . . Greenberg is an acute observer.” —Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant. . . . Personal experience is at the center of each piece, but none is solipsistic; the tone is understated and ironic, and every essay contains a hard-won glimmer of insight.” —The Washington Post
“Greenberg is at the top of his form. . . . His writing [has] an attractive subtlety. . . . [It is] efficient, understated, languidly witty.” —The New Criterion
“Bring[s] together 44 of his finest. . . . The quotidian is illuminated and refracted through a cool, audacious eye. . . . Direct, unbuffered, sharp-edged.” —The Boston Globe
“Greenberg captures . . . the everyday texture of metropolitan life . . . with diaristic immediacy.” —The New Yorker
“Greenberg’s descriptions of his encounters with mentors, his dealings with the movie world and his endless family dramas are rendered with biting humor and insight. The unflinching stories are so well written, readers will wince.”—Florida Times-Union
“Succinct, yet beautifully detailed. . . . Sometimes tragic, often funny, always moving true-life tales.” —PopMatters
“Quietly elegant, effortless, valuable, and perfectly crafted, like gems or teardrops . . . [Greenberg writes] the way Chagall would make a stained-glass window, using familiar materials and skills to create something delicate and undeniable and new.” —Bookslut.com
“Beg, Borrow, Steal will become a bestseller today and a classic inspiration tomorrow. Just as people carried Kerouac and Bellow in their back pocket, Greenberg’s conversational tone stays with you, and you want to read his essays again and again.” —Blogcritics.org
“Poignant. . . . Most chapters read like anecdotes told among friends. . . . Greenberg skillfully explores issues that range from the profoundly tragic to the delightfully funny. . . . Succinct, entertaining personal narratives.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Graceful ponderings by a deeply sympathetic soul, a consummate New Yorker and terrific writer.” —Publishers Weekly