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'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron's Senior Moment

Four years after publishing I Feel Bad About My Neck, which included the memorable line, "You have to cut a redwood tree open to see how old it is, but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," Nora Ephron, approaching 70, is more concerned than ever about aging.  In her new book, I Remember Nothing, she rues cleavage that "looks like a peach pit" and taking "so many pills in the morning you don't have room for breakfast." In the title essay, she flags life events of which she has retained nada  -- including meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1961 and seeing the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan in 1964. She quips, "I was not at Woodstock, but I might as well have been because I wouldn't remember it anyway." She concludes, "On some level my life has been wasted on me.  After all, if I can't remember it, who can?"

Since the early 1970s, when she wrote a column about women for Esquire magazine, Ephron has demonstrated a delightful ability to share her mundane woes -- from small breasts to a growing wattle -- and connect with her audience as if they were her new best friends. Like other engaging personal essayists, including Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley and the late Wendy Wasserstein, she has the common touch. Unlike them, she has also channeled her snappy repartee into hit movies, including When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail.

Ephron is obviously still sharp enough to joke about her memory hiccups.  She writes, "You can't retrieve your life (unless you're on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it)," but reassures us that all is not lost because we're "living in the Google years. ... The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn't it?"

Notice, in the passage above, how she slips in a little jab at Wikipedia?  That's classic Ephron: gloriously opinionated -- and on target.  In fact, several essays in I Remember Nothing originated as op-eds for The New York Times. These express outrage over miserable moviegoing experiences at multiplexes, and peeves about intrusive waiters who constantly interrupt conversations to offer you freshly ground pepper.

Self-deprecation and bold, sweeping statements are key to Ephron's humor.  She loves coining phrases: the bare patch at the back of her head, another sign of aging, is an "aruba," after the windswept resort it resembles. She delineates six stages of e-mail (infatuation, disenchantment, etc.) and five of inherited wealth (glee, sloth ...).  Several of the 23 essays are, in fact, nothing more than lists -- including what she'll miss (her kids, Central Park, pie) and what she won't (dry skin, critics, panels on Women in Film). Facile? Slight? Occasionally. But even her lists are hilarious and eloquent.

Of course, Ephron is capable of burrowing deeper than wrinkles, as she reminds us in three heartfelt pieces that look back: on her work ("Journalism: A Love Story"); her mother, a successful screenwriter who raised four daughters and seemed to have it all before succumbing to alcoholism ("The Legend"); and her short-lived infatuation with Lillian Hellman ("Pentimento"). While she may not have reached what she calls "the nadir of old age, the Land of Anecdote," Ephron sure does know how to tell a story and entertain.

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Heller McAlpin
Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.