When you read a great book, even though you don't know the writer, you want to call the author up, Holden Caulfield famously says in The Catcher in the Rye. For much of my reading life, though I knew I'd never set eyes on her – let alone hang out with her circle of friends, filmmakers, writers, celebs and foodies, I wanted to grab my phone and gab with Nora Ephron. Since she died in June, I've longed more than ever to chat with her.
Who knows what makes us feel as if we're BFFs with some writers or filmmakers, while other artists, even when we love their work, never seem like our pals? I only know that many women filmgoers; movie directors and producers; readers; and especially, writers, whether or not they'd ever met her, felt connected at the hip with Ephron.
Why do we of the female persuasion feel this connection to Ephron and her work? Because as Alessandra Stanley, quoting Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail wrote in the New York Times, The Godfather is the I Ching for men. "The Godfather is the answer to any question," Hanks says, "What should I pack for summer vacation? 'Leave the gun, take the canonoli.'"
Ephron is the I Ching for women, "the sum of all wisdom. And wit. And what to eat," Stanley wrote, "Basically, anything worth saying about love, loss, and yes, what I wore, was said by Nora somewhere, be it 'Heartburn,' 'When Harry Met Sally,' 'Julie & Julia' and every blog, book and recipe she ever published."
It's not that men are immune to Ephron's wit and wisdom. Who wouldn't laugh on learning that Ephron, who didn't believe in God or an afterlife, had an undying faith in butter? "You can never have too much butter," she said when asked to describe her religion.
I'd bet many guys would identify with the character in her novel Heartburn who tells her therapist, "Let's face it, everyone is the one person on earth you shouldn't get involved with" or with Ephron's observation that you can never really know the truth of any marriage, "including your own."
But, Ephron (or Nora as so many of us think of her) in her life and work was particularly meaningful to women. First, because she was a pioneer in the, still male dominated, fields of journalism and film making; and second, because her work so effectively merged the personal with the political. Though her wit could be acerbic, her humor wasn't bitter. Master craftsman that she was, Ephron knew that the tragic and comic were two sides of the same coin. (She would have said this so much better – with so much aplomb and wit!) Her essays often were wise and poignant as well as humorous.
"If the younger woman is a writer, she eventually writes something about the older woman," Ephron poignantly wrote in an essay "Pentimento" about her friendship with and falling out with Lilian Hellman, "And then years pass. And she herself gets older. And there are moments when she would like to apologize...And this may be one of them."
In her last essay collection I Remember Nothing, Ephron, who knew for several years that she had an illness that was likely to be terminal, wrote two pieces entitled "What I Won't Miss" and "What I Will Miss." I can't begin to do justice to the scope of Ephron's body of work. She wrote on everything from bottled water to Katharine Graham to Scrabble to divorce. If you're a writer, you'll do yourself no greater favor than to read Ephron's essays, fiction, plays and journalism for pleasure and to soak up their pitch-perfect style. If you haven't seen her films, and you'd like to be entertained, watch "When Harry Met Sally" or "Heartburn" (the movie of her novel of the same name).
With a bow to Ephron, I leave you with what, when I'm gone, I'll miss and what I won't miss.
What I'll Miss
Gin and tonics, ice cream, chocolate pretzels, champagne and French Fries.
The Thin Man movies. Who wouldn't miss Myrna Loy (Nora) drinking William Powell (Nick) under the table with Asta, their dog, prancing at her feet?
The West Wing. Couldn't we bring President Bartlett back to run things?
Mad Men. Who would want to leave Don Draper behind when they go to their eternal rest?
Frank O'Hara's poetry. Especially, his poem "The Day Lady Died," possibly the best eulogy ever written and his poem begging Laura Turner to please, not collapse!
Shakespeare's sonnets, Judy Garland's bonnets in Easter Parade andthe Rolling Stones.
Looney Tunes, The Marx Brothers, Midnight in Paris and Tender Buttons.
Cafes, my family, my friends, coffee, swing music and dancing, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, St. Bernards and air conditioning.
What I Won't Miss
Gravitas – especially, people who congratulate themselves on having it.
Language poetry. Yes, this is an important genre of poetry, and there are many talented language poets. Like spinach, it's nutritious and very good for your poetic palate. But who wants to go into the Great Beyond eating spinach?
The Newsroom, the new Aaron Sorkin series on HBO. Sorkin tries hard here, the actors give it their all – but this just isn't The West Wing. If you want to see a movie that gets to the heart of the problems with TV news, check out "Broadcast News." Though made in 1987, it's not at all dated.
Pedants. Though I don't look forward to leaving this earthly lair, I relish relinquishing pomposity.
Whiners. Be a hero, not a victim in your life, Ephron said. This is sage advice for all of us, including moi, still getting over high school.
Literalists. The great Elaine May once observed that literalism is a "psycho-semantic" illness.
Infomercials, roaches and cicada and heron poems.
Poets who mumble, ramble, and don't know when to get off the stage at poetry readings.
Lists like these.