Monday, June 22, 2009

I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

by Nora Ephron (NY: Knopf, 2006)

Nora Ephron may be a very good writer, but this is not a very good book. Luckily, I was given it for free by my sister Dina, because if I had paid Canadian $26.95 I would have been really mad. The text is so relaxed and shallow, it would be even slightly sub-par if it were a blog one could read for free. Nevertheless, as I was stuck with only this to read on a 9-hour bus ride followed by a cross-country flight, I finished the whole thing.

There were three interesting points at which I turned down the page, and in order to save you $26.95 (less 30% off because it's remaindered), I'll just tell you what they are.

1. The chapter Parenting in Three Stages. Actually, now that I look at it, it wasn't that good - maybe I turned down the corner to mark my place when I fell asleep.

2. On page 119, Ephron writes that after college she read Doris Lessing's novel The Golden Notebook and it changed her life, giving her "epiphany after epiphany." This is really interesting, because typically Betty Friedan gets the credit for kicking off the US feminist movement in 1963 with her nonfiction book The Feminine Mystique, but The Golden Notebook was published a year earlier, in 1962. Ephron writes "just before the second stage of the women's movement burst into being, I was electrified by Lessing's heroine, Anna, and her struggle to become a free woman. Work, friendship, love, sex, politics, psychoanalysis, writing - all the things that preoccupied me were Lessing's subjects, and I can remember how many times I put the book down, reeling from its brilliance and insights."

This passage shed light for me on Lessing's denial of being a feminist. Not only was she sick of isms after her stint with Communism, but she had arrived at the feminist insights without the feminist movement and could take credit for having published them first. It reminds me of my refusal to join the National Organization for Women when it arrived in Austin, Texas, and found its home at the already existing Women's Center I'd helped to create. No, I'm not joining you, I insisted, you are joining me.

3. Two pages farther on, the last turned-down corner. I think it was because Ephron touted Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White as "probably the first great work of mystery fiction ever written." I couldn't remember if I'd read it or just tried to read it, and was thinking I would check my perception. Or maybe it was because at the end of the page Ephron compares coming to the surface from dipping into a great novel to "the rapture of the deep." I myself use the term "the rapture of the deep" to refer to what happens to poets at poetry readings when they can't stop themselves and they lose sight of what the audience is thinking about their work or how long they've gone on. I know for a fact this is not a new phenomenon, because I remember seeing an 18th-century drawing on the wall at the Robert Burns museum in Scotland. It showed a poet reading to an audience, half of which was comatose and the other half yawning.

Maybe putting an audience to sleep is not such a bad thing. My reading of I Feel Bad About My Neck didn't even make me feel bad about my own neck, which is both wrinkled and double-chinned now even though I'm a bit younger than Nora Ephron; it just made me sleepy enough to go back and back to my airplane nap - which, while not as relaxing as an actual lying-down nap, has at least being oblivious to boredom to recommend it.

--Frieda Werden

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