If you pieced together all the Nora Ephron lines that appeared on Twitter yesterday, you'd probably have the entire script for When Harry Met Sally. You'd certainly have a complete edition of her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. The author/scriptwriter/director, whose death was announced yesterday, was that quotable.
I need not rehearse all of them here, but I must mention the exemplary "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim". In those 11 words is the summation of why Ephron herself was such a heroine. She turned her life experiences into witty, insightful entertainment, but almost as a side-product of just living a witty, insightful life. Ephron wasn't the first to turn her personal stuff into material – she just did it very well. Being left in a very undignified manner by one's husband and turning the episode into a hit book and film must be the very epitome of revenge being a dish best served cold (and with a fancy garnish).
She was also the master of a film style that, alas, has been watered down ever since her high water mark. When Harry Met Sally was a near-as-dammit perfect romantic comedy. It was funny, warm, surprising and it rang true (even if the zingers delivered were all the ones we'd have thought of after the argument, back home in bed). But indirectly it spawned the careers of Jennifers Aniston and Garner, Reece Witherspoon and Katherine Heigl, whose disappointingly unfunny, shrill romcoms give the genre a bad name.
Heartburn, that hit break-up book, exemplified the now familiar theme of combining remembrance with recipes. Ironically, Ephron's last film was an adaptation of Julie and Julia, a blog/book by a woman blending – yes, you've guessed it – her marital malaise with an obsessive pursuit of Julia Child's recipes. I can't imagine many book publishers being willing to publish such material if the trail hadn't been blazed by Ephron.
On body image, nothing better has been said than this: something that will henceforth be known as Nora's Law. It should be handed out on a laminated card to every woman in her twenties. "Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don't take it off until you're 34."
And as her life continued playing out like a movie, Ephron published an utterly brilliant memoir. I Feel Bad About My Neck was everything a woman over 40 wants to articulate about life, appearance, getting older and feeling ill. Even when her dark, dark humour made bitter tears of acknowledgement spring to the eyes, she never painted herself as a victim. And that allowed the rest of us, getting wrinklier and slower, to feel OK about it all.
There are now myriad books cataloguing, in forensic detail, everything from marriage break-ups to parenting disasters to dating hell, but these often seem to take something away from the author and the reader. Ephron added. She added fun, empathy, understanding. One last quote (sorry, it's irresistible): "I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are". I hope there are some new Noras out there, taking notes.
Let me tell you a story...
The summer holiday looms, as does the search for family-friendly entertainment. Together with my teenagers I'm attending Beyond the Border, the Welsh International Storytelling Festival this weekend.
I know. It sounds like something we'd all have to be dragged to, kicking and screaming. It sounds beyond brown rice and sandals, never mind borders. But I'm told by others who've taken their giant, lolloping offspring in previous years that something rather brilliant happens when the professional raconteurs do their thing. Everyone stops and sits, rapt, for ages.
And after weeks of nag/grunt exam-related exchanges, I think this might be a welcome break; not least because teenage brains addled by cramming need some soothing. (And all kids like a story, even though the big ones are never, ever going to admit it.)