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Originally published Sunday, December 22, 2013 at 5:07 AM

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‘The MOST of Nora Ephron:’ everything for the Ephron fan

“The MOST of Nora Ephron” collects a wide range of writing by the talented humorist/novelist/screenwriter Nora Ephron, who died in 2012 at the age of 71.


Special to The Seattle Times

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“The MOST of Nora Ephron”

by Nora Ephron

Knopf, 576 pp., $35

When Nora Ephron’s screenwriter mother Phoebe Ephron told her, “Everything is copy,” her daughter took it to heart.

In her popular films, novels, plays, in her blog posts and essays for major publications, the younger Ephron wrote unpretentiously, wittily, entertainingly about her own life and times.

She shared her rich enthusiasms for journalism, movies, food and family, and her frustrations with aging, email and handbags. Ephron also wrote acerbically, sometimes ruefully, about disillusionment, divorce, loss, mortality and (now and then) politics.

The public outpouring of grief and fondness triggered by her 2012 death was lavish and heartfelt. As with other great personal essayists who’ve struck a common chord, you felt you knew Ephron. Or wanted to. Or wanted to be her — or one of the sardonic Cinderellas she conjured in irresistible romantic film comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

A new anthology, “The MOST of Nora Ephron,” gives us a generous sampler from the scrupulous, versatile wordsmith, who was both a disarming Everywoman and also, it seemed, a charmed throwback to an earlier era of sparkling banter, Manhattan literary hobnobbing and gutsy gal sophisticates.

This collection presents Ephron in various appealing guises. She’s the eager young novice in a grubby New York Post newsroom, in her fond memoir “Journalism: A Love Story,” and the hard-nosed reporter in several extended pieces from the 1970s. She’s the sage feminist in a commencement speech at her alma mater Wellesley College, exhorting new female grads to “be the heroine of your own life.” She’s the wily satirist, skewering former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She’s the flip side Woody Allen, humorizing male-female dynamics in her hit movie script “When Harry Met Sally.” And in an accompanying essay, she’s enlightening on the collaborative process between screen writers, directors and actors.

In 500-plus pages there are inevitably some dull or dated pieces, and her wistful last play “Lucky Guy” is not Ephron at her best. But she was always on her game when writing about food. The dispatches here reveal a sensuous, opinionated cook with a passion for feeding friends and family — and dictating exactly how to grill steak.

Revealing in another way, and none too generous, are her portraits of feminist author Betty Friedan, playwright Lillian Hellman, and humorist Dorothy Parker — role models for Ephron, who became disillusioned after close encounters with them.

What doesn’t appear in “The MOST of Nora Ephron” is also telling. There are, for instance, nods to the author’s writer-parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron, but little analysis of how her offbeat upbringing impacted her psyche.

Clearly, Ephron’s life was not really an open book, despite such thinly veiled fictions as her anthologized marital-breakup novella “Heartburn.” She held some things in reserve — including the serious blood disease, followed by leukemia that ended her life at 71.

But you can spot gracefully elegiac hints in her final book, “I Remember Nothing,” published in 2010. There Ephron mourns the loss of dear friends and asks, “If this is one of the last days of my life, am I doing exactly what I want to be doing? I aim low. My idea of a perfect day is a frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park.”

How her loyal readers would have loved to tag along.

Misha Berson is the theater critic for The Seattle Times.



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