One-Minute Book Reviews

March 20, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ by Nora Ephron

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Essays and Reviews,Reading,Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 pm

10 Discussion Questions
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

This reading group was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher, or agent for the book. This guide is copyrighted by Janice Harayda, and its sale or reproduction in any form is illegal except by public libraries that may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading groups. Reading groups that would like to use this guide should link to this site or the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

Nora Ephron is our Ironwoman of the keyboard. Perhaps no living female writer has excelled at a broader range of literary forms: reporting, fiction, screenwriting. Ephron made her name with witty and trenchant articles for Esquire and other magazines, collected in books such as Wallflower at the Orgy (Viking, 1970) and Crazy Salad (Knopf, 1975). She 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 signature novels of the 1980s, Heartburn, which 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). I Feel Bad About My Neck collects 15 personal essays on topics from cabbage strudel to her internship in JFK’s press office.

Questions for Reading Groups

1. Ephron says that aging isn’t what you might think from 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.” [Pages 128–129] What is her view of aging?

2. Ephron seems to enjoy her life. But she says that “the honest truth is that it’s sad to be sixty.” [Page 128] Were you persuaded that she thinks it’s “sad”? Or might she have said that because friends had died recently or for other reasons? How well does she make her case that it’s “sad”?

3. Novelist Anna Shapiro said that Ephron isn’t “just writing about vanity or even grief” in I Feel Bad About My Neck: “What she’s really writing about is the insult to our identity that we suffer when we see that unfamiliar face in the mirror—pouchy, crumpling—a face that’s too strong and exaggerated to be our own, and that also seems to have, with all those dark, complicated areas, too many features.” [The New York Observer, Aug. 14, 2006, page 20.] Do you agree with Shapiro? Why or why not?

4. Ephron offers advice about life in “What I Wish I’d Known,” a list that directly precedes her chapter that dismisses as “useless” books that are “uniformly upbeat and full of bromides.” Her list has many lines that might qualify as bromides, such as, “You can order more than one dessert.” [Page 125] Do you see these sections of the book as contradictory? Why or why not?

5. The essays in I Feel Bad About My Neck first appeared in a half dozen publications, including Vogue, The New Yorker and The New York Times. Which essays work best? Does this seem to relate to the publications in which they appeared? Why or why not? How does Ephron’s writing change and stay the same from one publication to the next?

6. Many people have said that women, more than men, have to be what others want them to be. Do you agree? Did you get the sense from I Feel Bad About My Neck that Ephron, successful as she is, had to accommodate her editors? Did she have to accommodate others? In what ways?

7. Ephron called her first book Wallflower at the Orgy because, she said in the introduction, “working as a journalist is exactly like being the wallflower at the orgy.” She added: “I always seem to find myself at a perfectly wonderful event where everyone else is having a marvelous time, laughing merrily, eating, drinking, having sex in the back room, and I am standing on the side, taking notes on it all.” [Page ix] Would you say after reading I Feel Bad About My Neck that her life still has something of that wallflower quality? Why or why not? How do you think Ephron would answer that question?

8. You may have noticed that most of the reviews of I Feel Bad About My Neck were written by women. How do you think men might have reviewed this book?

9. Could – or would – a man have written a book like I Feel Bad About My Neck? Why or why not? What does this say about our culture?

If you have time …
10. Ephron returns in I Feel Bad About My Neck to some topics she explored in earlier books. “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” deals with her second marriage, to the journalist Carl Bernstein, and the novel inspired by their divorce, Heartburn. [Pages 105–107] And “Serial Monogamy” is partly about Craig Claiborne, whom she wrote about in “The Food Establishment” in Wallflower at the Orgy. If you have read any of her earlier books, how would you compare her work then and now? How have her views of people or situations changed?

Vital statistics

Hardcover edition: I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95.

Paperback edition: Vintage, 160 pp., $12.95, paperback. To be released April 8, 2008 [not 2007], according to the listing for the book on Amazon.com.

A review of I Feel Bad About My Neck appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October 2006 posts and in the “Essays and Reviews” category on the site.

To learn more about Ephron’s articles, books, and movies, search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org, where you’ll see a short biography and many helpful links.

