Thursday, 22 January 2015

Memories of things that matter

Full title: I Remember Nothing, and Other Stories
Author: Nora Ephron
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Attributes: 138 pages, hardcover
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (2010)
Between 0 and 1Zero (i.e. borrowed from local library)

I remember nothing, the title of a book that promises household satisfaction. A book to be liked. Quite a lot. The easy tone of it, sometimes veering into colloquial witticisms, the mix of confidentiality and honest, unrestrained testimony. The essays read lime lunch-break wisdom: a smile in the corner of the mouth, a wink of recognition, a flicker of consent, a raised eyebrow when the text hits an uncommon but clever-as-hell point and the eyes stop blinking for a second or two.
I think I know where the appeal comes from. The texts start off from seemingly domestic viewpoints, easy to recognize and identify with. And then there's a lot of battling against misconceptions, done in the voice of confident authority; which is exactly the tone of voice in which you've been told a lot of the (excuse my French) BS you've been hearing from day one of your life. Like, for instance, the BS about egg-white omelette being healthier than the full version. Ephron's at it under the pretext of giving some friends a good piece of advice. But it doesn't take very long till she turns the whole matter from gastronomy to straight-up politics (under the same pretext, it seems, only much harder to avoid):
"So this is my moment to say what's been in my heart for years: it's time to put a halt to the egg-white omelette. I don't want to confuse this with something actually important, like the war in Afghanistan, which it's also time to put a halt to, but I don't seem to be able to do anything about the war, whereas I have a shot at cutting down consumption of egg-white omelettes."
At another point, in a different essay, she finds something to say about the Internet. Unavoidable topic. So many things to say about it, so many complaints to file.

Nora Ephron (1941-2012). Source: Salon
But most importantly, one finds this claim about the value of truth in the age of virtual reality:
"It's not easy to be wrong about the Internet - the Internet consists of pretty much everything in the universe. So pretty much anything you say about it is going to turn out to be partly true in some way or other."
The same topic offers, at a different point, the chance of another revelation. It happened, if we take the word of the essay for granted, at a conference (one of the very many) about the Internet's ability to make people rich beyond belief. Out of it comes the following thought, which may be classed as depression, as Ephron herself suggests in the end:
"It had suddenly become clear that there was a lot of advertising money out there, and all you had to do was provide content so that the ads had something to run alongside of. It crossed my mind that the actual definition of 'content' for an Internet company was 'something you can run an ad alongside of.' I found this a depressing insight."
At times, you find statements made with an air of unrelenting particularity, as if the words just said could be said only in this and this very case alone, in this very situation. But not after long, you realise that the same statement is capable of remarkable permutations. It can, in other words, be applied to a multitude of other instances, given the right circumstances. For clarification, take a look at the thought about restaurants, in "My Life as a Meat Loaf":
"[I]t's my theory that owning a restaurant is the kind of universal fantasy everyone ought to grow out of, sooner rather than later, or else you will be stuck  with the restaurant. There are many problems that come with owning a restaurant, not the least of which is that you have to eat there all the time. Giving up the fantasy that you want to own a restaurant is probably the last Piaget stage."
There isn't much to say about this statement, apart from, perhaps, something to the effect of 'ah, those restaurants.' But then it turns out to be so easy to change the topic, by merely mentioning (magically, as one might find the right trick) the word that defines it. It must be in this interchangeability that Nora Ephron's texts find their charm. You gotta like a writer who is making it so easy for you to participate in a game you thought was yours. Of course it cannot be just that. The success must also be due to her easing our access to the seemingly inaccessible: the famous, the rich, the contentious.