Friday, February 15, 2013

Reading Nora Ephron

"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."
-- Nora Ephron, commencement address at Wellesley College

It is impossible not to love the woman who wrote that line.  On Wednesday night over a homemade dinner of roast chicken and popovers (I think Nora would have approved), my book club discussed the 1983 novel Heartburn by Nora Ephron.  With the death of Nora Ephron last summer, we lost a national treasure.  She was a wise and funny writer, a modern day Dorothy Parker.  Her book "Heartburn" was published in 1983 and became a bestseller as well as a popular film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  The story about her painful divorce, told in a humorous way, had all of us laughing.  She was a playwright, screenwriter, and successful film director.  Her non-fiction books such as I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman and I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections were also bestsellers.  In addition to all those accomplishments, she was an excellent cook!  She was an inspiration and role model for many women.  Her play Lucky Guy is about to premiere on Broadway starring Tom Hanks.  She is clearly having a moment right now.  And so when I found out that my book club decided to read "Heartburn" for our next meeting, I was thrilled.  It was time we revisited her.

Most of us had read "Heartburn" when it was published thirty years ago.  Rereading this book was a pleasure; it felt like visiting an old friend, the one who always made you laugh.  The book is funny, honest, and real.  During our discussion, one of the members read from Frank Rich's beautiful essay on Nora Ephron called Nora's Secret that he wrote for The New York Magazine right after her death.  If you haven't read this, please do.  It is an excellent piece about Ephron -- her accomplishments, her effect on others, and the reaction to her death.  For example, after her death there were twenty articles about her in the New York Times alone.  She was diagnosed with leukemia six years before she died and hardly anyone knew.  She continued to work, had many projects going, and continued to mentor young writers.

When we talked about "Heartburn," we kept coming back to the fact that it opened up the public discussion about divorce in a powerful way.  It was based on Ephron's own life during the period of time when her husband had an affair with another woman.  Ephron was seven months pregnant with her second child.  It touched a chord in so many women and to this day the book provokes memories, stories, and comparisons between what so many women lived through and what Ephron lived through.  Her story was their story.  The miracle was that Ephron could write about such a painful subject in an entertaining and humorous way.  We all cited our favorite passages and quotes.  And our favorite recipes, since Ephron peppers the story with recipes she loves.  The main character Rachel Samsat is a successful cookbook writer. Food and laughter are the glue that holds this woman together.  It is also the winning formula that makes this book such a warm and witty classic.

My favorite Nora Ephron quote, though, is the one from her speech at Wellesley College (see above).  Many of us have been asked if there is a motto or quote that we try to live by.  I think I may have found mine.  Ephron inspired us all to be the heroine of our own lives; the life she lived was an example of how it could be done with humor, grace and style.

The lesson from "Heartburn" seems to be: if you push through adversity and find something to laugh about along the way, you will come out stronger in the end.  As many people said when the book first came out, "writing well is the best revenge."  I would add, cooking well also.

Here is the recipe for Perfect Roast Chicken that our hostess made for us at the book club meeting.  It was delicious and we all agreed that Nora would have loved it.

What have you been reading in your book club?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Top photo via here


  1. I was going to ask if you had something wonderful to eat, and you answered it at the very end. The quotation is most definitely one to live by. She was an accomplished woman. It sounds like a wonderful evening. Bonnie

  2. I read her books and love her sense of humor.
    You must have a great book club if you get to eat delicious meals and discuss wonderful books.
    Ina's chicken sounds easy, I can always count on her recipes turning out.
    Enjoy your weekend!

  3. I've always loved that quote, and Nancy Meyers (who was definitely influenced by Nora Ephron) used a version of it in the film "The Holiday" (Eli Wallach to Kate Winslet).
    I loved Heartburn and have been in the mood to re-read some old favorites, and that'll go on my list. I still make a version of her Key Lime Pie, from the book.

  4. I had a feeling the link would lead to Ina Garten. Love her chicken recipe. Actually, love all of her recipes.

    Our book group read "Heartburn" as one of our first books when it first came out and had a lively discussion, as I recall. Since then, I've been in a different book group. We just celebrated 25 years together. I'll recommend "Heartburn" after reading your great post here. I just wrote the quote into my "commonplace" book, where I commend all good words, Sunday.

    Our next book discussion, in a few weeks, will be "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. I can't put it down. We all enjoyed "Seabiscuit" and I know "Unbroken" will illicit quite a discussion. Enjoy your weekend as well.

  5. What a good idea. I will suggest Nora Ephron to my book group when we meet on Monday. I love getting together, over wonderful food (of course) and a fun, lively book like one of Nora's sounds like perfection. Laughter is always a welcome addition to good food and good friends. Have a great weekend!

  6. Sunday
    Thank you for writing about "Heartburn" and Nora Ephron. As you knnow, I am one of those who had a similiar experience and was most grateful for Nora's viewpoint. It was most interesting to reread the novel after so many years.

  7. Sunday,

    Hello and happy weekend! I LOVE Nora Ephrom! She is witty, wise and wonderful. Each book is filled with not only reality but also encouragement to live a wonderful life even if we have wrinkles on our neck.

    I have a recommendation for you if you have not already read it, "The Season of Second Chances" by Diane Meier.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Elizabeth

  8. I absolutely love Nora Ephron - she is such an inspiration to me! I haven't read Heartburn, but it is going on my TBR immediately. I listened to I Remember Nothing in my car shortly after she died last year and it was wonderful to hear her words spoken in her voice. She will be greatly missed!
    The roast chicken sounds delicious :)

  9. Now I'm looking forward to reading Heartburn...I loved the movie. Last month our book group read "The Tenderness of Wolves" by Stef Penney...set in 1860s Canada...I really enjoyed it. This month we're reading "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn....big monster hit of a book and it's certainly a page turner. I'm sure that both of these books will be movies soon. Final episode of Downton Abbey for a while.....Sunday nights just won't be the same!