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'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron, Aging Gratefully
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'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron, Aging Gratefully

Author Interviews

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Nora Ephron was born to tell stories. She was raised in Beverly Hills, the daughter of New York playwrights who'd moved west to write screenplays -screenplays for the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. As an adult, Nora Ephron worked as a journalist. And then, of course, she made her own name in the movies, writing "When Harry Met Sally" and directing her scripts, like "Sleepless in Seattle."

More recently, the 69-year-old Ephron - and we're saying her name because it matters here - has been sharing reflections on aging - first in her book "I Feel Bad About My Neck," and now in a new collection, called "I Remember Nothing." In it, Nora Ephron spins stories on a mix of subjects: surviving divorce, egg-white omelets and most especially, memory loss. Here, she reads from the book's opening lines.

Ms. NORA EPHRON (Author, "I Remember Nothing"): I have been forgetting things for years at least since I was in my 30s. I know this because I wrote something about it at the time; I have proof. Of course, I can't remember exactly where I wrote about it or when, but I could probably hunt it up if I had to.

MONTAGNE: But there's a strategy you've adopted - you write - that I quite admire, which is that you have a whole other list of things you're simply refusing to know anything about so that you don't really have to even remember them in the first place.

Ms. EPHRON: Well, I think when you get older, things come along that you know are a test, in some way, of your ability to stay with it, right? And when email came along, I was just going to fall in love with it. And I did. I can't believe it now it's like one of those ex-husbands that you think, what was I thinking at the time? Anyway, the point is that you can kind of keep up for a while and then suddenly, something comes along and you think, I give up. I am never going to tweet. I'm just never going to.

MONTAGNE: Read the list of the things that you're refusing to know anything about at this point.

Ms. EPHRON: The former Soviet Republics; the Kardashians; Twitter; all Housewives, Survivors, American Idols and Bachelors; Karzai's brother; soccer; monkfish; Jay-Z; every drink invented since the Cosmopolitan, especially the drink made with crushed mint leaves - you know the one.

MONTAGNE: And when I read this, I was like, I know it, but I don't know the name of it.

Ms. EPHRON: Yes, we're saved somewhat by Google because you can when you are all sitting around the table, desperately snapping your fingers in the hopes of remembering the name of that movie that you can't remember the name of, you can make people think that you are not as old as you actually are because you have the technology to find the answer.

MONTAGNE: And you on that drink with the crushed mint leaves.

Ms. EPHRON: Yes, the mojito.

MONTAGNE: Exactly. One of your chapters is about flops. Now, it would seem that you haven't had any flops - to the average person who knows about your work -but you have had flops.

Ms. EPHRON: Yes, yes, yes. Sure.

MONTAGNE: You write that flops stay with you in a way that successes never do. How so?

Ms. EPHRON: Well I think that and I think this is true, by the way, not just of the kind of flops that I'm writing about but, you know, romantic failures, the ends of friendships. These things take up space in your head because it is so possible to lie awake thinking, what should I have done differently? This is one of the reasons why Ambien is one of the greatest inventions known to man -because at least it stops you thinking about that stuff.

MONTAGNE: Would you read for us, the very end of this chapter on flops?

Ms. EPHRON: Yes, happy to read this. Oh yes, I believe every word of this. OK.

By the way, there are people who have positive things to say about flops. They write books about success through failure, and the power of failure. Failure, they say, is a growth experience; you learn from failure. I wish that were true. It seems to me that the main thing you learn from a failure is that it's entirely possible you will have another failure.

MONTAGNE: But your religion, you say, is get over it.

Ms. EPHRON: Yes, absolutely. My religion is get over it, and I was raised in that religion. That was the religion of my home my mother saying: Everything is copy; everything is material; some day, you will think this is funny. My parents never said: Oh, you poor thing. It was: Work through it, get to the other side, turn it into something. And it worked with me.

MONTAGNE: How do you make that sadness, even though it stays with you, also quite funny?

Ms. EPHRON: Well, I don't know. I if you have parents who are not interested, remotely, in anything but a funny story, you kind of grow up thinking where's can I find a way to and you know, I think in some way, my mother was teaching me a very fundamental lesson of humor - which is, if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But if you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your joke. And you're the hero of the joke because you're telling the story. So I think that it was a great lesson.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. You know, though, for all the wit and the jokes that you have about getting old, the last chapter is titled "The O Word" - old, obviously. And it, in fact, has an elegiac quality, a wistful quality. It suggests quite a clear vision of loss.

Ms. EPHRON: Well, I think that, you know, we've all gotten to the point where we work out, and we dye our hair, and we look we don't look as old as we are. But you do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can't put things off thinking you'll get to them someday. If you really want to do them, you better do them. There's simply too many people getting sick. And sooner or later, you will. So I'm very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so that you can do a great deal of it.

You know, when my close friend died - you know, we'd always sit around and play the game What Would Your Last Meal Be? You know, and it's like this fun game where you go around the table, and everybody says what it would be. Mine happens to be a Nate & Al's hotdog. I mention this to you because you are in California, and you could go get one right now. But Judy was dying of throat cancer, and she said: I can't even have my last meal. And that's what you have to know - is, if you're serious about it, have it now. Have it tonight, have it all the time, so that when you're lying on your deathbed you're not thinking, oh, I should have had more Nate & Al's hot dogs.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Nora Ephron, thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. EPHRON: Oh, thank you so much. This was fun.

MONTAGNE: Nora Ephron's new book is called "I Remember Nothing, and Other Reflections."

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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