email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Why do we read the memoirs of famous people? To learn their secrets of success? To see the sordid underbelly of their lives and the price they've paid to get where they are, so that we can console ourselves about the relative sanity, or even nobility, of our more pedestrian lives? Just to revel, voyeuristically, in the sheer beauty and glamour that surrounds them?
None of those explain the pleasures offered by Nora Ephron's 2006 light-heartedly morose musings on her life, I Feel Bad About My Neck.
Ephron, the sixty-seven-year-old journalist, film director, and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood) started out rich, privileged, and connected, growing up in New York City and Beverly Hills with parents who were successful writers, so there's not much about her journey that's instructive for most of us. And she doesn't seem to have sacrificed a lot to get where she is: along the way there are a couple of disappointing marriages and a handbag or two that weren't quite right, but no permanent damage to her soul. Nor is she a celebrity in the Angelina Jolie sense: we wouldn't buy People magazine just to find out how she lost a few pounds or to knock ourselves out with how beautiful her babies are.
Maybe then, the appeal of this book is the somewhat disappointing but oddly satisfying message that the rich and prominent are just as dull as we are, consumed with the same unfortunate trials of life: wrinkles, bad hair days, unfaithful husbands, and the death of friends; and that having more money takes the edge off some of those trials, but cannot, ultimately, save one from them.
This book seesaws between the cozy girl-talk of inclusiveness and the reminders that her life is not, in fact, like yours. She enjoys the humor of belaboring the trivial and the mundane: How do you find the right purse for all occasions? How many items should you serve at dinner? Why must we buy different lotions and creams for our arms, legs, faces, and feet? Why do we have to get manicures all the time?
And then--wait a minute--we don't have to. It is a safe bet that most women couldn't afford manicures as often as she gets them, nor could they afford the constant rounds of what Ephron calls "maintenance" – the hair coloring and blow-drying and pedicures and sessions with personal trainers that she says have to be done with regularity just to keep everything from falling apart. Not to mention--although she does--the more occasional "needs" for Botox, facelifts, major dental work, and the removal of skin tags and other harmless signs of aging that afflict the vain.
At times, it seems that Ephron could have called her memoir, "Thoughts on being a Woman that Probably Don't Apply to You." She presents herself as a working woman with an imperfect and deteriorating body, disappointments and betrayals in her love life, and some amusing challenges in learning to cook, be a decent parent, and take care of herself, just like the rest of us . . . but it's a tease. She is not everywoman. Not unless everywoman receives repeated invitations to travel on the private yachts of friends and turns down those invitations not because she has to work or can't afford the cruise-wear, but because she can't imagine the inconvenience of having to do one's own hair while aboard a boat.
Two of the most entertaining sections of the book were beautifully edited into New Yorker essays over the last few years. One was her set piece on finding and keeping a glorious eight-room apartment in the Astor-built Apthorp building on the Upper West Side, even as rents rise 400% in three years; fistfights break out among the neighbors over the placement of bicycles; fires, burglaries, and ulterior-motived renovations go on all around; Rosie O'Donnell (whom Ephron identifies as a friend) moves in, wreaks havoc, and to Ephron's amazement--how could anyone let go of a foothold in Heaven?--moves out; and "key money," the under-the-table cash paid by wannabe tenants to building superintendents, people who are moving out, and anyone else who might be able to provide an inside track on apartments about to be vacated--rises from the $24,000 Ephron paid in 1980 to the $285,000 paid by a neighbor some years later. To those who have never lived in New York City, who may think that finding a decent place to live is an ordinary business deal within the reach of anyone with a steady income, this story may stretch the limits of credulity. I am here to tell you it's all true, and that Ephron's personal and detailed account of it all will stand as a classic insider look at Manhattan real estate in the 1980s. If the current economic crisis ends up changing anything fundamental about the way that people acquire and pay for their homes, then Ephron's story will become an even more valuable snapshot of the rental market in its heyday.
The other excerpted essay was a celebration of the joys of cooking, eating, and idolizing celebrity chefs. During my own years in Manhattan, the paying of rent didn't leave much over for food, so I will admit to a less-than-excited reading of this section, and yet it is quite likely that, for those who like this sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing they will like. The fetishizing of food and wine into a hobby/obsession seems still to be growing, all across the country. (As further testament to her own love of the topic, Ephron made her alter ego, played by Meryl Streep, in the 1986 film Heartburn, a food writer by profession.)
Again, Ephron is somewhat like the rest of us--she worries and frets over what to serve at dinner parties and she struggles with maintaining her weight while developing her skill as a cook--and in other ways, she is not like us at all. She develops an interest in the writings of Craig Claiborne, then a hero-worship, and then a full-blown fantasy life involving Craig, herself, and some exquisitely cooked delicacies . . . then she meets him, he invites her over for dinner, and she reciprocates. Later, she becomes friends with the food and design superstar Lee Bailey and slavishly adopts his decorating schemes and menu-planning techniques. Her specific fantasies may or may not do anything for you, but the book teases you into thinking about what your life would be like if your own deepest desires--menu-related or not--were so easily made real.
The source of much of Ephron's humor is the bursting of bubbles regarding glamour. Yes, she's in a position to have dinner with Craig Claiborne after a period of obsessing about him. But it turns out he's dull, once you get to know him. Yes, she can pay for any cosmetic enhancements and personal services she wants, but she can't stop her neck from getting saggy. Her summary of taking care of her aging body is this: "After a certain point, it's just patch, patch, patch." Yes, life is easier for the rich, but it's still life.
Ephron herself narrates the audio version of this book (available, unabridged, from Random House Audio) and she is, naturally, a clear and mostly amusing reader of her own work. However, her tone is so consistently sardonic, full of heavy self-deprecation delivered in a staccato rhythm, that the tale can feel monotonous. There is virtually no variation in her delivery no matter what the content. At times, the even-keeled, dry-humored delivery feels just right for the material; at others, though, one wishes for an actor with more range.
© First Serial rights 2009 Heather C. Liston
Heather Liston is a free lance writer based in San Francisco