4 out of 5: Beg, Borrow, Steal is a collection of short essays about a writer’s life, specifically Michael Greenberg's life, in New York City. Although Greenberg has met with some success as a writer (his memoir Hurry Down Sunshine was well-received), it hasn't been easy for him. These brief vignettes reveal the constant struggle faced by a Greenberg between his art and his need to earn a paycheck.
With self-deprecatory wit, Greenberg writes about the various jobs he's resorted to over the years (taxi driver, court translator for criminals, furniture mover, waiter, seller of cosmetics, and "work-for-hire" writing contracts). He also writes with insight about the city's overlooked institutions, including a soup kitchen for the homeless and a treatment center for the mentally ill. From these byways, Greenberg mines nuggets of wisdom like this comment about the insolvability of insanity:
There may no more be a solution to insanity than there is a key to consciousness itself, and our attempts to find one--from the priestly attentiveness of Freud to the chemical tinkering of pharmacologist with the brain's limbic system, the way the Federal Reserve tinkers with the money supply to keep the economy from crashing--merely reflect our wish to tame an unknowable area of existence.
Greenberg's perspective is unflinchingly honest and, despite life's challenges, ultimately optimistic. These essays originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. Clocking in between 1100 and 1200 words, they're the perfect way to spend five idle minutes.