I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts On Being A Woman by Nora Ephron (ISNB: 9780307276827 Vintage Books $14.00, pub date April, 2008)
Heartburn by Nora Ephron (ISBN: 9780679767954 Vintage Books $14.00, pub date May, 1996)
Reviewed by Susan Richmond and Adam Jones, of Inklings Bookshop in Yakima
I Feel Bad About My Neck. The book title, and yes, the confession of my middle-aged soul. I’m trying to age gracefully, but there are secrets only my hairdresser and my husband know. I come from a family of premature greyers, who were blessed with relatively few wrinkles. On their faces. Now that I’ve begun thinking about such things, I wonder if their wrinkles had slid down to their necks and beyond just like mine have.
In my youth, I said boldly that I would embrace aging as a gift; I would speak wisdom ‘neath a halo of white and my eyes would sparkle from the parenthesis of laugh lines. Then, my first grey hair appeared at about age 30. I remember it well. A dear friend crossed the room to pluck from my hair what she thought was a thread sparking in the light. It hurt when she removed that thread. Well, you know the rest. Soon there were two more threads, then four until those threads wove themselves into a beanie of white and my “haircut” appointments became twice as long.
I Feel Bad About My Neck is a treatise on aging. This is the book to give your friend who is turning 50 soon. If she is depressed about starting her next decade, she will at least know that she has a friend in you and Nora Ephron. I found myself chuckling at her observations on being a “woman of a certain age.” She begins her observations on necks by realizing that when she would meet with her friends for lunch, they all seemed to be wearing turtlenecks, scarves or Mandarin collars. They were all looking pretty darn good for their ages, except for their necks. She says, “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.”
Only one of the humorous essays in this book is about necks. She also masterfully muses upon purses, parenting, failing eyesight, marriage and the joy of reading. This is a book I’ll re-read when I want to remember to laugh, be gentle with myself and my pitiful turkey neck.—Susan
Heartburn. Here are a few things Heartburn is about: a stick-em-up at group therapy, an obsession with sorrel soup that necessitates moving from one state to another, and a particularly messy divorce, with recipes. It’s the story of Rachel Samstat, a food writer whose story is loosely based on the author’s own life, and in many ways a twin to the characters in her film Julie and Julia. It’s a bit surreal, and these zany episodes are played for laughs, at an average of one embarrassing snort a page. But, like the especially gifted writer that she was, Ephron’s trick is to take the specifics of a story and make it something you recognize, your life viewed through the fun-house reflection of a comic sensibility.
Like a number of her works, Heartburn is special to me because of the way Ephron talks about food. Here, the story of a marriage, its dissolution, and the resulting mess is told through food. You start with making crispy potatoes for him (your showiest creation), and end up making mashed potatoes for one. Food in Ephron’s universe isn’t just about your day-to-day need for something to take the edge off. It’s both a nearly mystical alchemy and something “mindless.” As Ephron says, “It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure.” And in so many of her stories, it can be a key to a hidden self, or the bridge from one (often unhappy) point in life to another, hopefully better.
When Ephron passed away last month, many of us felt a great loss. Whether you read and loved her books, or enjoyed her movies (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and on, and on), or were simply in awe of a talent that never stopped moving, her passing felt to many like the loss of, well, a friend. I had forgotten about the vinaigrette in “Heartburn” vinaigrette, but I’m going to bring it back, gladly.—Adam
These reviews appeared in the Book Scene column this week in the Yakima Herald.