Book #42 (December 2, 2010): I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Book #43 (December 17, 2010): Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Aside from reading several of Dave Barry’s books out loud to my late girlfriend Sue in the 80s and 90s, I’ve spent my life avoiding book-length humor. Humor books have never seemed weighty enough to be worth the time that it would take to read them. But having found myself feeling very attention deficient recently, I picked up Nora Ephron’s short memoir I Remember Nothing and decided that it would make a quick read. I was right. Ephron’s book is so frothy and light that it went down like one of those bottled coffee drinks from Starbucks: two or three gulps and it was gone.
Having finished it about three weeks ago, I can paraphrase Ephron’s title and say that I remember very little about it. Ephron touches on interesting moments in her life, centered around the general theme of her inability, in her late 60s, to remember faces and names, but she then proceeds to demonstrate that she remembers every little thing that’s bothered her since childhood, including email and her first two husbands. (Those would be Dan Greenburg, the author, and Carl Bernstein, the reporter, though I can’t recall if she ever names them in the book.) She also talks about the things she loves, from teflon to male journalists. (Another running theme of the book is My Life as a Journalism Groupie, though she never quite phrases it that way.) She skims over her career as a film director, a subject I wish she’d dwelled on at greater length, and tells several interesting anecdotes about Lillian Hellman, who she encountered at several points in the older woman’s later life.
Ephron’s stories are interesting as far as they go, but the book reads like something she wrote hastily on spare weekends. Occasionally she sounds a genuinely emotional note — several of these concern her mother — but mostly she has fun settling old scores. For the time it takes to read it, the book is worthwhile.
Sedaris’s book is deeper. Although he almost never treats his subject matter seriously, much of it has an emotional weight that rides just below the surface. Sedaris has a remarkable facility for gliding humorously over moments in his life that must have been excruciating at the time, like meth withdrawal, as though he were describing a particularly interesting insect he’d encountered. This, in fact, is one of the book’s main charms — Sedaris’s ability to step back and look at things with almost outlandish objectivity. A great deal of the book is about Sedaris’s life in France and his struggles to learn the French language, and his description of those struggles is as funny as anything I’ve read this year.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2010 and I suspect that means I’m not going to read any more books than this before the year ends. Although I was shooting for a full 52 books, I’m not especially disappointed that I only reached 43. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how long it’s been since the last time I managed to read 43 books in one year. Let’s just say that my hair was a lot less gray then, if it was gray at all.
Am I going to try for 52 books again next year? Yes and no. Yes, I’d be thrilled if I managed to read 52 books in 2011, but I’m not going to set a quota this time. I’ll continue to write about each book as I finish it, but I’m finding that setting a quota discourages me from reading longer books and too often I find myself making tactical bargains: If I read five short books, then I can allow myself to read a very long book that I’ve been dying to read. There are far too many long books waiting on my virtual shelf and I’m ready to get down to the hard but enjoyable work of reading them.
In fact, there are far too many books on my shelf period. I’m finding that for every book I read, I think of a dozen more that I want to read, and I’m rapidly compiling a reading list that’s going to take the rest of my life to finish. So I suspect that some will fall by the wayside. But I’ll read as many of them as I can in 2011