This Nora Ephron Essay Is A Hilarious Reminder That It's OK To Not Have Your Life Totally Together

nora ephron purse essay

Everyone knows her: That woman who just seems to always be so perfectly put together. And she's not just killing it at work or in her relationships — she looks put together, too. Maybe her makeup is always impeccable. Or maybe her hair is never not on point. And maybe she has a seemingly neverending series of gorgeous handbags that are always perfectly organized. If you're anything like writer Nora Ephron , it's that last one that has you wallowing in some serious feelings of inadequacy. In her 2002 essay, "I Hate My Purse," Ephron talks about just that: how much she hates purses and all of the baggage, both literal and metaphorical, they can add to our shoulders. She writes:

"I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you're one of those women who think there's something great about purses, don't even bother reading this because there is nothing here for you. This is for the women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of their negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in someway match what you're wearing.)"

And that's just it, isn't it? Our purses mean so much more than just fashion. Ephron goes on to detail all of the different ways she tried to get around the purse problem. As a freelance writer she tried to go the super minimalist route. Often at home working, she was able to get away with packing just a lipstick, credit card and $20 bill in her pocket during nights out. Then she went the complete opposite way, buying a bag so big that she could fit too much in it — old airplane snacks in case she ever got hungry, a cosmetics back she forgot to zip and sunscreen she forgot to close, an electronic date book with no batteries and, of course, a pair of sneakers. She writes:

"Before you know it, your purse weights 20 pounds and you're in danger of getting bursitis and needing an operation just from carrying it around. Everything you own is in your purse. You could flee the Cossacks with your purse. But when you open it up, you can't find a thing in it — your purse is just a big dark hole that you spend hours fishing around for. A flashlight would help, but if you were to put it into your purse, you'd never find it."

nora ephron purse essay

The Most Of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron, $20, Amazon

Again, we all know that this isn't just about purses. This is about the difference between having it all together, like the girl with the perfectly organized designer tote, or falling apart at the seams as you stuff the entire contents of your studio apartment into some sort of pleather monstrosity. But, here's the thing: no one has it all together, even if their handbags make you think they do. Ephron learned this in stunning clarity on a trip to Paris with a friend, the sort of put-together woman who did think there was something great about purses. Her mission was to purchase a highly covetable (and highly expensive) vintage Hermès Kelly bag at a flea market. Let's just say, things didn't go quite according to plan. She writes:

"Anyway, my friend bought her Kelly bag. She paid twenty-six hundred dollars for it. The color wasn't exactly what she wanted, but it was in wonderful shape. Of course, it would have to be waterproofed immediately because it would lose half its value if it got caught in the rain...The two of us went to a bistro, and the Kelly bag was placed in the middle of the table, where it sat like a small shrine to a shopping victory. And then, outside, it began to rain."

It was right then and there that Ephron decided to give up on purses and, in essence, give up on the idea of "having it all together" by anyone's standards but her own. She went back to New York and bought herself a tote bag with an image of MetroCard emblazoned on its front. "It cost next to nothing," she writes, "and I will never have to replace it because it is completely indestructible. What's more, never having been in style, it can never go out of style." By ignoring all of the societal standards of what makes a great purse — i.e. what makes a great woman — Ephron found her own version of it. And really, what more can we do than that?

"And wherever I go," Ephron writes, "people say to me 'I love that bag.' 'Where did you get that bag?'...For all I know they've all gone off and bought one. Or else they haven't. It doesn't matter. I'm very happy."

nora ephron purse essay

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The Nora Ephron We Forget

By Rachel Syme

A young Nora Ephron.

“I have spent a great deal of my life discovering that my ambitions and fantasies—which I once thought of as totally unique—turn out to be clichés,” Nora Ephron wrote in 1973, in a column for Esquire . Ephron was then thirty-two, and her subject was the particular clichéd ambition of becoming Dorothy Parker, a writer she had idolized in her youth. Ephron first met Parker as a child, in her pajamas, at her screenwriter parents’ schmoozy Hollywood parties. They crossed paths again when Ephron was twenty; she remembered the meeting in crisp detail, describing Parker as “frail and tiny and twinkly.” But her encounters with the queen of the bon mot weren’t the point. “The point is the legend,” Ephron wrote. “I grew up on it and coveted it desperately. All I wanted in this world was to come to New York and be Dorothy Parker. The funny lady. The only lady at the table.”