To learn more about movies for which Ephron has written screenplays, go to the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com and search for the titles of movies listed in the introduction to this guide. Please note that while Wikipedia links always seem to work, links to IMDb may be less reliable. If an IMDb link doesn’t work, you can reach the site by Googling “Internet Movie Database.”

Most reading group guides come from publishers or Web sites that accept advertising from them. They do not encourage criticism of books, quote unflattering reviews, or suggest that an author’s writing might be anything but flawless. The reading group guides on One-Minute Book Reviews are different. They encourage you and your group to look at books from all angles that might make your discussion interesting or enlightening. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books, advertising or other promotional materials from publishers. All of its guides and reviews offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns.

If you found this review helpful, please visit the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category on One-Minute Book Reviews for others and bookmark the site so you don’t miss future guides. I would also be grateful if you would forward a link to reading group members.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 15, 2007

Grand Prize Winner 2007 Delete Key Awards: ‘Toxic Bachelors’ by Danielle Steel

The grand prize winner of the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books is …

Toxic Bachelors by Danielle Steel

C’mon, you’re probably saying, this one was too easy. Sure, Danielle Steel writes at a fourth-grade level (technically, grade 4. 8), according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But don’t we all know how bad her writing is? Not if you haven’t read Toxic Bachelors. You may not be surprised to hear that this novel has plenty of unintentionally comic lines like: “‘Yes,’ he said succinctly.” But it’s worse than you think.

Nobody expects social realism from Steel, but it’s still shocking to find Jews portrayed as monsters in this novel. Toxic Bachelors is about three men single men, each of whom represents a spiritual as well as social type. Charlie is WASP-y, Gray makes a religion of art, and Adam is Jewish. Guess which one has a weak father, a mother who is “a nagging bitch” and a spoiled sister? That’s right, Adam. His parents are cruel enough to make the Portnoys look like candidates for a lifetime achievement award from Parents magazine. And he has a special contempt for a sister who committed the ultimate sin: “She had never done anything with her life except get married and have children.”

Steel gets away with this because most critics have written her off and no longer review her. Why review somebody, the thinking goes, who writes only mindless romances? Toxic Bachelors presents an answer: If nobody holds her accountable, she’ll keep serving up nasty stereotypes, masquerading as a fairy tale.

Original review on One-Minute Book Reviews: Oct. 28, 2007, “Danielle Steel Gets Toxic,” archived with the October posts and in the “Novels” category.

The first and second runners-up were announced earlier today. The full short list appeared on Feb. 28 and the titles of books that received Honorable Mentions for the list on March 2. A list of questions and answers about the Delete Key Awards appeared on Feb. 27. All of these posts are archived with those of the month in which they appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews. Thank you for visiting this site.

Visit www.janiceharayda.com for information about the creator of the Delete Key Awards, Janice Harayda, a novelist and award-winning journalist has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 12, 2007

Deborah Garrison Finds Poetry at the Intersection of Work and Motherhood

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Poetry,Reading,Women,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:55 am

The loves and losses of a woman trying to keep a career and family afloat

The Second Child: Poems. By Deborah Garrison. Random House, 76 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

On the cover of Deborah Garrison’s A Working Girl Can’t Win there’s an elegant black-and-white photograph by Irving Penn that shows two chic women – both young-ish, reed-thin and smoking — languishing at a café table. You might think they were having brunch in Tribeca or the Meatpacking District until you looked the date of the picture and saw that it appeared in Vogue in 1950, long before those districts became favored addresses for stylish New Yorkers.

That cover is brilliant for reasons that go beyond its use of fashion photography instead of the tasteful watercolors of fruits and vegetables you see more often on poetry books. The two people who appear on it could be archetypes of those most likely to identify with Garrison’s work – urbane, intelligent women who have everything except the level of satisfaction they expected their manicured lives to bring.

Garrion’s second collection, The Second Child, consists of 33 poems about the interection of work and motherhood in an age of large and small anxieties – from fears of another terrorist attack to regrets about missed chances to listen to NPR and serve as a playground monitor. Garrison is a former staff member at the New Yorker who is an editor for Alfred A. Knopf and Pantheon, and the title may be, in part, a slightly self-mocking send-up of a publishing cliché. (Is there a writer so original that he or she has never referred to a book as his or her “child”?) If so, the wordplay is is fair representation of The Second Child – a smart and funny collection that is at times just a little glib.

