Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

I Feel Bad About My Neck

Written by: Nora Ephron

Published: 2006

Synopsis: With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in "I Feel Bad About My Neck, " a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as a White House intern during the JFK years ("I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at") and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton--from a distance, of course. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age.

Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moments, a scrumptious, irresistible treat.
“…the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

I grew up primarily watching three types of movies, Disney, sports (thanks dad) and romantic-comedies (which only made dad double down on the sports films). I have a bucket load of memories of me sitting on the couch with my mum watching Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally. I doubt I really understood the majority of the films (the "I'll have what she's having" scene definitely went flying over my head) but I still loved them. I watch them now and they make me weep at what passes for romantic comedies now, clumsy women who trip over their feet and men who do little more than smile in their direction to deserve their adoration. We are in desperate need of a revival in smart and funny romantic comedies.  I Feel Bad About My Neck only further establishes that fact - maybe we could get some of the superhero films to funnel money into some worthy projects? Oooooh, maybe a superhero rom-com in the vein of Nora Ephron? Yes please, I'll take 5.

I Feel Bad About My Neck hasn't really got anything to do with romantic comedies, unless you count the story about her love affair with a rent controlled apartment in New York or the one about falling out of love with Bill Clinton. But it's funny and sharp and self-deprecating and god, so New York. It has the same essence of all of those brilliant romantic comedies in the 1980-90s. Or maybe I just tie Nora Ephron so tightly to the romantic comedies she wrote and directed that I can't help but see that same essence here. *shrugs* This is so not important, MOVING ON.

This book is a wonderful collection of short stories that centre around Nora Ephron becoming older. There are stories about dealing with an empty house after 20 years of raising noisy children. There are stories about the death of her best friend and realisation of her own mortality. There are stories about the endless stream of make up aimed at women over 40 and the vanity that is just as much a part of a woman's life at 50 as it is at 25. The stories range from funny and silly to serious and sombre, but they're all very warm and personal glimpses into her life. Speaking of, I saw a few reviews on Goodreads that really pissed me off which I mentioned on Twitter during the minithon. They were scoring the book low and criticising Nora Ephron for writing about handbags and make up instead of abortions and human trafficking. First, Nora Ephron was under no obligation to write about "serious" feminist issues just because she's a well known feminist. This isn't Bad Feminist or PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, it isn't being marketed as a book of critical thinking and feminist theory. And second, fuck right off with your ranking of important issues. Obviously human trafficking is horrific and has traumatic implications for the people involved, but that doesn't mean discount all of the other squicky things done against women, even if it's something as simple as women feeling badgered by beauty companies about needing their products to remain attainable and youthful. And unlike the countless books and articles and short stories that look at the harmful influence of images on young women and children, it is rare to come across anyone writing about how it effects older women. Feminism isn't only for the young, nor is it only for the life and death issues.

What a mess of a review, I should probably start over, but who has time for that? NOT I. So read it. Read it in spite of it not covering Very Serious Feminist Issues and dealing with silly and frivolous topics like ageing and price gouging in real estate and the expectations children, spouses, family and strangers have. Or read it FOR spite, because nothing would make me happier than people ignoring the complaints of those sour puss reviewers. Read it because it might not be When Harry Met Sally but the wonderful woman who wrote that also wrote these stories. Or at the very least read it because Nora Ephron emphatically understands how important reading books is to people like us.
“There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can't tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he's liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can't adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”


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