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

Beg, Borrow, Steal deals with New York journalist Michael Greenberg's moving and humorous account of his attempts to make a living out of writing. Taking its title from one of Ray Lamontagne's songs, Greenberg writes a vivid and lively account of a struggling writer, forced to take a number of humdrum jobs (or "dead end jobs with no skills" as Greenberg describes them), and writing about subjects he knows nothing about in order just to survive.

The writer's mind

Following the success of his highly acclaimed 2008 memoir Hurry Down Sunshine, Greenberg's Beg, Borrow, Steal consists of 44 very short essays, where he examines his life as a writer. The essays all originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement between 2003 and 2009, and demonstrate a writer at the very top of his game. Writing on four decades Greenberg playfully writes about four decades, mixing encounters from his childhood right up to the present day, and what his wife cooked for dinner the previous night. It's a fascinating insight into the mind of a modern writer.

Positive points

With each essay just a few pages long, Beg, Borrow Steal is an ideal quick read wherein one you can dip in and out when you have a few minutes to spare.
Variety of topics The wide variety of topics covered is also impressive. So, one essay deals movingly with a holocaust survivor who, on his deathbed, offers to leave an entire fortune to Greenberg. "Everything I Hate in Fiction" Yet, another one is simply called "Everything I Hate in Fiction", which recounts a letter that Greenberg received from editor Ted Solotaroff, who so candidly gave his views on Greenberg's unpublished manuscript.
Amusing essays These essays are enjoyable, amusing, and above all, true for a man who had to beg, borrow, and steal to find success.

Negative points

Everything in Beg, Borrow, Steal originally appeared in the Times Literary Review, so those looking for a new Greenberg book might be disappointed. Obscure name drops Although, well-written, Greenberg frequently name drops authors, editors, and screenwriters, many of whom are quite obscure. Unless you are a writer, or particularly interested in the literary scene, it might be of little interest.
Short chapters The short chapters work well as a witty and quick snapshot of a time or mood, but are far too short to go into any real detail about events in Greenberg's life, or offer any practical advice for budding writers.

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