Some of the lesser poems in this book resemble anecdotes in verse, written on the wing. In “To the Man in a Loden Coat,” the working mother who narrates the poems nearly explodes with frustration at a traveler on an escalator at the Port Authority Bus Terminal whose failure to grasp a law of New York life — “walk on the left,/stand on the right” — may cause her to miss the 5:25. The poem suggests how quickly a competent woman may be undone by bottled-up pressures the moment she leaves the office, but you might get as much from dipping into The Bitch in the House.

The best poems in The Second Child rise much higher. Perhaps the finest is a meditation on Sept. 11, “September Poem.” After the terrorist attacks, the working mother wants to have another child, but there’s a problem:

The idea of sex a further horror:
To take pleasure in a collision

Of bodies was vile, self-centered, too lush.

In these lines and others, Garrison suggests how public tragedy can impinge on the most joyous and private of acts. And a shadow remains after she and her husband have created a new life

Which might in any case
end in towering sorrow.

Throughout The Second Child, Garrison works in varied meters, rhymed and unrhymed, and forms that include the sonnet and the sestina. Her city poem “Goodbye, New York” has the anapestic bounce of a Cole Porter-ish Broadway show tune:

You were the pickles, you were the jar
You were the prizefight we watched in a bar

It ends with a final salute to:

my skyline, my byline, my buzzer and door
now you’re the dream we lived before

This kind of sentiment is entertaining, if not deep, despite subtleties such as the lack of punctuation after “before” – the last word of the poem – suggesting a continuing enjambment with the city. And if some of it seems too easy, the same quality could make The Second Child ideal for a working mother who wonders if “too easy” will ever be easy enough.

Best Line: All of “September Poem,” which begins: “Now can I say?/ On that blackest day …”

Worst Line: Part of a description of childbirth in “Birth Day Pun”: “A smoldering butt!/ That’s how it is:” That may be “how it is,” but it makes the woman giving birth sound like a pork butt.

Reading Group Guide: A reading group guide to The Second Child appears in the March 12 post directly below this one and is archived in the “Totally Unathorized Reading Group Guides” category.

Published: February 2007 www.randomhouse.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 15, 2007

Help Your Friends Avoid Becoming Bridezillas

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:08 pm

Know somebody who got engaged on Valentine’s Day?

Help your friends and relatives avoid becoming Bridezillas, or at least looking like them, by giving them Philip Delamore’s The Perfect Wedding Dress (Firefly, $24.94), an elegant coffee table book full of memorable photographs of bridal gowns, veils, accessories and more. Among many pictures of classic and contemporary styles, Delamore shows the wedding dresses worn by celebrities such Audrey Hepburn, Kate Winslet, Liv Tyler, Carmen Electra, Queen Elizabeth II, and Princes Diana. Anyone planning a wedding with African-American elements may want to have Queens: Potraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair (Doubleday, $29.95), by Michael Cunningham and George Alexander, a good source of ideas for bridal hairstyles. This book shows Ghanian styles such as Bolga and Dadaba braids along with styles that are more familiar in the U.S. such as the Afro and the pageboy. You can find reviews of both books archived in the “Coffee Table Books” category on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 9, 2007

‘Queens’: A Great Valentine’s Day Gift Book for Black Women

Filed under: African American,Book Reviews,Books,Coffee Table Books,Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:54 pm

African-American women talk about hairstyles they’ve worn in places from Manhattan hair salons to a marketplace in Ghana

Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair. By Michael Cunningham and George Alexander. Doubleday, 200 pp., $29.95.

By Janice Harayda

Queens came out more than a year ago, but it would still make such a great Valentine’s Day gift for many women that I can’t resist reminding you about it. This coffee-table book is more than a striking collection of black-and-white photographs of 53 black women who talk about some of their most memorable hairstyles, including a sequined elegy for the Twin Towers that perches atop one head. Queens is also a celebration of the role of hair salons in African-American culture.

