BEG, BORROW, STEAL by Michael Greenberg


A Writer’s Life
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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 skillfully explores issues that range from the profoundly tragic to the delightfully funny.

Succinct, entertaining personal narratives.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59051-341-5
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2009