I honestly don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read any of Nora Ephron’s books. I adore her movies, particularly When Harry Met Sally, and I’d always heard her books were just as good. Perhaps I was afraid they wouldn’t be and my reverence of her script writing would be ruined. But then came my Reading Drought. I had a baby in August last year and subsequently my time to read evaporated. When he was tiny he used to take really long naps during the day, but I was so exhausted that I had to nap too. So no time to read. And even if I’d tried to read, for instance when he was having a feed, I was just too tired. As he’s got older his whole routine has changed, but now, at seven months, he is having daytime naps in his cot (which is how I’m able to write this review, actually on my laptop sitting at the table!!), and so I’ve done a bit of reading then, as well as when he sits and plays next to me, or we watch a bit of TV, or even when he’s very slowly eating some cooked carrot.
So anyway, a couple of months ago we had a little outing to Waterstones and I bought some books for the first time in months. The first of these that I read was The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (reviewed here) as we had recently finished watching The Witcher and I wanted to explore the books. I also bought I Feel Bad About My Neck, finally. I suppose I thought, this is my chance to finally do some proper reading, what do I really want to read? And there was Nora on the shelf.
The introduction to the 2020 edition of I Feel Bad About My Neck is by Dolly Alderton and wonderfully explains the joy of reading Ephron and only convinced me further that I had waited far too long to buy and read any of her books. This one is essays on a wide range of subjects about “being a woman”, some of which are very specific to the female experience (and so some of which unfortunately might be lost on men) but some others are more universal such as the importance of finding the right apartment, and her quest for a cabbage strudel just like the one from the Hungarian bakery that used to be in her neighbourhood in New York. A lot of the book is about life in New York, but even if you don’t live there, or haven’t visited, enough of what she talks about can be seen in various movies and TV shows, and regardless Ephron writes so vividly that you get a good idea of New York life (or at least hers) from her writing.
Ephron’s style in this book is very charming and engaging, and feels very natural while also being expertly structured. As in most of her movies, the humour is often subtle, a bit under the radar, and mostly derived from the absurdity of everyday life. It’s not necessarily laugh-out-loud humour, but that doesn’t matter because it’s still completely joyous, often sarcastic, and always right on the nose. Even though Ephron was a lot older than I am now when she wrote the book, and most of the references are specific to that time or earlier, I still related to a lot of what she wrote about on some level. I particularly loved “Serial Monogamy: A Memoir” in which Ephron recounts her relationships with various cookbooks and their authors, because it’s just wonderful in so many ways; “Parenting in Three Stages” for its charm but also because I recently had a child; “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” for its simultaneous breadth and succinctness; “What I Wish I’d Known” for the same reason; and the last essay “Consider the Alternative” for its perceptiveness and wisdom. But really, I loved all the essays.
They are all excellent – brilliantly written, perceptive, intelligent, funny, moving, engaging, charming, relatable, endearing, witty, down to earth… and yet they are all specific to Ephron’s experiences and her life. It is amazing the way that one woman’s particular life can be so individual, and yet so easy to relate to. I’ve never lived in New York, I’ve never been divorced, I’ve never turned sixty, I’ve never written a movie, but that doesn’t matter. I just adored what I was reading, and realised that Ephron’s writing both allowed me to understand her experiences, and made me think that she would understand mine if she heard them. Which really is what I want from every book I read, every author, and every character. There are very few of these that have given me this entirely, and I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron is one of them.
Originally published by Knopf in 2006; I read the 2020 Doubleday edition, pictured above.