A writer’s life is never as easy as it looks on a dust jacket – no 20 world blurb of polished prose to suggest the effortless flow of words as they land on the page.
The truth is conveyed in the hard-earned prose of Michael Greenberg, a writer of little means, who took on whatever jobs needed to keep writing. And that’s the secret here: not just telling stories, but living through them, even if it means inquiring into the life of a transgender dinner guest, with notepad in hand. He does so because, well, because a writer has to write. From the reader’s perspective, his writing seems to come easy, with conversational, urgent phrasing, yet thoughtful and conclusive essays.
Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life will become a bestseller today and a classic inspiration tomorrow. Just as people carried Kerouac and Bellow in their back pocket, Greenberg’s conversational tone stays with you, and you want to read his essays again and again.
Unlike a memoir in a traditional narrative thread (this happened, then this happened, then this), his collection of 44 essays shows Greenberg’s development as a writer, but told in selfless prose, examining and questioning the lives of others — from the experience of living under the command of an inventive toddler to the chronicle of the mundane daily commute, entitled “Notes of an Anti-Traveler”:
“Most people regard with distaste the possibility of adventure that comes with being in a closed capsule crowded with strangers. If something out of the ordinary occurs, commuters ignore it and hope that it will soon end. I was seeing things from another angle: unable to break out of the monotony of my days, I focused with greater intensity on it, in the hope that there was more to the monotony than I had suspected.”
Flying through the 1970's and 80's, we can sense Greenberg recalling long forgotten details and writing of them with a wiser eye as he reflects on the people he met. From one-time encounters to his efforts to improve a neighborhood situation, or befriend a person in need, we’re watching a writer tell his story.
After a string of dead-end jobs in the 70's, the author finds himself with too many writing, ghosting, or screenplay jobs, ‘in the margins of industry’ as he called them. Greenberg admits: “Lately, I’ve grown suspicious of my ability to manufacture sincerity, to write with apparent conviction about that in which I have no real interest."