She isn’t afraid of death. She just doesn’t like all those annoying books on mellow menopause.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95.
By Janice Harayda
Nora Ephron is our Ironwoman of the keyboard. No American female writer excels at broader range of literary forms: reporting, fiction, screenwriting. You could argue that next to Ephron, Joyce Carol Oates is a slacker. Ephron has influenced a generation of female journalists with her collections of nonfiction, such as Crazy Salad (which contains her famous 1972 essay for Esquire, “A Few Words About Breasts”). She has earned Oscar nominations for her screenplays for When Harry Met Sally …, Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, which she also directed. And she wrote one of the most entertaining satirical novels of the 1980s, Heartburn, a book that included recipes (although, she admits. she left the brown sugar out of her directions for making pears with lima beans, so the recipe in the first edition didn’t work).
But perhaps Ephron’s main achievement is that she has always had the talent and courage to say things that others writers can’t or don’t. And those traits resurface in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a collection of 15 personal essays on topics from cabbage strudel to her summer internship in JFK’s press office. Ephron wants us to know: You don’t forget the pain of childbirth. StriVectin-SD is just a skin cream. And in order to rent certain Manhattan apartments, you have to make under-the-table payments known as “key money,” like the $24,000 that Ephron slipped somebody in 1980 so that she could move into a pile called the Apthorp. Above all, Ephron says, aging isn’t what we’ve been told by all those “utterly useless” books for older women that are “uniformly upbeat and full of bromides and homilies about how pleasant life can be once one is free from all the nagging obligations of children, monthly periods, and, in some cases, full-time jobs.” It’s “sad” to be over sixty, and not just because you can’t wear tank tops any more.
Next to much of what gets published today, all of this qualifies for a Pulitzer for public-service journalism. So it doesn’t really matter that at the end of I Feel Bad About My Neck, Ephron heads into Robert Fulghum territory with a chapter of aphorisms (“What I Wish I’d Known”) that includes bromides similar to those she says dislikes in the work of others: “Overtip.” “Back up your files.” “The plane isn’t going to crash.” Ephron is still young enough to enjoy the pleasure of lowering herself in a tub filled with Dr. Hauschka’s lemon bath. But if she ever moves to a nursing home, there’s nobody you’d rather have around to write about the food.
Best line: “Death is a sniper.”
Worst line: “My own theory about Van Gogh is that he cut off his ear because he made the mistake of taking up swimming.” One of few places where Ephron’s usual sense of taste fails her.
Recommended if … you’re sick of all those mellow menopause books, too.
Reading group guide: A reading group guide to I Feel Bad About My Neck was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on March 20, 2007, and is archived both with the March posts and in the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups category if this direct link doesn’t work www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/20/a-totally-unauthorized-reading-group-guide-to-I-feel-bad-about-my-neck-by-nora-ephron/
Published: August 2006.
Posted by Janice Harayda
(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.