Unfortunately, after Ephron moved to Manhattan, in 1962, she discovered that she was far from the only lady at the table to have a “Dorothy Parker problem.” Every woman with a typewriter and an inflated sense of confidence believed that she was going to be crowned the next Miss One-Liner. To make matters worse, once Ephron started reading deep into Parker’s work, she found much of it to be corny and maudlin and, to use Ephron’s withering words, “so embarrassing.” Reluctantly, she let her childhood hero go. “Before one looked too hard at it,” Ephron wrote, “it was a lovely myth.”

In its way, Ephron’s column is a love letter to Parker—albeit one dipped in vinegar, as so much of Ephron’s best work was. To Ephron, close reading, even when it finds the subject sorely wanting, is the very foundation of romance. If Ephron has a lasting legacy as a writer, a filmmaker, and a cultural icon, it’s this: she showed how we can fall in and out of love with people based solely on the words that they speak and write. Words are important. Choose them carefully. And certainly don’t cling to a myth just because it’s lovely. It’s only in pushing past lazy clichés that a love affair moves from theoretical to tangible, from something a girl believes to something a woman knows how to work with.

The great irony of Ephron’s afterlife, then, is how quickly she’s been reduced to sentimental lore. Since her death, a decade ago, at seventy-one, the romanticization of her work has swelled like a movie score. A writer of tart, acidic observation has been turned into an influencer: revered for her aesthetic, and for her arsenal of life-style tips. On TikTok, memes like “Meg Ryan Fall”—the actress starred in Ephron hits like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail”—celebrate the prim oxford shirts, baggy khakis, and chunky knit sweaters that Ephron immortalized onscreen. Burgeoning home cooks cling to her vinaigrette recipe from “Heartburn,” her 1983 novel, not because it’s unique (it’s Grey Poupon mustard, red-wine vinegar, and olive oil, whisked together until thick and creamy) but because it’s Nora’s . And giddy writers still stream into New York with their own “Nora Ephron problem,” dreaming of an Upper West Side fantasia where they can sit at Cafe Lalo, eat a single slice of flourless chocolate cake, and deliver a withering retort to any man who dares disturb their peace. I should know; I was one of them.

Transforming Ephron into a cuddly heroine, a figure of mood and atmosphere, obscures the artist whose interest, above all, was in verbal precision. (As Ryan once said, “Her allegiance to language was sometimes more than her allegiance to someone’s feelings.”) In “Nora Ephron: A Biography” (Chicago Review), the journalist Kristin Marguerite Doidge continues the trend. Doidge’s book is warm, dutiful, and at times illuminating. It’s also, I’m sorry to say, often bland, and deeply in thrall to Ephron mythologies: the plucky gal Friday who worked her way from the Newsweek typing pool to a sprawling apartment in the Apthorp, the jilted wife who got her revenge in the pages of a soapy novel, the woman director holding her own with the big boys. “Why does Nora Ephron still matter?” Doidge writes in the introduction. “Because she gives us hope. The intelligent, self-described cynic was the one who helped us see that it’s never too late to go after your dreams.” This conflates Ephron with the genre—romance—that she interrogated. Ephron still matters, of course, but not because she embodied enthusiasm or perseverance. Dreams are useless, she might have clucked, if you can’t pick them apart on the page.

Ephron was born in New York City in 1941, to the playwrights Henry and Phoebe Ephron. When she was five, the family moved to Los Angeles, where the Ephrons wrote for the movies. Henry and Phoebe were talented—they penned several sharp screwball comedies, including the Hepburn-Tracy vehicle “Desk Set”—but they also struggled, battling both alcoholism and the occasional allegation of Communist sympathizing. Doidge doesn’t have much original research about Nora’s youth; many of her quotes come from Ephron’s public interviews and essays, as well as from “Everything Is Copy,” a 2015 documentary directed by Ephron’s son, the journalist Jacob Bernstein. But she does speak to a few of Ephron’s old summer-camp friends, one of whom recalls Ephron as a “natural leader.” The most telling detail is from Ephron’s years at Camp Tocaloma, in Arizona, where she would regale her bunkmates with her mother’s lively letters from home. “My friends—first at camp, then at college—would laugh and listen, utterly rapt at the sophistication of it all,” Ephron said in her mother’s eulogy, in 1971.

