While I’ll admit that I am certainly outside the target demographic for this tome (not being one of these ‘women’ referred to in the subtitle), it remains one of my favorite books. Nora Ephron writes with a breezy pace and sharp observational humor. I read this book during the tail end of my senior year in high school; I began on a Monday afternoon in the library, after receiving a tongue-lashing from the stern and dour librarian (why is it that curmudgeonly women find such sweet refuge in library sciences?). By Wednesday morning I had finished all 137 pages.
Ephron is probably better known as the screenwriter for “Silkwood,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “When Harry Met Sally…” She also wrote and directed “Bewitched” and “Julie and Julia.” But before that, Ephron was a journalist and columnist working in New York City after growing up in California. From 1976 to 1980, she was also married to Carl Bernstein, and thus commands respect from journalism-geeks such as myself.
The book is a collection of her short essays and magazine pieces on aging, cooking, politics and urban life. For instance, the chapter “Moving On” recounts a decade Ephron spent living in the same New York City apartment (something of a rarity). She describes the Apthorp building in the 1980s—before it was gentrified; rent-destabilized and in some cases, converted in high-end condominiums. All the while we hear of the “love” she felt for the building she lived in without overly sentimental detail. The essay stands out because it gives the strongest sense of place I’ve ever read in a memoir, sans the romantic, fantastical aftertaste; mostly because Ephron herself dismantles the notion of romance when she moves out.
It’s what Ephron does best; turning sacred cows into hamburger and the mundane into the transcendent. In one essay she condenses her entire life into a 3,500 word minimalist biography; in another she mourns the loss of cabbage strudel to culinary fashion. That brand of examination—meditating on what is really important to day-to-day existence at the expense of life’s ought-to-but-rather-wouldn’t things—that can cleanse the soul.
The most appreciable quality of Ephron’s book though is her perspective through time. In chronicling her younger self and attitudes of certainty, she dangles the moral that only someone her age could write: Life is change. What we believe and do doesn’t work because it is true, it’s true because it works. And at the point that something stops working for us, we ought to lay it to rest in search of a new standard.
That system of thinking is indispensable at the crossroads in life, whether that means transitioning into college or entering your golden years. In that way, maybe enterprising college men and menopausal women have more in common than we’d like to admit.
The call numbers are PS3555.P5 I23 2006 on Penfield’s third floor.