Synopses & Reviews
With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck
, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.
Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age. Utterly courageous, uproariously funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a scrumptious, irresistible treat of a book, full of truths, laugh out loud moments that will appeal to readers of all ages.
“Nora Ephron, 65 years old in I Feel Bad About My Neck, pokes fun at her own eccentricities and finds herself writing about ‘lunch with my girlfriends — I got that far into the sentence and caught myself. I suppose I mean my women friends. We are no longer girls and have not been for forty years.’ But [I Feel Bad About My Neck is a] girlfriend book, and in the best way....Ephron, who is a great wit, has made a career out of women’s body anxieties. The magazine piece that made her famous in the 1970s, ‘A Few Words about Breasts,’ is a long kvetch about her flat chest... Now, though, Ephron kvetches about her wrinkled neck, the one part of a woman’s aging body that can’t be resurfaced. She and the ladies who lunch with her all wear scarves or turtlenecks to hide their ‘shame.’...Ephron [is] unfailingly clever and often pokes fun at our preoccupations while sharing them....I Feel Bad About My Neck has everything I want in an entertaining read: a breezy pace, wry musings, copious doses of gossip, humor, and new information....Ephron produces perfect vignettes....[When I finished I Feel Bad About My Neck, I] felt the ‘rapture’ that Ephron says you feel on completing a great book....[Books] have always been faithful pals, and [this one is] among the best....[Get] your friends of a certain age together, rent Silkwood (which I think is Ephron’s best film), read [her book] together, and argue and laugh and cry. That’s my prescription.” Emily Toth, Women’s Review of Books
“Delightful....[A] funny, sisterly collection....Where books written for seniors are apt to be full of unconvincing cheer, Ephron’s charming book of self-questioning, confession, and resolve faces the reality that she’s sixty-five, dyes her hair, and is not happy about her neck, her purse, her failure at ambitious exercise programs, and other personal failures shared by many of us....None of these confrontations with mortality is arcane, all are universal, and people of either sex can relate to them....Many readers of I Feel Bad About My Neck will be familiar already with Ephron the accomplished human being....She’s one of only a few American essayists with a public persona–one thinks of Will Rogers, or Calvin Trillin, maybe Benjamin Franklin, Steve Martin, and Woody Allen....[She has] a talent for incisive compression and accessibility confided in a sort of plainspoken Will Rogers manner....The hapless character Ephron has presented over the years may be the real Ephron, or not. The actual Ephron is praised by friends as smart, a perfect housekeeper, much prettier than the person she began depicting in Wallflower at the Orgy, her essays from the Seventies, a wonderful cook, etc., etc. It’s sound rhetorical strategy. Of all the ways to be funny, self-deprecation is more endearing than satire....All in all, this funny book offers the pleasures of recognition; in an anxious world, her epigrams have a serious, consoling utility.” Diane Johnson, The New York Review of Books
“Witty...sharp...readily accessible to all....[Ephron] is as funny as ever....What is so refreshing about Ephron is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously....[She has] a knack for finding the significant in the mundane, and for making readers feel like they’ve been welcomed into [her] inner circle of friends to share lipsticks and life’s licks. [Her] best lines probably get read aloud as often as ‘Goodnight Moon.’” Newsday Sunday
“Clever....[I Feel Bad About My Neck is] laced with wry observations, told in an intimate style that makes Ephron seem like a close friend spilling details about her life...[Ephron] has punctured many a bubble of conformity and made audiences laugh in recognition....[She] will keep you entertained.” April Austin, Christian Science Monitor
“Maybe Nora Ephron has become timeless....Certainly she writes, for all her funny commentary on modern life, like someone who has something useful and important to tell her readers....She’s figured something out that she wants to let you in on, and to make it palatable she’ll make you laugh.” Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“[A] stylistic tour de force....Fireworks shoot out [of this collection]....The smaller blazes are bursts of wit that cast the familiar so sharply as to make it seem new....There are [also] passages where wit is used not to entertain but to lament...to take arms against life or death (where loss, however blithely sketched, is no joke at all)....The comic and rueful are still there, but they take on resonance.” Richard Eder, The Boston Globe
“[W]ry and amusing....[M]arvelous.” Bunny Crumpacker, Washington Post Book World
“I belly laugh[ed] at this compilation of essays by Nora Ephron, a book that includes subjects every woman can identify with, regardless of her age....I [plan] to order multiple copies as gifts, knowing my girlfriends [will] get as much of a charge out of the book as I have.” Chris Stuckenschneider, The Missourian
“This is a book about age and regret. Since it’s by Nora Ephron, it’s funny....This delightful collection of personal essays...[is written] by a truly smart woman [who] disarms...by mocking her own anguish in a style that veers between hey-girlfriend coziness and wit....Ephron has me in her pocket: I’m absolutely on her side and feel that she’s on mine, that we’re in this together....Sublime.” Anna Shapiro, The New York Observer
“Wickedly funny...[Nora Ephron’s] candid, witty tales about life and love will put everything into perspective.” Tango Magazine
