Thursday, December 1, 2011

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

Book Club January 2012 Pick
At first glance, Nora Ephron would seem to be one of those people who are born to write.  Author, director, and producer, she is the daughter of screenwriters; sister to three siblings, all writers; and, incidentally, the men she married happened to be writers as well.
Her latest book, ‘I Remember Nothing’ is a compilation of essays ruminating on various topics – her career, family, divorce, growing old. Essays may not be an accurate term here, since quite a few 'chapters' are Lists of 25 Reasons, and many of those reasons are simply reworded versions of the same idea. When a writer happens to be a Hollywood personality, I guess they can get away with a lot more than those who do it to pay the bills.
The book is also a casualty of that other illusion cherished by celebrity authors – namely, that every stray thought that meanders through their mind is worth sharing. The essay form does offer an opportunity to vent one’s grievances, and Ephron doesn’t hesitate to take advantage of it. Among those she’s peeved at – her departed mother; one of her three sisters; at least one of two ex-spouses (Carl Bernstein, journalist of ‘Watergate’ fame); people who were formerly her friends; people who are currently her friends but are not favorably impressed with her dessert-making abilities; migrating geese…the list goes on.
Humorists unabashedly mine their family and acquaintances as potential sources of bandinage, and that’s quite acceptable. But bitterness or self-pity can ruin that effect. It would be wise for a successful, famous woman to avoid sounding petty-minded, or, speaking ill of the dead.
There were parts of the book that I enjoyed. Ephron’s three screenwriting nominations are believable; she can write. Though I wish her choice of subject matter had been different, it was not an onerous task to read her book, meaning, it was not boring. Her essay about her induction to journalism captures the giddy exhilaration of a young woman finding her raison d’etre. Her take on divorce was both poignant and honest, and left me feeling more than a little sympathy for her. Her humor can take a wry, self-deprecating turn; she could have perhaps used that more. It’s no great challenge to wield a pen to show other people in a bad light; there's a greater subtlety to laughing at ourselves. We may as well; after all, others are probably already doing it.

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