BOOK REVIEW: ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ Showcases Wit, Wisdom of Nora Ephron: Novelist, Journalist, Screenwriter, Director

Author-screenwriter Nora Ephron dies

Nora Ephron, who cast an acerbic eye on relationships, metropolitan living and aging in essays, books, plays and hit movies, including “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Julie & Julia,” died Tuesday in New York. She was 71.

here’s my review of her 2006 book “I Feel Bad About My Neck”.  I’ve always thought of Nora Ephron as a latter-day Dorothy Parker.

Aug. 12, 2006
BOOK REVIEW: ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ Showcases Wit, Wisdom of Nora Ephron: Novelist, Journalist, Screenwriter, Director


Reviewed By David M. Kinchen

Everything is copy – Phoebe Ephron, Nora’s late mother

I am led to the proposition that there is no fiction or nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction; there is only narrative. – Author E.L. Doctorow, quoted in “I feel Bad About My Neck”

What’s a guy doing reviewing Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” (Knopf, 160 pages, $19.95)?

Short answer: Because I can and because I like Nora Ephron’s writing. She’s from my pre-Boomer generation, born in 1941 to my 1938 so we’re on the same page in many respects.

Ephron is a New Yorker born and bred, although she spent serious time in the Los Angeles area where her parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron were the screenwriters of such classic movies as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “What Price Glory” and “Desk Set.” Nora is the oldest of four sisters and she often collaborates with her sister Delia. The other two are Hallie and Amy.

Nora Ephron has taken up the family business and then some: co-writing the screenplay for “Silkwood” directed by Mike Nichols (don’t miss his recounting to her of the peninsula story) and writing and directing romantic comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Heartburn.”

The 15 essays in “I Feel Bad About My Neck” include the title one about the dubious joys of growing old – but “consider the alternative” – as the wrinkles and wattles on one’s neck can only be reduced by a full face lift, which Ephron doesn’t want.

Several essays deal with similar female “maintenance” topics, which men can often relate to – except for the bikini waxing parts. Not that Ephron wears a bikini anymore. She suggests putting one on at age 24 and keeping it on until you turn 34!

Her best-selling 1983 novel “Heartburn” was based on her second marriage – and its covered-by-all-the-tabloids breakup — to Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and was made into a 1986 movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. It’s a reminder to anyone contemplating marriage to a journalist (Ephron started her writing career as a reporter on the New York Post in 1962, after graduating from Wellesley) that “everything is copy.”

Ephron uses her divorce from Bernstein and return to Manhattan from Washington, DC to describe her finding a to-die-for apartment in the Apthorp building at 79th and Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The hassles of dealing with New York landlords make for delightful reading, as do her musings on what constitutes a home as she leaves her dream apartment after more than a decade for a smaller one on the East Side.

Ephron had no children from her first marriage, to Dan Greenburg or her current marriage, to author Nicholas Pileggi, author of “Wiseguy”, which became a 1990 movie called “Goodfellas.” Ephron and Bernstein had two sons, Jacob and Max, both fully grown and no longer living at home. They don’t even have a guest room in the smaller East Side apartment, Ephron assures us. They’re copy, too, although they’re not mentioned by name in the essay “Parenting in Three Stages.”

Here’s Ephron on kids growing up and leaving: “But eventually college ends, and they’re gone for good. The nest is actually empty. You’re still a parent, but your parenting days are over. Now what? There must be something you can do. But there isn’t. There is nothing you can do. Trust me….Meanwhile, you have an extra room. Your child’s room. Do not under any circumstances leave your child’s room as is. Your child’s room is not a shrine…Leaving your child’s room as is may encourage your child to return. You do not want this.”

Having recently reviewed a book that had as one of the true characters a woman who spent $35,000 in embezzled funds on designer handbags, I was particularly drawn to the essay “I Hate My Purse,” in which Ephron wonders aloud why purses become black holes for a myriad of often messy and disgusting objects and why on earth would anyone fly to Paris and buy a used Hermes “Kelly” bag for $2,600 at the city’s famed flea market, as a friend did, with Ephron tagging along for company and sightseeing. Her own eventual choice of a bag pleased me, because it resembled something I recently gave my wife, another female plagued by purses. What I gave my wife is the equivalent of a “gimme” baseball cap and it cost the same – nothing.

The book contains essays about two presidents, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. Ephron was an intern in JFK’s White House press room, hired by Pierre Salinger in 1961. She says the famous womanizer — JFK, not Pierre — never made a pass at her and she wonders why. It’s a perfect gem of a short essay.

Two previous collections of Ephron’s outstanding journalism, “Crazy Salad” and “Scribble, Scribble,” were bestsellers, and I predict “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” with a first printing of 100,000, will be one, too.

I really don’t have to justify reading – in one two-hour sitting – and reviewing a book so attuned to women, do I? OK, here’s the deal: After a lifetime of trying, I still don’t understand women. No man ever does. Reading “I Feel Bad About My Neck” helped me, so consider it a self-help book! Really, truly, and I believe 100 percent in Phoebe Ephron’s “Everything is copy” aphorism. That’s the spirit of a true journalist.

Publisher’s web site: www.aaknopf.com

 

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