“I Feel Bad About My Neck is...long-overdue....[T]hese essays...[are] executed with overall sharpness and panache....[Nora Ephron] retains an uncanny ability to sound like your best friend, whoever you are....Some things don’t change. It’s good to know that Ms. Ephron’s wry, knowing X-ray vision is one of them.” Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Ephron’s laugh-out-loud collection tells the truth about aging — it’s not fun — and ‘she does it with humor and satire and perspective,’ says [Roxanne Coady of R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn.]. With blithe charm, Ephron exposes all the vain ploys that she — and we — would rather not admit we use to stave off another telltale wrinkle or gray hair. Read her book as an antidote to despair.” U.S. News & World Report
"A disparate assortment of sharp and funny pieces revealing the private anguishes, quirks and passions of a woman on the brink of senior citizenhood. Ephron...explores the woes of aging with honesty — hair-coloring and Botox are standard treatments, as is getting a mustache wax — but maintaining a 60-plus body is only her starting point. Ephron includes breezy accounts of her culinary misadventures, her search for the perfect cabbage strudel and her dissatisfaction with women's purses. An essay on her love affair and eventual disenchantment with the Apthorp apartment building on Manhattan's West Side deftly captures both the changes in New York City and in her own life." Kirkus Reviews
"[S]parkling....[T]his collection is...a thoughtful concession to pre- and post-menopausal women (who else is there?)...who 'can't read a word on the pill bottle,'follow a thought to a conclusion, or remember the thought after not being able to read the pill bottle....[R]efreshing...witty...delightful....While signs of mortality proliferate, Ephron offers a rebuttal of consequence: an intelligent, alert, entertaining perspective that does not take itself too seriously. (If you can't laugh, after all, you are already, technically speaking, dead.)" Tony Bentley, Publishers Weekly, signature review
About the Author
Nora Ephron was the author of the bestselling I Feel Bad About My Neck as well as Heartburn, Crazy Salad, Wallflower at the Orgy, and Scribble Scribble. She wrote and directed the hit movie Julie & Julia and received Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay for When Harry Met Sally. . ., Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, which she also directed. Her other credits include the script for the stage hit Love, Loss, and What I Wore with Delia Ephron. She died in 2012.
Reading Group Guide
1. In “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” Ephron writes that she avoids making truthful comments on how her friends look, even when they ask her directly [pp. 3–4]. Why is this a wise decision? She says, “the neck is a dead giveaway” [p. 5]. When women seek each other's opinions about how their necks, and other features, really look, do they want the truth, or do they want to be reassured?
2. According to Ephron, most authors who write about aging say “it great to be old. It's great to be wise and sage and mellow” [p. 7]. What, for her, is wrong with this approach? How would you compare I Feel Bad About My Neck with other books you have read about aging or menopause? Is it more useful?
3. In “I Hate My Purse,” Ephron sees her purse as a microcosm of her lifeit is the symbol of her inability to be organized. Given the current obsession with expensive purses in American fashion, why is her choice of a plastic MetroCard bag amusing [pp. 15–16]?
4. What do the foods we cook, the cookbook authors we seek to emulate, and the way we entertain guests, say about how we want life to be? Why does Ephron give up her attachment to Craig Claiborne and begin “to make a study of Lee Bailey” [p. 26], and then later move on to Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson?
5. Heartburn was a “thinly disguised novel about the end of my marriage” [p. 28]. If you have read Heartburn or seen the film, think about how Ephron presents her current stage in life, and what has changed for her. What is her attitude as she reflects on earlier and more difficult periods of her life?
6. Ephron writes, “I sometimes think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death” [p. 32]. She also says that going to a hair salon twice a week and having her hair blown dry is “cheaper by far than psychoanalysis, and much more uplifting” [p. 34]. For Ephron, “maintenance” has larger implications than just taking care of one's appearance. What are the larger meanings of these annoying, repetitive actions, for herand by implication, for women in general?
7. What would this book be like if written by a man? Do men have similar issues about growing older, and do they talk or think about them in similar ways? Think about and share ideas about what well-known mana writer or a celebrity, perhapsmight be capable of writing the male version of I Feel Bad About My Neck.
8. In “Parenting in Three Stages,” Ephron revises some commonly held notions. Adolescence, for instance, is a period that helps parents separate from their children, and there is “almost nothing you can do to make life easier for yourself except wait until it's over” [p. 62]. Later in the book she says, “the empty nest is underrated” [p. 125]. How does being in her sixties, with her children out of the house, change Ephron's perspective on motherhood?
9. In “Moving On,” Ephron writes about an important and prolonged episode in her past: a love affair with an apartment building. How does she eventually “move on”? Does this essay suggest that she has become more pragmatic with time? How does she change her mind about what makes sense for her, as she gets older?
10. Why is “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” such an effective way of telling one's life story? What does Ephron focus on as the most important issues in this miniaturized autobiography? What lessons has she learned?
11. While this is undoubtedly a funny and enjoyable book, in what ways is it also a serious book? What are Ephron's most important insights in “Considering the Alternative”?
12. What, if anything, does I Feel Bad About My Neck have to say about the benefits of growing older?
13. Certain small pieces in this collection might provoke you and members of your group to try writing your own version. What would you include, for instance, in your own list of “What I Wish I'd Known”?
14. What is the funniest moment in this collection, and why?