Saturday, August 08, 2015

It's all copy

If you ever see a Nora Ephron audiobook on the shelf at your library, grab it.
For the last ten days I’ve been driving Owen in to San Francisco for summer art school with three other teenagers and after several failed attempts to spark conversation, I finally accepted that the ride would be silent. Dead silent. Once the kids were out of the car, I’d pop in my audiobook and things would liven right up.

I happen to be on a Nora Ephron kick. I love Nora Ephron. I’ve read all her books, some of them several times, but now I’m listening to them as narrated by Ephron herself, with her New York accent and wry intonations. They're a total delight, as fresh and vital as when I first read them. 

Her final essay collections, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing, cover a lot of territory, from interning at the Kennedy White House to Ephron's obsession with the food writer Craig Claiborne. But as the titles suggest, they deal largely with age -- the coloring of hair, buying of skin cream, mortality. I would have said these books would appeal almost exclusively to women and, in particular, women over 40, but I've changed my mind due to an unexpected, rather sweet turn of events. 

On Wednesday morning, Owen was carping at me when we got into the car.  I mean, he was really going at it and had been for about an hour. Usually I switch off my audiobook in the car to be courteous when he's riding with me, but he was being such a jackass, I decided I was going to leave it on as passive-aggressive punishment, force him listen to an older woman narrate a book about her wrinkly neck while we drove to pick up his carpool companions. 

We pulled out of the driveway and headed down the hill. I expected complaints. None came. The car felt oddly peaceful. I glanced to see if he’d put his earbuds in, but he hadn’t. Nor was he looking at his phone. Then, to my surprise, he chuckled. He was listening to I Feel Bad About My Neck and chuckling. I wish I remembered the line that elicited that chuckle, or even the particular essay, but I can’t. I pretended I didn’t notice because were I to notice, he would have stopped immediately and tried to switch on the radio. We got to Walgreens, where we meet the other kids, and I turned off the audiobook. We drove to San Francisco in silence. 

Thursday morning, Owen wasn’t carping, but I left the audiobook on anyway, to see what happened. Ephron was midway through an account of her relationship with the playwright Lillian Hellman, a bittersweet little masterpiece about female friendship, narcissism, age, and regret. It was the tail end of a story about someone Owen had never heard of, but he was fully absorbed. Again, I heard him chuckle.  When we picked up his companion (only one this morning, a 16-year-old boy) I left the audiobook on and the three of us listened to Ephron’s story about having a restaurant meat loaf named after her. The ride was no longer silent. Nora was narrating and the boys were laughing. I’m not talking big, rollicking laughs. That would be too much to ask. But there were a good number of small, grudging, teenaged boy chuckles. We listened to Nora Ephron essays until I dropped them off.

Yesterday morning, I was down to the last, very short essays in I Remember Nothing in which Ephron notes that, at 69, she probably only has a “few good years left.” As Owen and I were driving to pick up his companions, she was listing the things she won’t miss when she’s dead: bras, Fox News, taking off her makeup, et cetera. After that, she listed those things she will miss. It was a lovely list that included her husband, her children, waffles, spring, walks in the park, and dinners with friends. It ended, simply, with “pie.” The book was over. We pulled in to the Walgreens parking lot. Owen said, “That was really sad.”

I said, “I know, and she died just a couple of years later.” 

He said, “Really? So when she said she only had ‘a few good years left’  she actually only had a few years left and didn’t know it?”

I said, “I suppose. She was amazing. Such a funny writer.”

Owen said, “And sad.”

I said, “That last story was really sad.”

He said, “All the stories were sad.”

And he was right. There are a few weak, fluffy essays in these two collections, but most are witty, smart, full of life, and yet also quite poignant. I believe this is what makes them great. A lot of these essays are really, really great. 

I then tried to prolong the conversation by telling Owen and his carpool companions, who soon joined us, that Nora Ephron was married  to one of the reporters who cracked Watergate. None of them knew what Watergate was. I struggled to explain Watergate and then gave up. No one asked me to continue. The Nora Ephron audiobooks were over and we were back to silence. 

Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins from The Essential New York Times Cookbook: excellent. Cakey and tender within, crusty and sugary without. But perhaps they could use more blueberries? If you have a favorite blueberry muffin recipe, I'd be interested to try it.


  1. Ah, thanks. I am going to try this. With my sons, I mean.

    1. I think you kind of have to sneak it in.

  2. First, that is a lovely story re: Nora Ephron and the teenage boys. I've read many of her essays, including those books, but I haven't listened to the audiobooks--I will now look for them. Just a week or so ago, I bought a $2 copy of Wallflower at the Orgy at the used bookstore.

    And re: blueberry muffins, these are my favorites:

    They're from Elizabeth Alston's cookbook just called Muffins, and I've been making them for years. And given that I picked 15.4 (!) pounds of blueberries today, I will probably be making them again soon! (But lest we think we'd picked a lot of berries, the guy weighing them told us that someone that morning had picked 5 buckets worth--meaning 75 pounds of berries!)

    1. That is a lot of blueberries! What are you doing with them? The muffin recipe has been noted and will be baked.

    2. Freezing a lot of them (though I was horrified to find some of last year's frozen berries still in the freezer--will have to use them posthaste). Muffins today. This is my favorite recipe for using lots of blueberries at once, so it's on the agenda as well, though I'm not sure for when:

  3. I dread the upcoming teenage years a little less after reading your posts. Also tomorrow I'm going to the store for a Nora Ephron book.

    1. The teenage years have been interesting. In good ways and bad. It's a big change and it took me by surprise.
      I hope you like Nora Ephron.

  4. Current favorite blueberry muffins:

    I recently purchased Nora's collected works at a library sale for $1. I read a bit every so often before going to bed.

    1. I love those library sales. I've noted the blueberry muffin recipe and will try it. Thank you!

  5. I also love Nora Ephron and you said it all. Gone too soon and too young.

  6. I don't understand silent males. My grown daughter and her girlfriends talk constantly, sometimes "sending and receiving" at the same time. Once, she and her best girlfriend drove to Nicaragua and never ran out of things to talk about. They dropped the car off to a relative and then flew back.

    1. Kathy, I have a silent daughter and a (generally) chatty son, but when we get in the car with his peers, no one speaks. I could talk all the time!

  7. Previous post was from Kathy W.

  8. Well, just to let you know how much you are admired, I have given up trying to use my new laptop and have gone back to the old one that may die at any minute. I couldn't comment from my new laptop! That's where I've been, if you missed me. Boy, have I missed joining the civil and always interesting discourse on your blog. Whew! Now......
    Actually, I think that Nora did know she was dying when she wrote that. Her leukemia diagnosis occurred six years before she died, she just kept it a secret from most people because she didn't want anyone to treat her differently. I really admire her for so many reasons, but mostly because she wanted to be who she was to the bitter end. That's says a lot about your state of mind and the desire to suck every bit of juice from life as long as you can, and I hope to achieve that state before I die. That was maudlin sounding, but you probably know what I mean. We could all do worse than emulate Nora Ephron. Thanks for this post!!! I am heading to my shelves to see if I can find her old books. Ta!

    1. Oh, I definitely noticed you were gone and feared the worst.
      I went and read a lot of Nora Ephron obits and she was much loved.

  9. I tried to post last night from my I Pad and it wouldn't work; I needed a new monitor for my PC, got it hooked up and send the above message just fine. I don't know why it wouldn't go through on I Pad.

  10. Our family favourite (from my childhood and now for my kids) is the old Joy of Cooking recipe, but reducing the sugar and greatly increasing the blueberries. Nom nom.

    1. I will try it. Joy is usually my first stop no a new dish.

  11. This is a wonderful story. It gives me hope for the teen years. Sometimes I inflict NPR on my kids, because nothing says "fun!" to a twelve year old like a rousing episode of "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me".

    1. I used to listen to "Fresh Air" all the time in the car with young Isabel and she told me recently that it instilled an intense dislike of Terry Gross's voice which is funny because I think TG has an absolutely beautiful voice.