“The African-American beauty salons are special even though they may not always be plush,” hairstylist Sonia Mullings says. “The salon is a place where women can come in and sit down and be heard and finally express how they’re feeling. I’ve found being in this business for so many years that women don’t come to the salon for just a hairdo. The hairdo is secondary to having someone focus on them.”

Photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist George Alexander found proof of those words places that range from Manhattan to Ghana. And their book shows an extraordinary range of familiar and not-so-familiar hairstyles, including dreadlocks, Afros, a pageboy, and traditional Ghanian styles such as Dadaba, Alice, and Bolga braids. Among the most beautiful Ghanian styles is the Akwyelebi, resembling a small and elegant birdcage, that could be ideal for brides who want their weddings to include authentically African-American elements. All of this means that Queens is more than a potential Valentine’s Day gift. It could also be a terrific engagement present for a woman who is getting a ring on Feb. 14 and has begun thinking about how she wants to wear her hair on her wedding day.

Best line: Lettice Graham, age 82, on one of her many memorable hairstyles: “When I was a child, my aunt used to braid my hair and she would braid it so tight I couldn’t laugh for three days.”

Worst line: A bit more explanation of how stylists created some hairdos in this book would have been useful. It isn’t clear, for example, how much of that homage to the Twin Towers consists of human hair and how much of other materials.

Recommended if … you’re looking for a gift for a black woman of any age. including mothers and grandmothers. Also highly recommended to brides-to-be.

Editor: Janet Hill

Published: December 2005

Links: www.hairqueens.com

Furthermore: Just a reminder, men: Books are not a substitute for flowers. If you give her Queens, make sure you add something with a stem. Yes, it’s unfair that you have to come up with two gifts if one is a book. But this, unfortunately, is how the world works on Feb. 14.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 8, 2007

Dr. Phil Admits, ‘I May Not Be the Sharpest Pencil in the Box’ … Why Didn’t Somebody Tell Oprah?

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:22 am

The talk-show psychologist urges women to settle for “Mr. 80 Percent”

Love Smart: Find the One You Want – Fix the One You Got. By Dr Phil McGraw. Free Press, 283 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Help me, please, with the math in Dr. Phil McGraw’s relationship guide for women. First the talk-show host says that to attract a worthy man, you need to feel confident enough to take your “fair share of time in most conversations – 50 percent in a twosome, 33 percent in a threesome, and so forth.” Then he says that when you’re dating: “Self-disclosure should be used only 25 percent of the time. The other 75 percent should be listening.” So which is it? Should you be talking 50 percent of the time or 25 percent?

I have no idea, because McGraw doesn’t say how he got those figures, and his book is full of mush like this. Love Smart is one of those self-help guides that has LOTS OF LARGE TYPE BECAUSE OTHERWISE YOU MIGHT BE TOO DUMB TO GET THE POINT. It also has exclamation points! More than two dozen in the first seven pages! That doesn’t count the one in the first paragraph of the acknowledgments! But I’ll say this for McGraw: He is equally patronizing to women and men. He reduces them both 1950s stereotypes given a 21st century gloss with advice on Internet dating and quotes from celebrities like Dave Barry and Rita Rudner.

Much of his advice retools the kind of messages Bridget Jones got from her mother. First, stop being so picky. Of course, McGraw doesn’t use that word. He urges you to settle for “Mr. 80 Percent.” Then forget what you may have heard from other experts about how there are more differences between any one man and woman than between the sexes as a whole.

“I’ve got news for you: Men and women are different,” McGraw says. A lot of men have a “caveman” mentality that requires a “bag’em, tag’em, bring’em home” approach. This method includes more of the kind of advice your mother – or maybe grandmother – gave you. McGraw doesn’t come right out and say you should “save yourself for your husband.” But he does suggest you hold sex “in reserve” until a man has made “the ultimate commitment”: “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to McGraw that, in the age of a female Speaker of the House, some women might not appreciate being compared to cows.

