Beg, Bor­row, Steal: A Writer’s Life

Michael Green­berg
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011

Michael Green­berg moved out of his family’s Upper East Side apart­ment and into a Green­wich Vil­lage stu­dio with his girl­friend when he was fif­teen. By the time he was 21, he was mar­ried, a father, and hell­bent on becom­ing a writer. He snagged a few ghost­writ­ing and pot­boil­er jobs, and sup­ple­ment­ed his earn­ings work­ing as a postal employ­ee, NYC cab­bie, Span­ish tutor, wait­er, hotel desk clerk, cos­met­ics sales­man — any­thing but a full-time, offi­cial job that would dis­tract him from his call­ing. His most sus­tained and sus­tain­ing writ­ing gig has been as a colum­nist for the Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment, to which he has con­tributed a series of essays that are con­sis­tent­ly inter­est­ing, forth­right, and fun­ny, now col­lect­ed in Beg, Bor­row, Steal. The title refers to a writer’s need to exploit any mate­r­i­al at his dis­pos­al, which can mean incur­ring the fury of the writer’s near­est and dear­est. (“Michael, please stop writ­ing this kind of thing,” his moth­er and broth­ers have plead­ed.) Greenberg’s break­through mem­oir, Hur­ry Down Sun­shine (Oth­er Press, 2008), now in paper­back, chron­i­cled his daugh­ter Sally’s descent into the mad­ness and despair of bipo­lar disorder. 

In these fine­ly turned columns, Greenberg’s can­did, dis­arm­ing voice reveals a honed sense of irony gained over a life­time spent befriend­ing the odd­balls, con men, and hard luck types who com­prise a sig­nif­i­cant seg­ment of New York City. Embed­ded with­in the essays are Greenberg’s takes on books and writ­ers, well-known and obscure. This is a reward­ing encounter with an engag­ing, unusu­al lit­er­ary sensibility.

Car­ol is the exec­u­tive edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She joined the JBC as the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World in 2003, short­ly after her son’s bar mitz­vah. Before hav­ing a fam­i­ly she held posi­tions as an edi­tor and copy­writer and is the author of two books on ten­nis and oth­er rac­quet sports. She is a native New York­er and a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia with a BA and MA in English.

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