If there were an alternate title for I Remember Nothing, it would be #whitepeopleproblems.
It’s funny that Nora Ephron’s latest book reminds me of a hashtag, since Twitter is one of several things Ephron swears in an introductory essay that she will never take the time to understand (also see: Jay-Z, the Kardashians, soccer). Funny since I’m sure Nora Ephron objects to Twitter for the same reasons so many people who’ve never used it do: it’s frivolous, indulgent, emblematic of a global case of ADD, full of people tweeting about their breakfasts. Why is this funny? Because I Remember Nothing is basically 150 pages of Ephron’s brain farts, piled together in a hardcover and sold for $23. At least on Twitter it’s all short, sweet and free.
Now before I tear into this book, I should pause for a moment to respect my elders. Ephron’s essays here are very much about being old, and she’s 69 so that’s fair enough. I don’t know the point at which you’re allowed, as an adult, to throw up your hands and give in to the stodgy bitterness that comes with old age, but I am willing to grant that it’s probably somewhere around 70. In a way, I Remember Nothing feels a lot like a goodbye book—the last two “essays” are devoted to things Ephron will and won’t miss, ostensibly about life. So I sympathize. When you’ve had a 40-year career, maybe you reserve the right to fart out your last contribution to nonfiction. I just don’t think you should actually do it.
Which brings me to my review: I don’t know why I’m so mad that this book was a disappointment. It could be because Ephron’s last book of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck, was awesome. I shoved I Remember Nothing into my bag on Friday before leaving for Washington DC, thinking it would probably be a great train book; instead I sat enviously next to a girl reading The Hunger Games, who must have noticed me psychotically scribbling notes for this review. (It’s very difficult to write on a moving Amtrak train and not have what comes out look psychotic.)
I’m mad because I do really like Nora Ephron. I feel like any self-respecting female should: She wrote some of the best chick flicks of all time (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle) and turned her husband’s affair and their very public divorce into a hilarious book. She’s got balls. Still, I have always wondered if I would actually like Nora Ephron if I met her in person. Writing notwithstanding, she’s always struck me as one of those old-money women on the Upper West Side, who have lived in New York so long that they (perhaps fairly) feel ownership of it, but can come across as close-minded and elitist. The kind of New York women who have long since lost a sense of scale, and see nothing strange in nagging a waiter over the restaurant’s choice of pepper while a few miles away people are picking through trash for food.
This is not my attempt to be preachy. I am not a paragon of do-goodery: You’re talking to the girl who won’t move her air conditioner to a different window even though it drips right over the front door of my apartment building. I’m just saying Nora Ephron is so successful because her writing is something women can relate to; she seems like a real person. So when I read five consecutive essays about increasingly wealthy-person problems, I can’t help but feel that she’s losing some of that relatable quality.
Listen, it’s not like I’m out curing diseases every day—I wrote this review while eating a burrito that a man on a bike brought to my door from all of five blocks away. I’m just saying when you write a short essay about a meat loaf dish that a restaurant named after you, and the intricacies of public perception of the quality of this meat loaf dish, and your disappointment when said meat loaf dish was ultimately discontinued …I mean, I don’t know what to say that. Ha ha?
It’s possible Ephron doesn’t realize the way she comes across; it’s also possible (and likely) that she doesn’t care. She’s a bit of a name-dropper, a habit that only in some scenarios served the purpose of the essay. She has a fairly cavalier attitude about money—maybe there aren’t any welfare moms reading Nora Ephron, I don’t know, but there certainly won’t be now—scoffing once at a paltry $40,000 inheritance, and mentioning later that she and a group of other wealthy adults pegged the definition of a “pleasant sum” of money at around $675,000.
But my point isn’t that Ephron is someone who has had money and status for so long that she’s forgotten what it was like not to. My point is that the subject matter of these essays, as compared to those in her earlier books, seems like a byproduct of the same unconscious self-absorption that comes from growing up wealthy and ending up wealthy. Just to give some examples: There’s an essay about how the newly discovered dangers of Teflon have eliminated her ability to make her favorite no-carb ricotta pancake. There’s one about her prolonged addiction to Scrabble Blitz online. There’s one about her hatred of the egg-white omelet, and one devoted entirely to her various gripes about restaurants: the frequency of their offers to fill up her Pelegrino, their choice of pepper, their lack of salt shakers, etc. And these aren’t nuanced reactions to everyday obstacles (think David Sedaris); they’re one and two-page blurbs, the Nora Ephron equivalent to an early 90s standup act that starts with “Decaf coffee: What’s up with that?” For example, here’s p. 80’s “I Just Want to Say: Chicken Soup,” in its entirety:
“The other day I felt a cold coming on. So I decided to have chicken soup to ward off the cold. Nevertheless, I got the cold. This happens all the time: you think you’re getting a cold, you have chicken soup, you get the cold anyway. So is it possible that chicken soup gives you a cold?”
I’m not saying this isn’t cute, or wouldn’t be a nice bit of a dialogue in a 1995 Meg Ryan movie, but when I shell out $23 for a book of essays, I feel I deserve a little more than something you wrote on the back of a New Yorker invoice.
One of Nora Ephron’s strengths has always been relating to women’s insecurities, turning them into truisms and letting us all laugh. Still being in my 20s, I can’t personally identify with a lot of Ephron’s more recent work—my neck is still aesthetically acceptable—but I can say that her attitude towards aging has made me comfortable with the idea. She reassures me that it’s okay to laugh at the awkward hilarity that is growing older. But it seems like between 2006 and 2010, Ephron went from amusing mother figure—on hand with a fitting anecdote or saying for any situation—to belligerent grandmother, resistant to change and self-righteous about it.
(Side note: It is interesting to me how when young people aren’t familiar with history–and I’m including here anything from Frank Sinatra to Pearl Harbor–they’re pilloried for being uninformed or lacking culture. Meanwhile the elderly (and middle-aged) can write off keeping abreast of pretty much anything that happened in the last ten years and it’s considered okay. I’m not saying my mom needs to “get” Bieber, I’m just saying old people must understand that it’s silly to think everything worth happening has already happened, or everyone worth knowing has already been born, or everything worth appreciating has already been created. I don’t think it’s fair that I can be faulted for unfamiliarity with people who died before I was even born, but retired people, with nothing but time to read up on what’s going on the in the world, are indignantly proud of keeping their heads in the sand.)
Bottom line: If you’ve never read anything by Nora Ephron, pick up Heartburn or I Feel Bad About My Neck. Watch When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle. There’s an entire catalog of Nora Ephron work that epitomizes the writer I love, the one who understands women, even if they do tend to be upper-class white women in Manhattan. But don’t bother with I Remember Nothing, unless its over a $2 cup of coffee at your local Barnes & Noble. It takes about two hours to read, give or take time spent on psychotic note-jotting. Seriously Nora, I’ve wasted less time on Twitter.
TITLE: I Remember Nothing
AUTHOR: Nora Ephron
PAGES: 135 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: I Feel Bad About My Neck, Heartburn
SORTA LIKE: I Feel Bad About My Neck meets your grandmother’s ranting at the dinner table
FIRST LINE: “I have been forgetting things for years—at least since I was in my 30s.”