Books

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

Greenberg's New York lives and breathes (and sometimes stinks) like a larger than life hero.


Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life

Publisher: Other Press LLC
Length: 217 pages
Author: Michael Greenberg
Price: $19.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-09
Amazon

"Remember what I'm saying, Michael: more important than what you do for a living is who you do it for. Are you slaving for another man's fortune? Or can you hold your head up and call yourself your own boss?" That's the advice Michael Greenberg heard from his grandfather Louie while growing up, and it sounds sage, especially when you consider that Greenberg grew up to make his living as a professional writer. But like many things in life, the advice is not always what it first seems to be.

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life is also not what it seems upon first glance. You might think for instance, based upon the title, that it's perhaps a guidebook explaining how to survive on one's literary impulse alone. Or you might think it's a biography of its author, particularly if you recognize Greenberg's name from 2007's critically acclaimed Hurry Down Sunshine or from his columns in the Times Literary Supplement. It's a bit of both, really, as Greenberg relates his personal experiences and his professional insights through 44 succinct, yet beautifully detailed journalistic essays. In fact, all of the pieces included in this volume have appeared, in earlier incarnations and other forms, in his column between 2003 and 2009.

The essays are not necessarily chronological, but they do have a rhythm and a flow that suggests their placement is anything but haphazard. A story about how his high school girlfriend's family introduced Greenberg's budding poet to folk music, which led him to befriend guitarist Danny Kalb blends nicely with "Love in the South", which turns out to be a recounting of the conception of his first son after the same girlfriend had been wrongly imprisoned during a trip with Greenberg to Argentina. But, even when they don't follow each other directly the essays are tied together by recurring, deftly woven themes.

Tales like "A Tailor's Fortune", "$493 in Singles and Fives", and "Tycoon" focus on the money-or-lack-thereof aspect of Greenberg's chosen profession, while chapters "Brotherly Love", "Memory and Expectation", and "Another Way of Starving" among others, deal with his family and formative impressions. Many, if not most, of these stories touch on Jewish identity (Greenberg's, his immediate family's, and that of his ancestors), and all of them incorporate New York City.

New York is as much a central character in these pieces as Greenberg himself, sometimes more. Whether describing an unusual adventure with a motorman friend on the subway in "Lobster Shift", documenting the wildlife of Central Park in "Owls", or comparing the common brown Norway rat that often overruns the city to a sex-crazed, anxiety-prone, gluttonous teenager in "Oh! Oh! There He Goes!", Greenberg's New York lives and breathes (and sometimes stinks) like a larger than life hero. It grows, decays, it changes.

Indeed, as you read and re-read the sometimes tragic, often funny, always moving true-life tales in Beg, Borrow, Steal you'll come to realize that the protagonist in these stories isn't who it initially seemed to be. It isn't really the struggling writer at all, but the city he loves.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image