The Early Nora Ephron: Post 1 of "Ephron, Fey, Rivers"

.. so, as I was saying, I needed something to cheer me up. This is because, 5 months earlier, I underwent surgery -- see "What not to bring to hospital" . The surgeon had said recovery would take around 6 weeks, but 5 months later I was still in agony and parts of me weren't functioning. So no wonder I needed cheering up.

Of course, I got lots of emotional support from family and friends everywhere. My cousin Gail in Toronto took a practical approach: "Laughter is the best medicine," she said, and proceeded to put together a parcel of 5 humorous books and mailed them to me:
Nora Ephron: Crazy Salad Plus Nine (Pocket Books, 1984)
Nora Ephron: I Feel Bad About My Neck And Other Thoughts on Being A Woman (Vintage Books, 2008)
Tina Fey: Bossypants (Back Bay Books, 2012)
Joan Rivers: I Hate Everyone... Starting With Me (Berkley Books, 2012)
Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Anchor Canada ed., 2008)

At the time of writing this post, I've read most of the first Ephron; all of the second one; all of Bossypants; assorted chapters of the Joan Rivers one; and I've only peeked at the beginning of the Fundamentalist.

I started with Nora Ephron, because I was most familiar with her and trusted her to be good. After all, she wrote When Harry Met Sally, which I must have seen three times; and Sleepless in Seattle, ditto. She is astute and funny -- no one can contest that.

Nonetheless, Crazy Salad was a bit of a let down. It is somewhat dated, and very wordy. Ephron rambles on and on, eventually making her point. I could tell that writing of the rambling conversational kind came easily to her. And I suppose no one told her that sometimes less is more. But in 20 years or so, she learnt. Her later book, I Feel Bad etc., is better mainly because she makes her usually-excellent points more clearly and briefly. Not brief by any means, but briefer than 20 years earlier. Most of her essays, or articles, were written for magazines or other publications, and as such, perhaps she was encouraged to fill up a certain number of columns and/or inches. Or else no one dared criticize her :-)

As for subject matter -- some of the people she wrote about mean nothing to me (e.g. Barbara Howar), though they probably mean something to Americans of my generation. Some topics may have been very topical, relevant, at the forefront, even brave at the time; but by now they sound "been there, done that". However, other topics remain vital and important today too. A case in point is "Dealing with the, Uh, Problem", 28 [pocketbook] pages long, dated March 1973.

Uncharacteristically, after an intro of less than one page, Ephron states plainly: "This is an article about the feminine-hygiene spray, and how it was developed and sold. I will try to keep it witty and charming, but inevitably something is going to sneak in to remind you what this product is really about. This product is really about vaginal odor". (p. 98) Wow! Quite shocking for 1973.
Ephron continues to illustrate her point extensively: She quotes the super-vague, euphemistic language that promoters of this product used; she refers to research that demonstrates the product is unnecessary and unhealthy; she gives the history of the product; and quotes Ralph Nader's explanation of how the manufacturers and sellers "...exploit a person's sense of fear, a person's sense of being ugly, a person's sense of smelling badly" (p. 103) -- when, by "person", he basically means women.
Nor was Ralph Nader alone in this attitude: "'Honey,' said Bill Blass when asked to explain why his line of cosmetics included a so-called private deodorant, 'if there's a part of the human body to exploit you might as well get onto it.'" (p.117). Revlon, incidentally, has (or at least had, when Ephron wrote) several such products aimed at men, one of which carried the Bill Blass label.

Fast-forward to 40 years later. What has changed, except for the fact that more companies are making more money exploiting our fears? I don't know how many intimate sprays and liquid soaps are on the market these days; when I see this category at the supermarket or drugstore I just walk on. My doctors always told me that any gentle soap, such as baby soap, will do just fine.

So much for Nora Ephron's first book.
Next: Her last book, I Feel Bad About My Neck. I found it very worth-while. It's much shorter, so I suppose my post will be shorter, too :-)


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