Doidge asserts that answering these letters allowed Ephron to “gain confidence in her writing.” She likely also gained something more specific: a love for the epistolary form. She found that her mother, both difficult and opaque in life, was a rollicking delight in her correspondence, and, furthermore, that Phoebe gave generously of herself there in ways she could not have otherwise. Writing redeems, and writing runs cover. Many Ephron acolytes interpret the phrase “Everything is copy,” which Ephron attributed to her mother, as encouragement that life never hands you material that you can’t use. But the phrase feels more portentous than exhilarating, given the source. “I now believe that what my mother meant was this: When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you,” Ephron once said. “But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh, so you become a hero rather than the victim of the joke.” Of course, that’s only the case if you are funnier in the telling than you are in the falling.

Phoebe’s letters to Nora were a challenge and an invitation; to spar, to volley, to narratively step up to the plate. The love language of the Ephron home was that of bravura back-and-forth dispatches: you spoke intensely, and someone else responded in kind. Doidge describes a house in which the four Ephron daughters learned to read early, and where the parents saw family dinner, served promptly at six-thirty, as “an opportunity for the young girls to learn the art of storytelling.” (“The competition for airtime was Darwinian,” Hallie, the second-youngest, recalled.) All four girls became writers. Ephron became an obsessive reader, too, not just of her favorite books but of people and their patterns.

After graduating from Wellesley, Ephron moved to a series of small apartments in New York City, aiming to become a journalist. According to Doidge, she spent her time working as a grunt at Newsweek and reading constantly at home. “She’d curl up on her new, wide-wale corduroy couch with a cup of hot tea and her dog-eared paperback copy of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook ,” Doidge writes. But Ephron’s reading wasn’t entirely recreational. She was learning how to ingest a text and riff on it, to pull what she needed to make it her own. This skill flourished during the newspaper strike of 1962, which shut down every major paper in the city. Ephron’s friend the editor Victor Navasky—who would go on to edit The Nation —began to print parodies of the New York City rags. He asked Ephron if she could write a parody of Leonard Lyons’s gossip column in the New York Post . Ephron voyaged to the Newsweek archives, read clippings of Lyons’s column, and parroted his voice so well that her work caught the attention of the Post’s publisher, Dorothy Schiff. “If they can parody the Post , they can write for it,” Schiff said. Ephron landed her first gig as a staff reporter.

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Ephron’s abilities made her a dogged beat journalist, but they also made her a star at a moment when journalism was changing, with a wave of writers bringing a new verve and sense of style to the page. Ephron soon moved to Esquire , producing wildly popular essays on the media, feminism, and having small breasts. Phoebe Ephron once told her daughter to write as if she were mailing a letter, “then, tear off the salutation”; this advice, combined with Ephron’s observational prowess, forged her signature voice. Whereas some of her peers, like Joan Didion or Susan Sontag, looked at the world and wrote down what they saw with chilly detachment, Ephron reported back with a conspiratorial sense of intimacy, as if she were chatting with the reader over an order of cheesecake. Even when Ephron was cruel—and she could be vicious; after she left the Post , she lambasted Schiff as “skittishly feminine”—it felt light, fizzy, precise, but never ponderous.

This was true even when she had skin in the game. Ephron wrote her first novel, “Heartburn,” after discovering that her second husband, the journalist Carl Bernstein, was cheating on her while she was pregnant. Ephron had separated from her first husband, the humorist Dan Greenburg, by 1974; she married Bernstein two years later. “Heartburn” is a thinly veiled account of their divorce, and it opens in medias res: “The first day I did not think it was funny. I didn’t think it was funny the third day either, but I managed to make a little joke about it.” Rachel Samstat, the narrator, is a food writer who drops original recipes into the text—but she is also a woman dissecting the end of her union, and doing so with Ephron’s trademark specificity. Samstat becomes a marriage detective, reading the signs of her husband’s infidelity with Sherlockian accuracy. Once, she notices a Virginia Slims cigarette butt in his apartment and knows immediately that he has been with another woman. He claims that he bummed it from a colleague. “I said that even copy girls at the office weren’t naive enough to smoke Virginia Slims,” Ephron writes. Relationships are full of codes and shorthand, little tells, both spoken and unspoken. By untangling the knot of her own pain, Ephron had stumbled onto her best material.

