Roger Ebert and the story you must read

roger-ebert-jaw-cancer-photo-esquire-0310-lg

“We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down — Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve — transforming them into mystics; still, it’s almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he’s become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.”

— Chris Jones, Esquire

I’ve been a professional scribe for nearly 16 years. I’ve had many ups and many downs, and enough success to be asked—more than once—what I consider to be great writing.

This story, which you must read, is great writing.

The author is Chris Jones, and if you haven’t heard of him, it means you’ve been missing out on some of the elite magazine work of the past decade. I urge anyone who wants to enter this field to read the profile first for pleasure, then to go back and take it word by word, or at least paragraph by paragraph. To begin with, the story is impeccably reported. Absolutely impeccably. Jones clearly did his research on Ebert’s career; on cancer; on Chicago. You don’t think about that while reading, because the guy is a great enough writer to smooth over any lumps. But look again—facts aplenty.

Second, Jones is a great writer without screaming “I’m a great writer!” No jump-off-the-page analogies (which, I hate to say, my first book is filled with). No forced transitions or stylish words for the sake of dazzle. Jones allows the narrative to unfold on its own; allows Ebert’s voice (even when, technically, he doesn’t have one) to carry the piece. That said, what Jones does best—and the part of magazine/book writer that flummoxes the most writers—is he inserts his own voice throughout; serves as the narrator without ever actually writing “I” or “me” or “Chris Jones.” The quote leading off this post displays that perfectly: “We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down — Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve — transforming them into mystics; still, it’s almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he’s become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.” Jones is talking; telling you what he thinks; sort of explaining the soul of Roger Ebert with his own perspective. But you, the reader, would never consciously think of it in those terms.

And that’s why this is brilliant.

PS: Speaking of Roger Ebert and brilliant, I dare you to read Ebert’s blog post on death. In a word: Amazing.

4 thoughts on “Roger Ebert and the story you must read”

  1. Great article.

    I used to not like Roger Ebert for petty things, like he hated a favorite movie of mine.
    I also thought he was out of touch, which is not the truth (although he gave just about everything 4 stars last year). It’s bullshit, because he’s sharper than ever and it goes over people’s heads how great of a writer he is because they just write him off as a movie critic.

    But I’ve been reading him, his blog, and anything he has done for the last 2 years and he’s been relentlessly great.
    For instance, on twitter, he tweets more than anybody this side of Kevin Smith. Except that his tweets are worthwhile, amusing, funny, expose bullshit, and are genuinely thoughtful.

    http://twitter.com/ebertchicago

    An amusing/sad thing is this asshat, Thomas J Zaleski, who is running for Congress in Arizona. He’s been bashing everybody on twitter who attacks him like a 10-year old kid and responded to Roger Ebert, a liberal, called him out a bit…

    http://twitter.com/ZALESKI4CONGRES

    THOMAS J ZALESKI:
    “another hasbeen Lefty still kicking? Thought you died years ago? Off the air for what, 10 years?” and then got told off and said this ” I had know idea who Ebert was. THought he died. Is he ill? If so I am sorry for his illness.”

    ^but yeah, I thought it was amusing and hilarious that the guy only has 101 followers and is trying to win office.

    Anyways, I’ll be devastated when Roger Ebert goes. I have a feeling he’ll

    PS

    When Ebert flames a movie, it is still one of the best things ever:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/06/the_fall_of_the_revengers.html
    TRANSFORMERS 2: “I didn’t have a stop watch, but it seemed to me the elephantine action scenes were pretty much spaced out evenly through the movie. There was no starting out slow and building up to a big climax. The movie is pretty much all climax. The Autobots® and Deceptibots® must not have read the warning label on their Viagra. At last we see what a four-hour erection looks like.”

  2. Good Canadian Chris Jones. Former Young Journalist of the Year in Canada while writing sports for the National Post. Now an Esquire-man.

    Gotta love it.

    Good on you for promoting an elite, humble talent.

Leave a Reply