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An Imaginative Writer Actively Combats Aging at 65 . . . with Self-Deprecating Humor
on May 25, 2007
I think Nora Ephron could write about the telephone book and make it entertaining (one brief section in this book about parenting proves the point). Here's an example. Most writers don't want to think about aging. If they do, they want to prescribe "solutions." Nora Ephron has a different idea: Simply describe aging as something we foolishly try to stave off (pretty unsuccessfully) by sharing her own experiences.
That concept is best captured by her essay "On Maintenance" that describes in detail the time, money, and effort she puts into trying to look as good as she can. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my cousin (who in her more naive days was a beauty queen) who always looks terrific. When I complimented my cousin on her appearance once, she replied, "You have no idea how much more effort it takes every year." Now, I do!
The essay "I Feel Bad About My Neck" is very funny. I don't think I ever look at women's necks . . . but now I know that some women do. Apparently it's all downhill after 43. The essay ends with the irony that Ms. Ephron cannot do anything about her neck without a facelift, and she's not a good candidate for a facelift.
I also liked her essays about how we fall in love with concepts, places, and people . . . for no particularly good reason. But that temporary embrace is soon replaced by another one that will probably be even more satisfying. Although not described that way, you get a sense that she views her prior two marriages much in the same way. This concept is beautifully explored in "Serial Monogamy: A Memoir" (about her affection for various cookbook authors), "Moving On" (about her 10 year delight in a large apartment in New York), "The Lost Strudel" (her desire to recreate happy experiences through food that's no longer easy to find), and "Me and Bill: The End of Love" (about her feelings about Bill Clinton as a leader).
Some of her essays border on being rants. I found those the least appealing. These include "I Hate My Purse" and "Blind as a Bat."
Vignettes are powerfully shared. I loved her humorous take on probably being the only White House intern JFK didn't make a pass at and her expert explanation about why typing was irrelevant as an intern in the JFK White House in "Me and JFK: Now It Can Be Told." She also does vignettes brilliantly in "The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less."
She ends with thoughts about dying, and humor fails her. But "Considering the Alternative" is the section where you see the real woman most clearly.
Writers will love her mother's advice: "Everything is copy." The older I get, the more I realize that's true.
Those who like to fall asleep with a smile will find it makes sense to read one essay a night before turning off the light.