Nora the Perfectionist
To be a perfectionist is normally to be a pain. Nora Ephron was a picky person, who worried about all kinds of trivial things. This can make one completely unbearable. Nora actually made it attractive by mocking it in herself. Those impossibly detailed orders for lunch or a latte in *When Harry Met Sally* or *You’ve Got Mail* are Nora to a T. I remember once we were with her at the Greenbriar in West Virginia, which had a famous, and what seemed an endlessly extensive, brunch buffet.
June 27, 2012
Making Up Edith Wharton
When Edith Wharton—then Edith Jones—was a little girl, her favorite game was called “making up.” “Making up” involved pacing around with an open book and (before she could read) inventing and then later half reading, half inventing stories about real people, narratives that she would chant very loud and very fast. The constant pacing and shouting were important parts of the game, which had an enraptured, trance-like, slightly erotic aspect. At ten, Edith was writing in blank verse. By eighteen, she had begun to publish poems—mostly on the subject of failed love, renunciation and longing, themes that would continue to resonate in her work throughout the decades. We can be glad, I suppose, that she discovered passion at all, but regretful that it should have taken her until the age of forty-six.
March 21, 2012
Great American Losers
The man who feels himself unloved and unlovable—this is a character that we know well from the latest generation or two of American novels. His trials are often played for sympathetic laughs. His loserdom is total: it extends to his stunted career, his squalid living quarters, his deep unease in the world.
March 9, 2012
“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I mean, my sisters get pregnant looking at a cologne ad. They get pregnant in pollen season.” For six months they had been trying to conceive, and still her period was as regular as the tide. She decided to see a doctor.
September 28, 2011
Tattered Lives in Divided Iran
Asghar Farhadi’s film *Nader and Simin: A Separation*, is a fine account of Iran’s predicament; anyone interested in the mysteries of change and tradition—the difficulties faced by many people as they try and reconcile themselves to modern values and norms—will learn much from it. I saw it in Tehran this summer, and so movingly did it reflect what I was witnessing around me, I was surprised that the authorities had allowed it to be screened and its creator and leading actors to travel to Germany to be honored by the Berlin Film Festival.
September 22, 2011
AIDS at 30: A Time Capsule
It is difficult now to call up the particular mood that prevailed in the AIDS epidemic’s early years. I am not talking about the first rumblings, when no one knew enough to be afraid, but further in. The idea of life without AIDS, much less of being alive in thirty years, was almost unimaginable. Which is why in the late eighties, coworkers and I at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation came up with an idea to get people—gay men, in particular—thinking about the future. We decided to create a time capsule.
June 6, 2011