Nora Ephron on Women, Love, Happiness, Reading, Life, and Death

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Selections from the prolific author's essays and books

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Nora Ephron in 1975 during an interview in New York (AP Images)

What a sad year it's been for literary and creative heroes, with losses as inconsolable as Maurice Sendak, Ray Bradbury, and Hillman Curtis. Tuesday night, we lost the great Nora Ephron (1941-2012)—prolific and thoughtful filmmaker, novelist, journalist, playwright, essayist, and blogger, a feminist with fierce wit, whom The New York Times describes as being "in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier...)."

Today, let's take a moment and celebrate Ephron with some of her most memorable insights on women, politics, happiness, love, intellectual life, and death.

On reading, in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (public library):

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

On money and creative incentive, in "My Life as an Heiress":

I was extremely lucky not to have ever inherited real money, because I might not have finished writing 'When Harry Met Sally...,' which changed my life.

Addressing young women in her 1996 Wellesley commencement speech, a fine addition to some modern history's finest graduation addresses:

I want to remind you of the undertow, of the specific gravity. American society has a remarkable ability to resist change, or to take whatever change has taken place and attempt to make it go away.

[...]

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.

On the difference between controversy and political incorrectness, in the January 1976 issue of Esquire:

I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.

On the evolving metrics of "happiness" for women, in Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women (public library):

We have lived through the era when happiness was a warm puppy, and the era when happiness was a dry martini, and now we have come to the era when happiness is 'knowing what your uterus looks like.'

On the joy of being awake to the world, in Heartburn (public library):

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.

On the politics of the public encroaching on the private, in her 1996 Wellesley commencement address—remarkably timely, despite the dated references, in light of today's ongoing debates about publicly-private issues like marriage equality and abortion:

One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you -- whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.

On love and the capacity for romantic rebirth, in I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman:

Why hadn't I realized how much of what I thought of as love was simply my own highly developed gift for making lemonade? What failure of imagination had caused me to forget that life was full of other possibilities, including the possibility that eventually I would fall in love again?

On death, in I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (public library), her final book:

Everybody dies. There's nothing you can do about it. Whether or not you eat six almonds a day. Whether or not you believe in God.

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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