Se­lec­tive am­ne­sia

Nora Ephron’s new book pokes fun at her fad­ing me­mory.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - By HIL­LEL ITALIE

Nora Ephron is think­ing about al­go­rithms. She won­ders what they are. It’s one of those con­cepts, such as Twit­ter and heavy metal, that ex­ist only to re­mind her she has lived too long. Un­sure of her own def­i­ni­tion, she takes a lit­tle nip from that elec­tronic flask in her hand­bag, that dig­i­tal de­mon rum: her iPhone.

“al­go­rithm,” she reads, “a set of rules for solv­ing a prob­lem in a fi­nite num­ber of steps, as for find­ing the great­est com­mon di­vi­sor.”

Ex­actly. “Thank God for my por­ta­ble de­vice.”

She is seated at an Up­per East Side diner in New York, around 10.30am, warmed up in a dark blouse and match­ing slacks, en­joy­ing scram­bled eggs and crisp ba­con, undis­turbed by the oc­ca­sional glances from two mid­dle-age men, in busi­ness at­tire, in the next booth.

Ephron is 69, known for such books as Heart­burn and Crazy Salad, and for the movies Sleep­less in Seat­tle and Julie & Ju­lia. She is a par­ent and grand­par­ent set­tled in a long-term mar­riage with her third hus­band, author Ni­cholas Pi­leggi. She has been writ­ing about silly and se­ri­ous mat­ters for 50 years, from hooded seals to nu­clear power plants, to the silly and se­ri­ous mat­ters of men and women.

as mid­dle-age be­came a cer­tain age, the laughs have turned darker and the joke has in­creas­ingly been on her­self. In 2006, she had her biggest com­mer­cial suc­cess as an author with the mil­lion-sell­ing es­say col­lec­tion I Feel Bad About My Neck. The sub­jects in­cluded age­ing, ill­ness and death, a cor­rec­tive she says, to all those books that tell you how won­der­ful it is to grow old.

She is back with I Re­mem­ber Noth­ing, es­says about fam­ily, jour­nal­ism and ev­ery­day and eter­nal both­ers. There are lists of what she will miss (ba­con, Paris) and what she will not (fu­ner­als, mam­mo­grams). Much of the book is a farewell to her own me­mory. She is not writ­ing about alzheimer’s, but the way peo­ple and places and events fade as if erased from tape.

This is a new kind of name-drop­ping. She can brag about hav­ing met the Bea­tles, but not about what they said. She does not know. Same for Cary Grant, Dorothy Parker and Eleanor roo­sevelt. She marched on Washington in 1967 to protest the Viet­nam War and re­mem­bers only the sex she had in her ho­tel room.

as a re­porter for the New York Post, she in­ter­viewed the much­cen­sored Lenny Bruce sev­eral times.

“Lenny Bruce kept be­ing thrown out of New York and ev­ery time he was, I was sent to meet him at the air­port,” Ephron says. “What did he say? You don’t know and nei­ther do I.”

Her am­ne­sia ap­pears con­ta­gious. one old friend, author-hu­morist Calvin Trillin, spoke of Ephron as a great wit and a colour­ful “aun­tie Mame” fig­ure to his daugh­ters. But he was stumped when asked for a favourite me­mory.

“My mind goes blank,” he says. “I can’t think of the time that Nora did such and such. I sup­pose one will come to me as I fall asleep tonight.”

“I don’t ex­actly re­mem­ber when I met her,” adds author-jour­nal­ist Pete Hamill, whose friend­ship with Ephron dates to when both worked at the Post. “Nora would prob­a­bly know bet­ter than I.” That is un­likely. “It’s not that I don’t need to re­mem­ber things, I just don’t re­mem­ber them,” she says. “I do lit­tle things with the mnemon­ics and then I can’t re­mem­ber the mnemon­ics. The other day I couldn’t re­mem­ber the name of the ex­tremely nice per­son who blows out my hair when I’m in La. all I could re­mem­ber is she had the same name as the mys­te­ri­ous guy with the big hair a few years ago. and I couldn’t re­mem­ber his name, ei­ther. I thought, even­tu­ally, it will get back into my head.

“and this morn­ing, as if by a mir­a­cle, the name Fabio came into my head and I re­mem­bered it.”

When the brain fails, technology fills in. It’s her friend, her foe, her shadow. Her iPhone means she will never truly for­get the name of a favourite char­ac­ter ac­tor. But she wor­ries that the screen is harm­ful to writ­ing. In the old days, the blocked author had noth­ing but walls to stare at. Now, there is Face­book.

and ly­ing about your past is a lost and im­pos­si­ble art.