The most bizarre section of Love Smart consists of its list of the “top 31 places” to meet men. No. 1 and 2 on the list are “your church or temple” and “batting cages.” You might meet men at those batting cages. But the U.S. Congregational Life Survey found that the typical American churchgoer is a 50-year old married female. So what are the criteria here? Sheer numbers of the other sex? Or compatibility with your values? The list makes no more sense than most of the other material in Love Smart. Earlier in the book, McGraw begins an account of a disagreement with his wife by saying, “Now I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box …” Why didn’t somebody tell Oprah.”
Best line: The comedian Rita Rudner says, “To attract men I wear a perfume called New Car Interior.” Love Smart also has some zingers that women have used to insult men, such as, “He has delusions of adequacy.”

Worst line: McGraw never uses one cliché when he can use three or four, as in: “Now it seems time to step up and close the deal, get ‘the fish in the boat,’ walk down the aisle, tie the knot … you want to get to the next level.”

Consider reading instead: The Boomers’ Guide to Online Dating, by Judsen Culbreth, former editor-in-chief of Working Mother. Despite its title, this book isn’t just for boomers but for women over 35. And it has smart advice on dating in general that never patronizes women as McGraw does. A review is archived in the “How to” category on this site. You can also find a review by using the Search box to look for the title.

Editor: Dominick Anfuso

Published: December 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 7, 2006

Philip Delamore Pays Homage to Perfect Wedding Dresses

Filed under: Coffee Table Books,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:40 am

More than 300 photographs of bridal gowns worn by women from Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn to those just hoping to feel like them

The Perfect Wedding Dress. By Philip Delamore, 224 pp., Firefly, $24.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Fashion writer Holly Brubach once said that if wedding gowns reflected real life, all brides would wear gray. And it’s a sign of Philip Delamore’s sense of perspective that an especially beautiful outfit in his new book is gray – a gunmetal silk coatdress embroidered with small flowers that he rightly calls perfect for “someone who doesn’t feel that a huge white dress is appropriate.”

Delamore is research fellow at a fashion college in London, England, and his new book that isn’t so much written as curated. Each of the more than 300 photographs in The Perfect Wedding Dress shows a gown that, however fresh and contemporary, might be exhibited decades from now at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Delamore isn’t too stuffy to show the gowns worn by dozens of celebrities, including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Kate Winslet, Liv Tyler, and Princess Diana. But he has filled his book with photographs of dresses (and a few suits) that have a timeless elegance. He makes his position clear in an introduction that quotes the great 19th-century fashion designer Charles Worth: “A dress should never overpower the wearer. It should merely be an appropriate frame for a charming picture, bringing out the beauties of the picture, but never distracting attention from it. So few women understand this.”

Without preaching, Delamore offers advice that could help women avoid looking like parodies of themselves on their wedding day. He begins by defining the basic silhouettes, such as the difference between a “princess line” and an “A-line” (which, he says, has overtaken the ballgown as the most popular bridal style). Then he shows the kinds of necklines, backs, sleeves, veils, trains, and jewelry that might go with each kind of dress.

You could get some of this from bridal magazines and books. But what you couldn’t get is Delamore’s well-honed instinct for what will still look good when your great-grandchildren are leafing through the wedding album. You might think that former Playboy model Carmen Electra and Queen Elizabeth II have nothing in common except a name that begin with “E.” Delamore proves otherwise by placing them side-by-side in their pricesss-style gowns. Electra wore an ivory strapless Badgley Mischka design for her wedding in 2003 The queen, then a princess, wore a white satin Norman Hartnell gown embellished with “seed pearls and 10,000 crystals in the form of white York roses, orange blossoms, lilacs, jasmine and wheat” in 1947. This unexpected juxtaposition shows that, for all their subsequent fashion mistakes, both women got the dress right when it counted.

Best line: “Unless you’re Jennifer Lopez, who, let’s face it, must know what kind of dress suits her best by now, you need to start with a little self-analysis. If you have never done anything traditional in your life, now is not the time to start just because you feel it is expected.”

Worst line: Delamore’s mostly impeccable judgment falters when he shows Kate Winslet in an Alexander McQueen dress looks as though it was designed for the madam of Dodge City bordello or Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. C’mon, Philip, did you really like this better than Caroline Kennedy’s wonderful shamrock-sprigged Carolina Herrera gown that was inexplicably left out? Or are you friends with McQueen?

