I feel bad about not loving Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron very sadly died a couple of years ago. Afterwards, there were countless articles paying tribute to the essayist. Everyone from her sometime protege Lena Dunham to superstar Tom Hanks , and from journalist Alex Leo to the Guardian’s Sali Hughes. Everyone was as effusive in their praise as they were devastated by her death. After growing up with her essays a very great number of people who had never met her were deeply in love with Nora’s work.
There can be no doubt about it: she was warm, witty, and sharp as a knife. She was everything an essayist should be.
My first foray into reading Nora Ephron’s non-fiction came, unsurprisingly, by way of The New Yorker. She wrote a nice piece called ‘Where I live’. I enjoyed it certainly, but I didn’t love it. On holiday last year I devoured Heartburn. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t love it. Then, over Christmas, I read I Feel Bad About my Neck. And as I raced through the pages of her essay collection that familiar Ephron feeling started to creep back in. Great, fun, funny, clever, and I can see why people adore her. But I didn’t fall in love with Nora. Her essays didn’t light me up; didn’t make me skip with joy at having discovered such a gem; she didn’t linger in my thoughts as I walked away.
In his wonderful essay introducing The Best American Essays 2012, David Brooks muses on the history — and the future — of the essay and the essayist. Brooks writes that ‘the job of an essayist is to seem like a friend’. Any essay fan will agree. For all of these people out of whom written tributes spilled with such force, Ephron was clearly their very best friend.
But while I enjoy all of Ephron’s work, it is not that of a best friend. For me she’s the wise and witty acquaintance with whom I have the occasional coffee. It’s always enjoyable, I always come away having had a good time but she’s not the friend who knows my darkest secrets, the friend I call up crying in the middle of the night, go out dancing with until 3am, or the friend with whom I laugh until my sides split. She is not my Bonnie or my Clyde.
I think one reason is that, to be brutal, her work seems a bit old hat now. A bit been there, done that. It’s hard to fathom haircare? Yep, we know. Even the backlash over foodie obsessives seems in some way directed at Nora and her devotees. She was, after all, something of a pioneer in this area including recipes and discussions of food in so much of her work. She is also — barring her feminism — pretty apolitical, which just seems out of sync with (dreadful phrase alert) ‘my generation’.
For all her wit and wisdom, her Nora doesn’t speak to me. Certainly not in the way that Lena Dunham does, for example. And this is not to say that it’s just an age problem. E.B White and I have a glorious time together several times a year.
Nora knows the meaning of true love. She gave us some great cinematic love stories. I enjoy Nora Ephron’s work a lot and it is a subtle difference, but one I know she would understand: I love Nora Ephron’s work; I’m just not in love with it.