Over a year later, it is still difficult to accept the fact that Nora Ephron is no longer around. The author, director, journalist, novelist, and just about anything you came up with might be remembered by many as the person who shaped the modern romantic comedy, but she was really so much more than that, and that’s why her work, both written and filmed, deserves any attention it gets.
Aside from the fact that you can find You’ve Got Mail on television during just about any part of the day, the latest way to appreciate Ephron’s talent is the new collection of her work, The Most of Nora Ephron (Knopf). The book is organized by Ephron’s many different roles, from screenwriter to her time at the New York Post in the 1960s.
While we could go on and on about our love for Ephron’s entire body of work, we figured it might be best to ask a few of our favorite writers to tell us in their own words about something Ephron did that sticks out in their mind the most when they hear her name.
My first introduction to Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, my favorite of her many great works, was rather appropriately through food. My mom has made linguine alla cecca, the hot-pasta-with-cold-tomatoes-and-basil dish that the book’s protagonist Rachel Samstat makes (the key, as with nearly everything, is good tomatoes), since I was a teenager. It’s delicious, and so is Heartburn, which perfectly combines hot and cold, the comedic and the tragic, the emotional and the intellectual, and love and its opposite— fictionally reprising Ephron’s own marital split with Carl Bernstein, who had an affair with a mutual friend when Ephron was pregnant with their second child. The humor in this book is ever more admirable because it’s based on her own story. Because my love for Heartburn began with the pasta, via my mom, I asked her for her opinion. “It was different, it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill book,” she said. “It was dark humor but funny. I liked the idea that she was always trying to perfect a recipe. And the pasta is good! I think sometimes your own happenings make for an more interesting story.” Especially when the writer is Nora Ephron. —Jen Doll, author of the forthcoming book Save the Date (Riverhead) There’s so much from Nora Ephron’s body of work to love but I remain rather partial to When Harry Met Sally. The movie is a fairy tale, absolutely, but the screenplay is also really smart and witty and full of slightly world worn heart. There is so much truth in When Harry Met Sally about men and women and friendship and love and the authenticity of a woman’s orgasm. The truths in When Harry Met Sally may not be universal but they always strike a chord with me. I’m also a sucker for the desperately romantic notion that the love of your life may be the person who has been by your side all along. —Roxane Gay, author of the forthcoming books An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic) and Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial) Scribble, Scribble (1979) is an out of print collection of Ephron’s media criticism and though it’s finally being republished as part of ‘The Most of Nora Ephron,’ I still wish it was available on its own because it would make a great gift for everyone who currently works in the media or wants to. Ephron didn’t invent media criticism, but she almost certainly perfected it. There’s not much being published today that doesn’t owe a debt to the essays in this slim volume, whose targets range from New York magazine to then-nascent People magazine to Ephron’s condo association newsletter. That’s my favorite, actually, the one about the condo association newsletter. She was so great at being mean and funny and she was still young enough then that she didn’t worry too much about stepping on toes, or like compound fracturing toes, come to think of it. And not only is this feisty, out for blood Nora at her finest, it’s also a portrait of the media landscape as it was in the 70s and even somewhat, incredibly, still is! —Emily Gould, author of the forthcoming novel Friendship (FSG, 2014) My favorite Ephron is an essay called, “On Never Having Been a Prom Queen,” which is collected in Crazy Salad. It’s a review of Alix Kates Shulman’s novel, Confessions of an Ex-Prom Queen, and Ephron totally eviscerates the book. “I realized, midway through the novel, that if there is anything more boring to me than the problems of big-busted women, it is the problems of beautiful women,” she writes. I just love how elegant and concise it is, and also how she turns her objections to the book into larger questions about the women’s movement at the time. —Michelle Dean, Flavorwire Editor-at-Large.
Ah, Heartburn. I love Heartburn, but it feels like such a period piece now, doesn’t it? The idea that two writers — one of them a journalist! — could afford to buy a townhouse in Georgetown, let alone get divorced while in the middle of renovating it, seems like a Downtown Abbey-style dreamscape of a gentler time gone by. But honestly, wasn’t it always sort of like that? That’s Heartburn’s, and Nora Ephron’s charm, the effortlessness with which she makes the exceptional mundane. She lets you in and makes you feel like “one of us” — or should I say, “them” — breathtakingly accomplished, hopelessly clever, and endearingly, sometimes heartbreakingly, imperfect. She is at once the most elite and most inclusive of writers. Who doesn’t want to go to dinner at her house? Also, this book taught me how to make mashed potatoes. It’s come in handy, over the years. —Rachel Shukert is most recently the author of Starstruck, and the next book in the series, Love Me. Setting aside the saccharine quality of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s gooey chemistry, there’s a lot to love about You’ve Got Mail. First of all, the endearing sweetness and charm. Then there’s the supporting cast of brilliant actors who all nail their smaller roles: Steve Zahn, Dave Chappelle, Parker Posey, Greg Kinnear, Dabney Coleman, Jean Stapleton, Heather Burns. There’s the underlying love-letter to New York City. The Nilsson-heavy soundtrack! And, of course, Meg Ryan’s sartorial choices (no one rocks a sweater on a sweater quite like her!). Ephron, who co-wrote the film with her sister Delia, took a very simple and oft-told story about two seemingly unmatched people who, unbeknownst to them, are falling in love with each other. The result is what turned out to be the first romantic comedy for the Internet age, which, weirdly enough, still holds up today (the repeated product placement for AOL notwithstanding). —Tyler Coates, Flavorwire Deputy Editor