On (Finally) Reading Nora Ephron


We all have that one film that we’ve loved since childhood and that we’ve watched a thousand times because it makes us feel all warm and content and the plot doesn’t so much matter as the fact that we know the twists and turns and find comfort in it all. To me, that film is Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail. I saw it for the first time over October break in the third grade. We got the video cassette tape from Blockbuster, got into our pajamas, and my cinematic world changed forever. I think I watched it twice that week, and then when I went back to school the following Monday, I wrote and gave my “What I Did Over October Break” presentation on You’ve Got Mail. I don’t have my English notebooks anymore, but I remember the little illustration on the side page of Kathleen Kelly, Joe Fox, and the steps of a New York brownstone.

I rewatch You’ve Got Mail almost every autumn, and my affection for the film has only grown over time. I’ve made all of my closest friends over the internet (and this site serves as testimony to that), I drink coffee, I reread Pride and Prejudice, I miss New York, and I live my life surrounded by books. The little things that weren’t yet realities the first times I watched the film make me love everything about it all the more.

And yet, despite all of this, I never really sat down and wondered, “Who made this film?” I didn’t even realize who Nora Ephron was until I caught Muffy over at White Girl Blog talking about her around 2012. All of tumblr started reblogging her list of things she would and wouldn’t miss after she passed away soon after, and while I thought “She sounds like an incredible person!” I didn’t stop to think that “Oh I should watch all of her other films!” or even that I should find and read her books. I didn’t, in fact, start picking up her books until Lee mentioned keeping a stack of them on her bedside table soon after we launched the site.

Why I hadn't sooner is beyond me. I took two of her books with me on holiday in July – her only novel, Heartburn, and her celebrated collection of essays, I Feel Bad About my Neck – and they were my favorite reads of the week. I zoomed through Heartburn on the first day of the trip, as my partner and I were stuck for three hours on an immobilized, broken down French train in a heatwave. The book was the only thing keeping me sane, and that says a lot. I tend to have bad anxiety, but I was still finding it in me to laugh as we were slowly boiling to death. That comforting feeling Ephron gives off in You’ve Got Mail just kind of oozes out of whatever she creates, even when she’s telling the fictionalized story of how she found out her husband was cheating on her while she was pregnant with their second child. Whatever Ephron writes makes you feel something good, even if it’s dark, because she has a way with storytelling that makes you feel included in every step.

While Heartburn was a delightful but darkly humorous read, I Feel Bad About my Neck was my favorite of the two reads. Ephron’s essays are refreshingly honest and charming, while still painting the image of New York life that I love. I wasn’t raised in New York, but I was raised by my New Yorker mother and my New Yorker grandmother, and so New York attitude and New York nostalgia have always helped shape my life. As Ephron obviously isn’t the voice of my generation but is instead somewhere between my mother’s and my grandmother’s, everything she says through her writing sounds familiar and comforting… as if I was a wise little kid, listening to it all while eating my morning bagel.

I’m sad I didn’t read any Nora Ephron before this year, but at least now I know what I need to reach for when I feel nostalgia for my childhood… when I want to hear about Manhattan brownstones or delis or the values of technology or just want to feel good about the liberal America I grew up with. I’m glad I let her into my life, and I’m glad I get to watch her films whenever I feel like it. You’ve Got Mail will always be my favorite, but now Nora Ephron also has my heart.