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Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life

Review

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life

Michael Greenberg is a writer, one who has suffered the slings
and arrows that only those long-suffering writers without big
advances, fancy agents and movies made out of their books
understand. And he has turned each and every one of his odd jobs
--- and even odder experiences --- into a literary memoir called
BEG, BORROW, STEAL, chronicling his rise to the higher altitudes of
working authorship through equal parts dogged determination and
that unquenchable need to record in a native language the many
events that make up time on this planet.

Leaving home to make his way in the world as a teen, surviving
early fatherhood, working on the street selling faux high fashion
accoutrements, exploring Central Park, writing the memoirs (or
pretending to) for an aging self-important heiress, Greenberg not
only writes (and writes a lot) throughout his life, but manages to
turn even the most embarrassing situations into fodder for his
lively literary wiles.

That is not to say that if you aren’t a writer, you
won’t be able to connect with the visceral pain of some of
Greenberg’s unfortunate positions in the world (the great
projects that fell apart just at the moment of triumph,
especially). His writing is about something very essentially human,
the great question of existence in general: if you do something,
and no one ever sees it or knows that you did it, does it exist at
all? The answer, I think, is yes: the existence of a work of art or
art for hire doesn’t have to be validated by an audience ---
it’s just awfully nice when it is. And yet Greenberg keeps
writing, working on his own stuff and the work requested by others
with the same well-metered prose.

Greenberg’s memoirs couldn’t be classified as
emotionally stunning or particularly disruptive. He has a way with
snark, a little bit of annoyance running a vein through his direct
and concise language. But the most redeeming quality of BEG,
BORROW, STEAL is the inherent sense that art must be made,
regardless of your station in life, if you have the wherewithal to
create it. Using those artistic leanings for everyday commercial
purposes is a mixed bag of horror and comedy, and Greenberg's
recollections --- particularly of trying to write someone
else’s memoirs --- are funny and too honest to be considered
anything but true.

With the recent spate of memoirs that people have written and
embellished to make their stories as dramatic as possible in order
to enhance their original station, it is a relief to read
someone’s life story and know that it is truly his own. BEG,
BORROW, STEAL is that rare memoir that is actually a memoir. Like
Frank McCourt or Mary Karr, Greenberg can do nothing more than tell
us the truth with the real and tried tools of a storyteller at his
disposal. Nice work if you can get it…or make it.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 5, 2011

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life
by Michael Greenberg

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2010
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307740676
  • ISBN-13: 9780307740670