Category: Great Writing

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, and who was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic, died Thursday in Chicago. …

His colleagues admired him as a workhorse. Ebert reviewed as many as 285 movies a year, after he grew ill scheduling his cancer surgeries around the release of important pictures. He eagerly contributed to other sections of the papers — interviews with and obituaries of movie stars, even political columns on issues he cared strongly about on the editorial pages.

The Chicago Sun-Times announced Thursday afternoon that Roger Ebert, the paper’s legendary film critic, had died.

You should without a doubt read “A Leave of Presence,” his final blog post, published less than two days before he died. I will excerpt only the final line, which I admit is completely cheap (and you should still read the entire thing), because it is one hell of a final line:

So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.

Longform has put together a few key Ebert stories, and additional collections, reflections and reminiscences are sure to come. [UPDATE: Here’s the Longreads page with additional stories.]

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Ebert truly was one of the all-time greats. He remains an inspiration for countless people, myself included, who cannot begin to express how much we learned from him and enjoyed what he did and how he did it. Many of us who never met him, and who only knew him through his words, cannot help but feel like we lost someone we knew.

George Clooney might adapt a truly amazing story

David Grann had one of his typically wonderful stories published in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, and even though all of Grann’s stories are perfectly-polished rubies presented gift-wrapped just for you, this was a particularly stellar piece of writing. “The Yankee Comandante” was about William Alexander Morgan, an American who traveled to Cuba to join Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in their revolution against Batista.

It really is an amazing story, and I highly recommend you set aside some time and read it right now; it particularly wowed me because I am from Florida, and so I really thought I knew enough of the particulars about Castro’s rise to power, and so it blew my mind that there was not only a story I hadn’t heard (this isn’t unique, there are tons of stories and things of which I am unaware), but that this story wasn’t so widely-known already. Seriously, go read it! Right now. I’ll wait.

(Right? Right.)

Anyway, Focus Features is trying to buy the rights to the article, and they want George Clooney to direct and produce a movie version. I normally don’t post things about people buying the rights to articles or studios wanting to hire directors, but in this case I am making an exception because (a) I would love to see a movie version of this story and (b) I think Clooney is an excellent choice for this.

But who knows? It could wind up not happening. This could wind up starring Jim Belushi. Nobody knows. For now, let’s at least bask in the potential.

“That is what death means”

“That is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear. Some years from now, at a funeral with a slide show, only one person will be able to say who we were. Then no one will know.”

Just in case you wanted something sunny to read on this Friday morning, here’s Roger Ebert writing thoughtfully about death and life and losing the people you know. It’s not uplifting! But it is worth reading.

“My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant”

Jose Antonio Vargas comes out as an undocumented immigrant in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine:

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

It’s not a unique story, of course, but it’s wonderfully told and definitely worth your time.

Christopher Hitchens on speech

What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.

— Christopher Hitchens on being rendered speechless. I am generally rather indifferent to him — I’m neither a fan nor filled with fervid disdain, which seem to be the only two options available — but this is worth your time.


On a moonless night eight months later, 79 American commandos in four helicopters descended on the compound, the officials said. Shots rang out. A helicopter stalled and would not take off. Pakistani authorities, kept in the dark by their allies in Washington, scrambled forces as the American commandos rushed to finish their mission and leave before a confrontation. Of the five dead, one was a tall, bearded man with a bloodied face and a bullet in his head. A member of the Navy Seals snapped his picture with a camera and uploaded it to analysts who fed it into a facial recognition program.

And just like that, history’s most expansive, expensive and exasperating manhunt was over. The inert frame of Osama bin Laden, America’s enemy No. 1, was placed in a helicopter for burial at sea, never to be seen or feared again.

— There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of stories out there rounding up information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. This is the one you absolutely must read.