“Heartburn” became a best-seller and then, in 1986, a movie, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols. Ephron wrote the screenplay. As Doidge notes, she turned to film “partially out of pragmatism.” She was newly single and living with her two young children in the apartment of Robert Gottlieb, her editor. She could no longer afford to gallivant across the world, reporting pieces, so she began writing scripts to pay the bills. In doing so, she discovered a medium that combined the convivial dialogue of her mother’s letters with the ability to close-read people in three dimensions. It also allowed her to inspect her cynicism about love. Movies were for the masses, and they let Ephron puncture big, dopey, Hollywood myths about relationships while she was conjuring new ones.

Ephron’s films are highly literary—many of them are about reading and writing—and they suggest that language is at the heart of romance. The most obvious example is “You’ve Got Mail” (1998), in which Kathleen (Meg Ryan), a children’s-bookshop owner, falls in love with Joe (Tom Hanks), a corporate overlord opening a mega-bookstore that threatens her business. The two meet in an “Over Thirty” chat room and begin a lively anonymous correspondence, flinging taut observations at each other about their quirky experiences of the city. “Don’t you love New York in the fall?” Joe writes. “It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” In another e-mail, Kathleen writes, “Once I read a story about a butterfly in the subway, and today, I saw one. . . . It got on at 42nd and got off at 59th, where I assume it was going to Bloomingdale’s to buy a hat that will turn out to be a mistake, as almost all hats are.” These notes are cozy and performative and a little dorky, the kind of thinky seduction that Ephron writes best. Of course, even in the golden age of AOL, few people wrote such e-mails. But this is Ephron’s version of movie magic: a world in which words are so important that you can fall for your enemy just because he knows how to use them.

Ephron’s romances are physically chaste but rhetorically hot. In “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), her breakthrough hit, the protagonists, played by Meg Ryan (a verbose journalist) and Billy Crystal (a verbose political consultant), spend a decade talking to each other, delivering long disquisitions as an extended form of foreplay. On a stroll through the park, Sally tells Harry about a recurring erotic dream in which a faceless man rips off her clothes. By asking a needling follow-up, Harry shows that he’s willing to read the monologue critically: “That’s it? A faceless guy rips off all your clothes, and that’s the sex fantasy you’ve been having since you were twelve?” Sally returns the serve. “Sometimes I vary it a little,” she says. “Which part?” Harry asks. “What I’m wearing,” Sally replies. What makes the scene funny isn’t Sally’s dream but the micro-adjustments she makes to it. Throughout the movie, she’s exacting in her word choices, even when ordering pie at a restaurant. (“I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on the top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”) Romance, here, is a man telling a woman that he likes her for, and not in spite of, her exhaustive language. “I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich,” Harry says in the film’s climactic speech.

The idea of swooning over someone’s syntax so dramatically that you change your life appears again and again in Ephron’s work. In “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), Annie (Meg Ryan, playing another journalist) hears Sam (Tom Hanks) on a radio call-in show talking in soft, poignant detail about his dead wife. Though freshly engaged, she flies across the country in order to pursue him. Once again, the plot turns on a letter: Annie writes to Sam, suggesting that they meet at the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Once again, the rapport is resolutely nonphysical: Sam and Annie appear in just three brief scenes together. And once again Ephron slyly pokes at the tropes of courtship, using the grammar of classic, nineteen-fifties romance films to critique the genre. “You don’t want to be in love,” Annie’s best friend, played by Rosie O’Donnell, tells her. “You want to be in love in a movie!”

By then, Ephron had found the real thing. In 1987, she married Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the books (and the screenplays) that became “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” and who remained with her until her death. In Ephron’s final film, “Julie & Julia” (2009), she explored her hallmark themes beyond the boundaries of time or traditional romance. The story flits between two threads: one, set in the fifties, in which Julia Child (Meryl Streep) strains to publish her first book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” in a male-dominated industry, and another, set in the two-thousands, in which Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a failed novelist trapped in a soul-crushing job, becomes so devoted to Child’s book that she decides to cook each of its five hundred and twenty-four recipes in the course of a year. Also, she’ll blog about it.

