I was fine with it all, until Dunham’s reminiscence of Nora Ephron appeared on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog, revealing the most jealousy-inducing fact of them all: She’d been friends with Nora Ephron!
For female writers of a certain age (that is, older than 27), the Lena Dunham phenomenon has brought all sorts of raging jealousies to the surface. Awards! Critical acclaim! A 3.7 million-dollar book advance! Actual, real friends. Ephron had met her for lunch at Barneys, referred her to ear, nose and throat doctors, and given her advice about “good white paint and how to handle old tile.” Unfair, I instantly thought. I’m doing okay in my career, and I certainly don’t have any desire to be in my 20s again, or to walk red carpets while dressed in rompers – but oh, what I would have given to have lunch with Nora Ephron! To soak up everything she knew about food, husbands, second-wave feminism, the art of collaborating, which puffy coat to wear on the set and why there aren’t any good dinner parties in California.
The next best thing, I suppose, is the new book “The Most of Nora Ephron,” nearly 600 pages of Ephron’s girl-friendly and relentlessly upbeat voice chattering in your ear about the subjects that consistently preoccupied her over her 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright and blogger: food, friendship, feminism, journalism, sex, love and politics.
Ten of the 31 items on Ephron’s 2010 list, “What I Will Miss” – written well after she had already been diagnosed with the rare form of leukemia that would take her life in the summer of 2102 – are food or food-related. And of course Sally Albright, the heroine of “When Harry Met Sally…,” had that peculiarly fussy way of ordering a piece of pie. Those two longer works are included here at full length, along with “Lucky Guy,” Ephron’s posthumously produced play about the life of New York tabloid reporter Mike McAlary. But the vast majority of this doorstop-sized collection consists of more than 70 essays, columns, magazine profiles and blogs that are almost universally fun to read. For me, “Lucky Guy” wound up being the toughest slog, followed closely by a 1973 essay about the Pillsbury bakeoff.
Nora Ephron, however, is, and I can’t quite explain why – except that maybe she’s the totally secular, Upper East Side, nonpracticing Jewish mother I always dreamed of having when I was growing up in the rustbelt of northwest Indiana.
Rachel Samstat, narrator of her 1983 roman a clef, “Heartburn,” is a cookbook author and the host of a cooking show on public television
“After college, living in Greenwich Village, I sat on my brand-new wide-wale corduroy couch and read ‘The Golden Notebook’ by Doris Lessing,” Ephron recalls in “On Rapture,” a 2002 essay about her love of reading. “Does anyone read ‘The Golden Notebook’ nowadays?” she asks. “I don’t know, but at the time, just before the second stage of the women’s movement burst into being, I was electrified by Lessing’s heroine, Anna, and her struggle to become a free woman.”
Ephron herself never seemed to struggle, which is part of what makes her personality on the page so appealing. (Now that I think about it, it may also be a prerequisite for success in Hollywood.) Oh, sure she struggles with little things, like the size of her breasts, the condition of her neck and how to get people to stop eating egg white omelets, but as for the bigger things – divorce, an alcoholic mother – take it in stride, she’s consistently telling us. Ephron’s own mother famously told her on her deathbed, “Take notes.”