The Twilight of Roger Ebert

I had known from vague things that I’d read on Roger Ebert’s journal that he was ill and declining, but had not known exactly why. Today PZ Myers posted a pointer to an Esquire article that explains it all.

I had always respected Ebert’s movie reviews, even when I didn’t agree with them, but had never realized what a good writer he is until recently. His recent post on the demise of Jermyn Street in London is as good as it gets, seems to me. There’s nothing particular fancy or self-consciously artistic/literary about his writing — it’s just good solid prose with a wealth of images written in a natural, conversational style that is eminently readable and entertaining.

Ebert, like me, is a non-believer, and he writes this, quoted in the Esquire piece:

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

There’s nothing fancy about the language there, but the structure and flow of the thoughts is quite powerful.

Ebert is not dying imminently, but according to the Esquire piece he’s fading very gradually.

When his last day passes, I, for one, will miss his writing terribly, but for now, I am grateful for each new post to his journal that comes along. He’s not short-winded, and for that I’m very thankful, as it means there’s more to savor. And the conversations that ensue in the comments, with Ebert participating, are worth almost as much as Ebert’s journal entries.

Addendum: Ebert himself responds to the Esquire piece and points out that the article’s “Ebert is dying in increments” line is true of all of us. Indeed, it certainly is.

Travel to Europe

Roger Ebert tells this little story in his article taking down Sarah Palin:

And how can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer’s $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

This looks to me like a generational thing — Ebert is old enough to have benefited from the years in the early 70s when the dollar was still increbibly strong against European currencies. I have a friend who travelled to the South of France several summers in a row, at a time when he was making about $5,000 gross income per hear. I have always really envied that, because by the time I was that age (just out of college), the era of the strong dollar and cheap travel to Europe was simply over. Palin is two years younger than I, and she wouldn’t have had that opportunity, either.