“Julie & Julia” is perhaps Ephron’s most outwardly sentimental film, in that it’s the most effusive about the transformative acts of writing and being read. Child’s main journey is her struggle to complete the book, and the triumphant final shot freezes on Streep’s giddy face as she opens her first box of galleys from the publisher. Powell, in not only reading Child’s work but revisiting it, daily, with monklike commitment, enters into an ardent literary affair that ignites her dormant skills. Because she is reading, suddenly she can write; and, because she can write, she can be read, by her husband, by the public, and by book agents. Once she finds readers, she finds peace. Ephron considered herself an essentially “happy person,” but perhaps that was because she figured out exactly how she wanted to express herself at a young age. In Ephron’s world, the key to a fulfilled life was knowing how to put one word after another until they were undeniably yours, and the way to show affection was to push others to do the same. Many of Ephron’s friends, Doidge notes, said that she had a tendency to run their lives; to tell them how to do their hair or what to send as a birthday gift or how to roast a chicken. But what she was really doing was pressing them to make definitional choices. She read people closely, which was an act of care, and she gave ample line edits.

One of Ephron’s best pieces is a profile of the Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, which ran in Esquire in 1970. At the end of the essay, Ephron notes that she once wrote a freelance piece for Brown, and that the editor wanted Ephron to include a line about how women were allowed to take baths while menstruating. Ephron thought this addition was preposterous. “I hung up, convinced I had seen straight to the soul of Helen Gurley Brown. Straight to the foolishness, the tastelessness her critics so often accused her of,” she writes. “But I was wrong. She really isn’t that way at all.” Ephron realizes that she must meet Brown where she is, using Brown’s vocabulary for advising women how to live. “She’s just worried that somewhere out there is a girl who hasn’t taken a bath during her period since puberty . . . that somewhere out there is a mouseburger who doesn’t realize she has the capability of becoming anything, anything at all, anything she wants to, of becoming Helen Gurley Brown, for God’s sake. And don’t you see? She is only trying to help .” As in her essay on Parker, Ephron rejects gauzy sentiment for the salve of attention. She is reading Brown the way that Brown asks to be read. Isn’t it romantic? ♦

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Reading: I hate my purse

nora ephron purse essay

Buy Nora Ephron’s book, I Feel Bad About My Neck:  And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman , here . 

I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you’re one of those women who think there’s something great about purses, don’t even bother reading this because there will be nothing here for you. This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in some way match what you’re wearing). This is for women whose purses are a morass of loose Tic Tacs, solitary Advils, lipsticks without tops, ChapSticks of unknown vintage, little bits of tobacco even though there has been no smoking going on for at least ten years, tampons that have come loose from their wrappings, English coins from a trip to London last October, boarding passes from long-forgotten airplane trips, hotel keys from God-knows-what hotel, leaky ballpoint pens, Kleenexes that either have or have not been used but there’s no way to be sure one way or another, scratched eyeglasses, an old tea bag, several crumpled personal checks that have come loose from the checkbook and are covered with smudge marks, and an unprotected toothbrush that looks as if it has been used to polish silver.

This is for women who in mid-July still haven’t bought a summer purse or who in midwinter are still carrying around a straw bag.

This is for women who find it appalling that a purse might cost five or six hundred dollars—never mind that top-of-the-line thing called a Birkin bag that costs ten thousand dollars, not that it’s relevant because you can’t even get on the waiting list for one. On the waiting list! For a purse! For a ten-thousand-dollar purse that will end up full of old Tic Tacs!

This is for those of you who understand, in short, that your purse is, in some absolutely horrible way, you. Or, as Louis XIV might have put it but didn’t because he was much too smart to have a purse, Le sac, c’est moi .

I realized many years ago that I was no good at purses, and for quite a while I managed to do without one. I was a freelance writer, and I spent most of my time at home. I didn’t need a purse to walk into my own kitchen. When I went out, usually at night, I frequently managed with only a lipstick, a twenty-dollar bill, and a credit card tucked into my pocket. That’s about all you can squeeze into an evening bag anyway, and it saved me a huge amount of money because I didn’t have to buy an evening bag. Evening bags, for reasons that are obscure unless you’re a Marxist, cost even more than regular bags.

But unfortunately, there were times when I needed to leave the house with more than the basics. I solved this problem by purchasing an overcoat with large pockets. This, I realize, turned my coat into a purse, but it was still better than carrying a purse. Anything is better than carrying a purse.