Recommended if … you’re a bride-to-be who hasn’t bought her dress yet or are looking for a gift for one. The author has chosen the pictures so carefully that The Perfect Wedding Dress might also make a good gift for people who have a strong interest in fashion photography and others.

Published: March 2006

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 8, 2006

Debra Ollivier on Why French Women Are Different

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,How to,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:45 pm

Can’t figure out what Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Huppert have that you don’t? Hint: It’s not just that they’re thinner.

Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl. By Debra Ollivier. St. Martin’s Griffin, 242 pp., $12.95, paperback.

It’s been years since I served pot au feu and played Edith Piaf at Carnegie Hall at a dinner party, hoping to give the evening an alluring Gallic accent. But if I no longer believe that the French “know how to live” better than my Hungarian ancestors who also liked lard-bucket meals and summers in the country, I do think they are smarter than we are about a couple of things.

One of these is olives. When you go to a French home for dinner, the hosts do not try to fatten you up before the meal by serving you baby pigs-in-blankets or tortilla chips in bowls with the diameter of hubcaps. They typically serve olives. Just olives. I realized this years ago on a trip to Provence – Olive Central – and when I got back, I started serving olives, too. Just olives. And in a small way, it changed my life. Because I am functional noncook, the olives freed me permanently from an activity I don’t like and allowed me to focus one I do enjoy, which is conversation.

So I paid attention when a friend who has lived in France – and is also an Olive Person – said Entre Nous was full of similar ideas (although it allows that you can serve “small toasts with goat cheese, tomato and herbs” as a starter, too). She was right about this lively self-help guide by a Californian who married a Frenchman and lived in France for a decade. You have the essence of Entre Nous if you can extrapolate from olives to topics such as clothes, make-up, home furnishings, family life, and work. Example: You can wear white blouses, but never a white dress unless you’re a bride.

The most interesting – and, in my experience, accurate — chapter deals with the more complex traits that Debra Ollivier believes a typical French woman has, “some basic truths about how she sees herself and carries herself in the world.” One of these characteristics is self-possession (not the dreary “self-esteem”), a sureness about who she is that paradoxically allows her to show her vulnerability without with unraveling. A second trait – badly underestimated by American women – is discretion. A French woman, Ollivier says, does not wear her emotions “on her shirtsleeves.” She thinks before she speaks. And she may hold back for years things that an American might reveal within the first 15 minutes of meeting you, including details about her family. A Frenchman told Ollivier: “I’ve dated French women for months before I ever really knew who they were. After the first or second date, the American woman wants everything spelled out: ‘Are we dating? Are you my boyfriend or just a friend? Now that we’ve made love, are we a couple?’”

His comment points to a topic that gets relatively little attention in Entre Nous: sex. Ollivier deals broadly “sensuality.” But whether it’s because she was married while gathering material for this book or because of that natural French discretion, she says almost nothing about what an American might call The Act. A pity. Wouldn’t you love to know what a French woman would say to the British editors of Tatler, who instructed their readers recently to be sure to ask for a Taurus Brazilian bikini wax ,“a discreet triangle, not a landing strip”?

Posted by Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Best line: A French woman asked Ollivier: “What is a baby shower? Do you actually put the baby in the shower or do you use the tub?”

Worst line: “The lack of a workaholic culture, with all of its inherent dis-ease, takes the peculiarly Ango-Saxon strain out of the workplace, and frees the French girl to have a more sanely irreverent relationship to her work life. The results are apparent in a myriad of small but pervasive details …” No, they’re apparent in “myriad small but pervasive details.”

Recommended if … you’ve never understood the old joke that “the perfect country would be France without the French,” because you don’t see why anybody want a France without all those delightful French people.

Editor: Elizabeth Beier

Published: May 2004

FYI: Ollivier also wrote Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood (Washington Square Press, 2000) and its sequel, Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves (HarperCollins, 2005). www.debraollivier.com

Conflict alert: St. Martin’s Griffin published the paperback edition of my first novel.

Posted by Janice Harayda
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor and critic for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and a vice-present of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com to learn more about her comedies of manners, The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

October 14, 2006

Ms. Ephron Regrets

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Essays and Reviews,Reading,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:28 pm

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.

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