“My grand­mother didn’t know when she was born. She had no idea, be­cause she was born in rus­sia. The cal­en­dar was dif­fer­ent. It was 18-some­thing or other when she came to amer­ica,” Ephron says. “I think you cer­tainly can make the case that the abil­ity to rein­vent your­self is a lovely thing that’s prob­a­bly been stolen from us com­pletely by all this record keep­ing.”

Born in New York in 1941, Ephron, the daugh­ter of screen­writ­ers Henry and Phoebe Ephron, spent much of her child­hood in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia. as she writes in her new book, reg­u­lar vis­i­tors in­cluded Casablanca co-writer Julius J. Ep­stein, Sun­set Boule­vard col­lab­o­ra­tor Charles Brack­ett, and the team of al­bert Hack­ett and Frances Goodrich, who worked on The Thin Man and It’s a Won­der­ful Life.

Ev­ery­one was in movies, “the busi­ness.”

“Peo­ple who were not in the busi­ness were known as civil­ians,” Ephron writes.

She grad­u­ated from Welles­ley

en­cap­su­lates all that we fear about Col­lege in 1962, moved to New York and started out as a “mail girl” and fact checker at Newsweek. a news­pa­per strike at the end of the year proved her break­through. Vic­tor Navasky, the fu­ture edi­tor of The Nation, was then run­ning a satir­i­cal mag­a­zine called the Mona­cle. He was work­ing on a par­ody of the New York Post, The New York Pest, and asked Ephron for a spoof of Post colum­nist Leonard Lyons.

She suc­ceeded so well that the news­pa­per’s pub­lisher, Dorothy Schiff, rea­soned that any­one who could make fun of the Post could also write for it. Ephron was asked to try out as a re­porter. Within a week, she had a per­ma­nent job.

“She had this one thing: tal­ent,” Hamill says. “She had the gift that later blos­somed, the won­der­ful, ironic laugh­ter and hu­mour and the pre­ci­sion of the writ­ing.”

By the 1970s, she was re­port­ing for Esquire and New York mag­a­zine and had met and mated with Carl Bern­stein, the Washington Post re­porter who teamed with Bob Wood­ward on cov­er­age of the Water­gate scan­dal. They mar­ried in 1976, and had two chil­dren. Ephron was preg­nant with the sec­ond when she learned Bern­stein was hav­ing an af­fair, a be­trayal that had its re­wards, once she stopped cry­ing.

She wrote a novel, Heart­burn later a film star­ring Jack Ni­chol­son and Meryl Streep. The book was so close to her life that Bern­stein threat­ened to sue. The me­mory of the book’s birth is eas­ily sum­moned.

“Yes, to­tally, com­pletely, ab­so­lutely, sit­ting at the le­gendary and long-gone Smith Corona elec­tric type­writer that I once had,” she says. “I was work­ing on a screen­play and wrote the first 10 pages of a novel, and I knew the ti­tle, knew there were go­ing to be recipes in it. This I re­mem­ber, ex­actly where I was, work­ing and know­ing, ‘ oh, I see, enough time has passed that I’m ready to do this.”’

She does not know whether she will write an­other novel and does not worry. She just likes the writ­ing process, whether es­says or screen­plays or the oc­ca­sional en­try on The Huff­in­g­ton Post. Her iPhone has not kept her from writ­ing ev­ery day and from work­ing on a film about singer Peggy Lee, with reese Wither­spoon ex­pected in the star­ring role.

In The O Word, an es­say from her new book, she an­tic­i­pates grow­ing too old to make jokes about her age. She will be “re­ally old”, be­yond sex in a ho­tel room, or even a frozen cus­tard at Shake Shack. It would be nice if she be­lieved in a higher be­ing, she agrees, but the phrase “ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son” is a ser­mon that only an­noys her.

She thinks of each day as per­haps the last that she will be able to live as she pleases. Ephron writes of sum­mers in the Hamp­tons on Long Is­land when her chil­dren were lit­tle, of fire­works on the Fourth of July and pic­nics on the beach. She loved the sound of geese in mid-July – “one of the things that made the sum­mers out there so mag­i­cal.” Now, the geese re­mind her that sum­mer will end, and so will ev­ery­thing else.

“I es­pe­cially be­gan to hate their sound, which was not beat­ing wings – how could I have ever thought it was? – but a lot of une­u­pho­nious honks,” she writes. “Now we don’t go to Long Is­land in the sum­mer, and I don’t hear the geese. Some­times, in­stead, we go to Los an­ge­les, where there are hum­ming­birds, and I love to watch them be­cause they’re so busy get­ting the most out of life.” – aP

An old prob­lem: Nora Ephron’s lat­est book, grow­ing old.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.