Photo credit: Robert Knudsen/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The Electric Typewriter

3 great essays by nora ephron.


A Few Words about Breasts - I was boyish. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things, but instead just one, a girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts..

The Graduate - It was gritty and glamorous and everything I’d been longing for—to begin my life in New York as a journalist…

On Maintenance - Maintenance is what you have to do just so you can walk out the door knowing that if you go to the market and bump into a guy who once rejected you, you won’t have to hide behind a stack of canned food…

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In praise of … Nora Ephron's essays

F ew of the hundreds of books churned out by journos each year escape the pulp mill. That could be because they are yesterday's news. Or because there could be something even more ephemeral about the all-knowing, God-like persona too many of us adopt. Nora Ephron's essays are readable three decades on , even though their subjects are long forgotten. Name checks are few and far between for the cast of characters in Reagan's administration, let alone Richard Nixon's. But Ephron's writing lingers. She can eviscerate ("Washington is a city of important men and the women they married before they grew up"), as well as self-deprecate ("I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them"). But humour always wins out ("I always read the last page of a book first so that if I die before I finish I'll know how it turned out"). Ephron was many things, not least a great essayist.

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I Feel Bad About My Neck

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Nora Ephron

Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Adult | Published in 2006

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The Oft-Examined Life

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By Alex Kuczynski

  • Nov. 26, 2010

Nora Ephron’s new book of essays is titled “I Remember Nothing,” but that’s a sop. She remembers everything, and while some of the material in this book is tantalizingly fresh and forthright, some of it we’ve seen before. Which doesn’t mean it’s not just as entertaining the second or even third time around, offered in each new iteration with a few more spicy details. Which is all just another way of saying: Does Carl Bernstein lie awake at night wondering how the hell his ex-wife of so many years ago (they were divorced in 1980) turned his marital indiscretion into a multimedia juggernaut spanning the decades?

I’ll get back to that.

“I Remember Nothing” is Ephron’s follow-up to “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” her 2006 best seller subtitled “And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.” They were really her thoughts on aging women, bulging handbags and sagging wattles, spliced into an entertaining, chatty memoir. In “I Remember Nothing,” we get more of the same, sometimes verbatim. Readers of “I Feel Bad About My Neck” will recall that Ephron was hired by The New York Post as a reporter in the early 1960s after writing a parody of the paper: “The editors of The Post are upset about the parody, but the publisher of The Post is amused. ‘If they can parody The Post, they can write for it,’ she says. ‘Hire them.’ ” In the new book, we get this: “The editors of The Post wanted to sue, but the publisher, Dorothy Schiff, said: ‘Don’t be ridiculous. If they can parody The Post they can write for it. Hire them.’ ”

In the last book, Ephron’s mother counsels, “Never ever buy a red coat.” In the new book, we hear her mother again: “Never buy a red coat.” Sometimes Ephron reuses phrases that, even years later, catch the eye — like “slough of despond.” (In the last book, the slough was encountered when cabbage strudel could not be located. In the new book, said slough is entered into when contemplating the ­Internet.)

In “I Remember Nothing,” Ephron plows through the events surrounding her divorce from Bernstein in an essay called “The D Word.” Again. Remember, she wrote a novel, “Heartburn,” about the philandering cad and their divorce, and then she wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation, in which she was played by Meryl Streep. She also wrote about the divorce in her previous book, and now we get some more about it in this one. But every time she gives us some new little bone to gnaw on. Ephron fans will recall the moment in “Heartburn” (the novel and the movie) when Rachel (really Ephron) goes to the Georgetown jeweler to have her ring reset and the jeweler asks her how she liked the necklace. Of course, that rascally husband hasn’t bought his wife a necklace while she was in the hospital giving birth to their second child; it’s a gift for his mistress.

In “I Remember Nothing,” we learn that in reality Ephron found a receipt from James Robinson Antiques (what a juicy piece of gossip! James Robinson Antiques: such a stuffy place to buy a gift for a mistress!) and called up pretending to be her husband’s assistant. She claimed she needed to know what Bernstein had bought so it could be insured. The clerk told her it was for an antique porcelain box inscribed with the words “I Love You Truly.”

