As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection reader’s advisory service goes where it may. In this month’s column, Nora Ephron (1941–2012) leads me down a winding path.
Ephron. Nora. The Most of Nora Ephron. Knopf. Nov. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780385350839. $35. ESSAYS/HUMOR
Following the introduction to Ephron’s Wallflower at the Orgy, this abundant collection opens with an account of the author’s first job—as a mail girl at Newsweek—and launches from there into a wide-ranging assortment of pieces she wrote for newspapers, magazines, film, stage, and blogs, loosely organized by genre. The book’s last entry is a list of things she would miss when she died (including reading in bed and dinner with friends). This omnibus anthology spans 50 years of writing and includes examples of a body of work that is charming, funny, disarming, intimate, observant, gimlet-eyed, droll, fierce, and clarion clear. Her novel Heartburn, screenplay of When Harry Met Sally, and final play Lucky Guy (published here for the first time) are included in full. Additional standouts are her sharp and resonant essays that illuminate even as they skewer everything from the Pillsbury Bake-Off to former Cosmopolitan editor in chief Helen Gurley Brown. The richness of Ephron’s spry, vivid, and insightful writing invites gleeful reading. [See LJ 10/1/13.]
Quindlen, Anna. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Random. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780812981667. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780679604006. ESSAYS
Fans of Ephron who enjoy her warmth, intimacy, and humor should find a kindred spirit in Quindlen, a writer of newspaper columns, essays, and novels and one generation younger than Ephron herself. In this episodic memoir/essay collection, Quindlen addresses similar concerns to Ephron, including aging, body image, feminism, and working. She thinks back to the guidance she would give her younger self when her daughter asks about advice. She wonders at the pivot points in life and the roads taken, or not. She talks about getting older, death, and lowering expectations. Through it all, Quindlen writes in a refined conversational style very similar to Ephron’s, as if taking a long walk with readers who have been her friends for years.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants. Back Bay. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780316056878. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316175869. ESSAYS
As Ephron so vividly reminds readers, there was a time when the only job a woman reporter could get in New York was to ferry mail around a newsroom, and if she was very good at that, perhaps have the honor of underlining sentences as a fact checker. Fey was born after that time, but still had to push her way through a male-dominated world to make it as a comic. Her collection of essays is about the things Ephron’s is at heart—about being a woman in a profession that is institutionally committed to one’s success in the mail room, about being funny, about being wise, and about finding and using one’s voice. While some of Ephron’s work is laugh-so-hard-you-have-to-stop-reading funny, almost all of Fey’s is addressed with sly self-deprecation, as she talks about her daughter’s choice of dolls, the odd cups in her male counterparts offices, her television roles on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 election, and her looks.
Didion, Joan. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live. Knopf. (Everyman’s Library & Contemporary Classics). 2006. 1160p. ISBN 9780307264879. $35. ESSAYS
For many readers of The Most of Nora Ephron, a pleasing surprise will be her early essays—clear-eyed accounts that seem to X-ray whatever she turns her attention to. Readers who most enjoy that aspect of Ephron’s work may also enjoy essays by Didion; models of fierce and sharp-eyed reporting as lyrical as they are incisive. This volume gathers Didion’s first seven nonfiction collections including Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. In its pages readers will find sharp social and political commentary spanning the early 1960s through 2003, pieces on landscape and culture, politics and murder, and on histories past and future. In them all the fine craft of Didion’s writing shines through—economically gorgeous and resonant.
Ephron, Delia. Sister Mother Husband Dog. Blue Rider. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780399166556. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101638316. ESSAYS
Fans of Ephron who want to learn more about her may consult the many features in newspapers and magazines that appeared shortly after her death. However, for a more intimate and authoritative view, readers should turn to “Losing Nora,” the opening essay in this new collection that blends the chaotic and otherworldly experience of carrying for the very ill with the sisterly exasperation and rivalry formed over decades of a shared life. Ephron discusses her sister’s controlling nature, ruthlessness, and ego—as well as her great kindness, thoughtfulness, and bravery. Most of all she addresses the derangement of loss and the legacy of work and relationships Nora left behind—the large and small facets that shape a life beyond what fans read in her pages. The remainder of the collection turns its focus more fully toward the author herself, where, with a witty, personal, and compassionate voice she holds forth on subjects as diverse as becoming a writer and her favorite bakeries.
Ephron, Nora. Heartburn. 5 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2013. ISBN 9780385367301. $40. F
Included in its entirety in Ephron’s selected works is this roman à clef take on Ephron’s disintegrating marriage to Carl Bernstein. In the novel, the wife is Rachel Samstat, a cookbook author who discovers her husband, Mark, is cheating on her while she is seven months pregnant with their second child; worse yet, he has fallen in love with the other woman. What follows is an atypical slapstick account of divorce, complete with recipes, pie throwing, and a skewering of the Washington scene. Actress Meryl Streep offers a delicious performance in this brilliant new recording. Her reading is wildly intonated, wonderfully paced in loops and short stops, and so self-consciously delighted with the work she is reading that her pleasurable tone simmers over and creates in listeners exactly the same feeling.
Ephron, Nora. I Feel Bad About My Neck. 3 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2006. ISBN 9781415935323. $36. ESSAYS
Ephron is a first-rate reader of her own work, offering an experience that is finely paced and inflected. Best of all, her performance matches the work’s tone and is at once droll, funny, and wry. As readers know from the essays in The Most of Nora Ephron, the subjects of this collection sprout from the indignities and affronts to vanity that accompany advancing years. Ephron riffs on a wide range of topics in the fifteen essays gathered here. Of eponymous concern is her neck, upon which she has mournful things to say. She counters this sadness with her winning war in the hair department, achieved by contracting its care out to a salon. Said salon, even if it does cost a great deal and consumes weeks of her life, can perform age-defying miracles. Witty, evanescent, if slightly sad, Ephron’s take on getting old is the spoonful of sugar set against the inevitable effects of gravity.
When Harry Met Sally. 1 disc. color. 96 min. Columbia. 2001. DVD UPC 027616857804. $14.98.
As actress Emma Thompson proved with her screenplay of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, reading a film script offers delightful pleasures. If your readers similarly enjoy reading the screenplay of When Harry Met Sally in the Ephron collection, suggest they now watch (or watch again) the film. Starring Meg Ryan as Sally and Billy Crystal as Harry, the film traces the duo’s relationship over a dozen years as they slowly grow from strangers to acquaintances and from friends to lovers. Ryan and Crystal bring a quirky and combative fun to the movie and infuse Ephron’s already sparkling script with a fine sense of tension and charm through the chemistry the pair clearly share. A fabulous soundtrack performed by Harry Connick Jr. further enhances the movie version.
Julie and Julia. 1 disc. color. 123 min. Sony. 2009. DVD UPC 043396292291. $14.99.
Ephron’s last film, which she wrote, directed, and produced, is based upon two books (but really involved three): Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France and Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, a memoir about cooking all of the recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Ephron skillfully blends the story of Julia as she first learned to cook in 1950s France and Julie, living in New York post 9/11 as she struggles and succeeds with the recipes Julia recorded in her masterpiece. As much about the making of the cookbook and its effect on culture as it is a biopic and a romantic comedy, Ephron’s charming, witty, and purposeful movie is a delight. Meryl Streep delivers a simply fabulous performance starring as Julia and Stanely Tucci’s role as Paul Child is boundlessly appealing. Amy Adams holds her own in modern day New York, while Chris Messina in an effortless performance plays her ever-patient husband.