  12. My 14-year-old son, often sullen in the car, loves Wait Wait. I'll try a little Nora on him.

    Our go-to blueberry muffin is from Bert Greene's Grains Cookbook. WW flour and honey, but not earnest. Lemon zest makes them sing.

    1. Ok, I'll try to track that down. I love that "not earnest." I know exactly what you mean.

  13. My daughter is only 14 months, so I know nothing about parenting teenagers, but I can definitely offer a blueberry muffin recipe!

    I started with this Smitten Kitchen recipe and adapted it heavily to suit our tastes:
    Our changes:
    coconut oil instead of butter
    80 grams of brown sugar instead of 100 grams white sugar (we like things less sweet)
    half wheat/half white flour (we use spelt, my husband likes it better)
    full fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or regular yogurt
    no lemon zest (doesn't work as well taste wise with coconut, but mostly time issues, see above 14 mo old)
    approx 140 grams of blueberries (more blueberries is almost always better)

    They're super moist and nicely filling without the sugar crash you sometimes get from muffins. No nice crusty top, but I bet if you sprinkled sugar on top before baking that would help.

    1. Wow, you have really engineered those muffins to the last detail and I can't wait to try them. I'm interested in the coconut oil substitution. (I agree about more blueberries.)

    2. yeah, we used to experiment a lot more before the baby. Hopefully we will again soon. (Actually, your blog is one that gives me hope we will cook elaborate things again, even with a kid. I miss it!)

      I forget why we started using the coconut oil - but it's good! We may have been out of butter or experimenting or just trying out that coconut oil is the best thing ever fad. It does seem to keep them from going stale longer, but we rarely have any last past lunch. That size recipe feeds the three of us for one breakfast.

  14. My son is now 21 and my daughter 24, but when they were teens I found that some of our best conversations (including those that were potentially uncomfortable) happened in the car: eye contact isn't really possible, it's private(sometimes dark) and no one can escape- or at least not easily! Of course this only works when there are two of you in the car- no audience.
    PS I have never commented on a blog before, but I find yours both thought-provoking and funny (a rare mix). My son laughed out loud when I read him the passage in your book about bribing Owen to goat-sit with the promise of Lego.

  15. You have a habit of giving me what I need just when I need it sometimes....I face my annual solo long drive to collect my kiddo at camp this week and needed a good book or two. Nora will do beautifully and since my kid loves almost all things NPR, I hope she'll like these too!

  16. books on cd.....that's the only thing that saves my sanity whenever I'm stuck in a vehicle with my husband on long road trips. Its usually murder mysteries or some historical thing. But lately I've been driving my gkids around and its become a verrrrry longggg and hot summer. A little Nora might be good for my soul. Thanks for the heads up I've put them on hold for pickup from the library. Still can't wrap my brain around the fact that she's gone. I just recently finished reading her last book and normally I'm a pretty fast reader. It was a hard thing to slow my brain down to savour the book knowing it was the end

  17. I saw Nora Ephron at the Union Square Greenmarket a few months before she died, and I'm still kicking myself for not going over and telling her how much I loved her writing. I mentioned it to her friend Jennifer Steinhauer, who used to write a column for Food52, and she responded by saying that Nora would have been absolutely delighted to be recognized and would have been been happy to chat with me. Oh well.

    And now as I approach sixty, I, too, feel bad about my neck!

  18. This summer I listened to Candice Bergen's new atutobiography on CD, and her stories about Nora Ephron, especially the funeral, got me started reading Nora Ephron. My favorite book of the summer is the omnibus "The Most of Nora Ephron." How had I missed this amazing author all my life? I'm 64!

  19. how lovely! for give me an obligatory "kids these days" moment: teens these days haven't heard of Watergate? Seriously?

  20. Blueberry Muffins

    Mix 1/2 c sugar with 1 1/2 c flour and 2 tsp baking powder and a dash of salt.
    Mix 1/2 c milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, an egg

    stir together lightly. add 1 cup blueberries

    bake at 400 for 15 -20 minutes.

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