They say books are very much like children. I wonder if Bernstein knew at the appropriate coital moment back in, oh, 1979 or so, exactly how many children he was unleashing upon the planet? Did he ever think it would be millions and millions — of copies, that is? Of essays and books and magazine articles and DVDs and audio books and e-books and Blu-ray discs? I’m beginning to feel for the guy.

Nora Ephron

But “I Remember Nothing” does at times give us more depth and gravity and an actual, almost gravely serious reflection on divorce, duplicity, disease. In “The D Word,” Ephron tells us she can’t think of anything good about divorce from the children’s perspective. “You can’t kid yourself about that,” she argues, “although many people do. They say things like, It’s better for the children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage. But unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They’re too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don’t love each other any more, if they ever did.”

The essays about her mother’s alcoholism and Ephron’s sense of betrayal by the writer Lillian Hellman cover previously uncharted territory and are also among the most thoughtful parts of the book. Eventually, she came to feel deceived by both: Hellman for a bit too brightly overpolishing her legends and Ephron’s mother for drinking herself to death at the age of 57. “For a long time before she died, I wished my mother were dead,” Ephron explains. “And then she died, and it wasn’t one of those things where I thought, Why did I think that? What was wrong with me? What kind of person would wish her mother dead? No, it wasn’t one of those things at all. My mother had become a complete nightmare.” Those are not easy words to write about the supermother who put The New Yorker’s Lillian Ross in her place. (Another wonderful story included in this collection.)

Apart from her penchant for repetition, my only quibble with Ephron is all this I-remember-nothing talk. How can we take it seriously from a woman who is a famous movie director, screenwriter, best-selling author, blogger and mother of two socialized, successful adult men? How can a woman who has been nominated for three Oscars complain about what an inadequate brain she has? Isn’t it sort of like Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail” looking all rumpled and sneezing into the arm of her bathrobe — but rich and powerful Tom Hanks still falls in love with her? Who falls in love with a woman with a lousy temper and a dribbling nose who lives in a walk-up apartment that in real life probably smells of cat food? How can a woman who says she remembers nothing and can’t recognize her own sister get it together to direct movies and write all these books? It’s seems ungenuine, like the supermodel who says she never exercises and eats three cheeseburgers a day.

That’s right. There’s so much to love about Nora Ephron, but there’s just as much to hate about her. Famous people play her in movies; she directs famous people in the movies she writes. She’s happily married, as she also, only passingly (details! details!), reminds us in these books of hers. (She is married to the screenwriter Nick Pileggi, widely known to be a very nice, exceedingly accomplished person.) She looks amazingly good for an almost-septuagenarian — for anyone, any age, frankly — despite the flip of hair on the back of her head, a cowlick-turning-bald spot she refers to as “an Aruba.” For all those steaks cooked in butter and extra-egg-yolk omelets and chocolate cream pies she professes to enjoy, she’s got a trim figure.

But you can’t hate her. You love her. She’s self-effacing and brilliant. I use lines of hers all the time. Just the other day, my 1-year-old and I were playing with his kitchen set and he picked up the pretend pepper and said, “Pepper.” I held it over his pretend pot of stew and said, “Would you like some pepper with your paprikash?” It just came out. But it was so funny the way Billy Crystal said as much in “When Harry Met Sally” (written by Ephron, whose script earned one of those Oscar nominations). She’s like Benjamin Franklin or Shakespeare: her words are now part of the fabric of the English language. Whenever we talk about “white man’s overbite” — another one I use, or at least think, all the time — we’re quoting her.

Yes, there’s some rehashing here, but that’s what we expect — what we love — from Ephron. She’s familiar but funny, boldly outspoken yet simultaneously reassuring. In much of her work, we get a story about betrayal, but the heroine picks up and moves on. Death of a friend or family member? Look on the bright side: there might be an inheritance somewhere, or at least a corn bread pudding recipe. (Sorry, that was the last book. In this one, it’s a bread and butter pudding recipe.)

Let’s face it. When most of us get divorced, Meryl Streep is not going to play us in the movie version of our lives. Because there will be no movie version of our lives. But Ephron is the poster girl for the religion of When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade. And most of us can’t make lemonade — or corn bread pudding — the way she can.


And other reflections.

By Nora Ephron

137 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $22.95

Alex Kuczynski is the author of “Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery.”

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