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Today I have a cold, so I am eating comfort foods and reading Nora Ephron’s early collections, which Vintage has just reissued and I now command you to buy. When she died everyone remembered her as a screenwriter and a longtime supporter of women and perhaps the most successful revenge novelist of all time, but they largely forgot that she was once sharp-tongued and radical.

The collection contains the famous bits from Ephron’s stints at Esquire and New York. The essay about her small breasts that lead her to conclude, of the complaints of big-breasted women:

I have thought about their remarks, tried to put mysef in their place, considered their point of view. I think they are full of shit.

The one about feminine hygeine sprays that contains this immortal anecdote about the male equivalent:

The skin-patch test, according to Dr. Earl W. Brauer, Revlon vice-president in charge of medical affairs, “was not done on the penis but on an area where it can’t be tampered with. We do a closed-patch test. The product is kept in place under a closed patch for two days. It’s a much higher concentration and we learn much more from such a provocative test.” But isn’t the skin of the penis different from the other skin on the male body?” “Yes,” said Dr. Brauer. “It’s thinner skin and there are more active nerve endings. No patch tests were done on the penis. It’s not necessary.”

She diagnosed, early-on, the kind of ridiculous excess that makes reading even the best magazines occasionally infuriating, by way of the examples of the new city magazines like the one that sometimes employed her, New York:

People who would not be caught dead subscribing to House & Garden subscribe to New York magazine. But whatever the quality, the serious articles in New York have nothing whatever to do with what that magazine is about. That magazine is about buying plants, and buying chairs, and buying pastrami sandwiches, and buying wine, and buying ice cream. It is, in short, about buying. And let’s give credit where credit is due: with the possible exception of the Neiman Marcus catalog, which is probably the granddaddy of this entire trend, no one does buying better than New York magazine.

To which I’ll add, though the Rumpus lacks any real interest in plants, chairs, pastrami sandwiches and the like: anybody writing ought to read these. They’d gone unjustifiably out of print.


Michelle Dean has written for a variety of places, including The Awl, ELLE and Bitch. More from this author →