Monday, April 14, 2008

Roger Ebert

A.O. Scott's lovely tribute to Roger Ebert in Sunday's New York Times set me to a-contemplating.

Roger -- a former colleague of mine on the Chicago Sun-Times -- cannot speak, owing to a series of surgeries for cancer of the salivary glands. (He "talked" by pad and pencil with Scott during a recent visit. Whether that, or perhaps a laptop computer that displays his words on a screen, is his preferred mode of communication I don't know.)

But the important thing, Scott writes, is that Ebert is back at his old stand producing film criticism, even though he no longer performs on television. That Roger will make up for his absence from the tube I have no doubt. For years he has astonished me with the range and depth of his printed output -- several movie reviews a week, plus a heavy-duty profile of an actor, plus op-ed pieces of a liberal bent, and more. All this and, up to a few years ago, a weekly television show.

What is truly extraordinary is that everything Roger writes is top-drawer, his prose crisp and readable, full of generosity of spirit as well as crackerjack intellect. His longtime answer to those who think he spreads himself too thin is just to be first-rate in everything all the time. I can't remember when he ever stumbled or coasted. This guy didn't sit on his Pulitzer Prize but just got better afterward.

Did I say "generosity"? On the Sun-Times he and I were friendly but not friends -- we ran in different professional crowds, and I rarely saw him in the office, for he works at home. But when I asked him to read Cache of Corpses for a possible comment on the jacket, he didn't hesitate. He not only wrote a lovely, enthusiastic "blurb" but also boosted the novel in other venues.

Roger, I think, knows the deepest meaning of E.M. Forster's "Only connect! . . . Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."

Connecting with the world by means of speech is difficult for me -- I am deaf -- but for me as well as Roger, written prose bridges the chasm. (Why else do you think I write a blog in retirement?)

We connect, Roger and I. We connect.


  1. Henry -- I think you got it exactly right. Thanks for saying it for me. -- Jan

  2. I became a reviewer because of Roger Ebert and started writing for the Sun-Times because of him as well. His influence on my professional life has been profound.

    Without a doubt, he is my choice as the best critic in any field I've ever read.