Recently, I needed a break from the heaviness of the world, so I began revisiting the work of Nora Ephron. She is known for such hits as Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail. And I love all of those movies. But I love them because of how she plays.
As you watch a Nora Ephron movie or—better yet!—read something she wrote, you can tell that she loved words, characters, and storytelling. She is famous for having said, “Everything is copy,” which is one of the truest things I have ever heard about writing and art. And she totally lived it! She mined her divorce from Carl Bernstein to write her hilarious novel Heartburn, which she also adapted into the screenplay for the movie.
Meeting Nora Ephron
I had seen her movies, of course. I remember watching You’ve Got Mail in theatres and I was utterly captivated by the power of books in other people’s lives. For me, it was one of those moments where I realized that it wasn’t just me.
But I don’t think I truly met Nora Ephron until after she died.
In 2014, my life (and the lives of my mom, dad, uncle, and grandma) revolved around visiting my beloved papa in one hospital facility or another. It consisted of a lot of sitting while he dozed. I’m not good at sitting and doing nothing, so I made sure to bring books with me. But when you’re constantly being interrupted by nurses, aides, visitors, etc, it’s difficult to get into the groove of a novel.
That’s where Nora came in. I had purchased The Most of Nora Ephron when it came out in 2013 and randomly decided to bring it with me. It’s a long volume, clocking in at just over 550 pages. But it contains multitudes.
Robert Gottlieb, who compiled the volume, arranged it by types of writing. You get to meet Nora Ephron the journalist, the novelist, the foodie, the blogger, and the essayist, among other her personas.
As I flipped through the book, I gravitated toward the shorter pieces that I could finish in one gulp. These were by and large under 10 pages. And they were funny! It was a nice break to get to laugh when things sucked so much.
After that initial introduction, I began purchasing her individual volumes of essays: Wallflower at the Orgy, I Feel Bad About My Neck, I Remember Nothing, Crazy Salad, and Scribble, Scribble (those last two conveniently combined into a single volume).
Whenever I finish a book, I sign my name and write the date on the inside of the front cover. Looking back at these books now, I can see that I read them in the days immediately after my papa passed. Those books, those essays, provided the balm I apparently needed in order to get through. Humor is, after all, a great medicine.
Realizing the Larger Context
As time passed and I became more serious about this whole writing thing, I began seeing Nora Ephron in a new light. I still thought she was funny as hell, but I became more interested in the arc of her career as well. She wrote a bit of everything.
While I don’t harbor any desire to write screenplays, I do want to write essays. I want to write a novel. I want to write about food. I want to write widely because there’s just so much out there to explore. And I love seeing that somebody has done so.
I know other authors have done it (hello, Joan Didion) but Nora Ephron was the first one I really noticed, which makes her special to me. Plus, her style is more intuitive and natural to me, which is why I gravitate toward her so strongly.
Essays are my first love as a writer and probably the genre I’ll most frequently write in. And I have to credit Nora Ephron with that. She sparked an interest in personal essays that led me to David Sedaris and Joan Didion, then onto Samantha Irby, Rebecca Solnit, and so many others.
When you start something new and you’re alone, it’s kind of like the first day of high school. You walk into the cafeteria and you don’t know where to sit. Your eyes scan the room. You observe. You try to find connections amongst the people at the different tables so you know where you might fit in.
Well, as I was scanning the writers’ cafeteria, Nora Ephron looked up, caught my eye, smiled a welcoming smile, and beckoned me over.
I found my table. And I hope you find yours.
Tell us in the comments: Have you ever read any of Nora Ephron’s books? What did you think?
Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.