Book Review by Heidi Simmons
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman
Nora Ephron

There are some women who are able to blaze a trail, set the world on fire and then leave it smoldering. Nora Ephron did just that. It may not have been a Russian meteor size trail, but her life and work had style and substance that meant something to women. She was confident, witty and wise. I did not know her and I wasn’t a huge fan, but I admire and envy her work and career.

When her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman (Knopf, 137 pages) came out, I wanted to read it. But I didn’t. I knew it would be funny, honest and I dare say — helpful. But I resisted, thinking it’s not for me — I’m not at that age yet. I didn’t want to read about the issues facing aging women, even if it is through Ephron’s tenacity for seeing life unfiltered.

Nora Ephron was a graduate of Wellesley College. She was a journalist, author, screenwriter, playwright, director and producer. Her movies include Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia — to name a few. Ms. Ephron died last June at age 71. After her death, there didn’t seem to be much said about this trailblazer. More should have been said about her contributions to our world.


I found I Feel Bad About My Neck at a used bookstore for a dollar. It had been dogeared and highlighted. In one sitting, I read the book cover to cover. It is a collection of 15 essays about life. Yes, the chapters are from a woman’s perspective and would likely only interest women. Her observations are accurate and true.

She talks about buying and carrying a purse. This is a subject every woman has an opinion about and, characteristically, she nails all the pertinent issues of the purse. If you are a man and have a desire to understand women and purses — “I Hate My Purse” is your chapter.

She writes about the rapture of being involved in a good book and the books that made an impact on her, growing up and as an adult. I wish this chapter were longer and I wish she left a list of all her favorites. A serious omission.

Cooking and entertaining were a big part of who she was. Ephron loved recipes. She enjoyed changing, sharing and experimenting with them.

The chapter “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” is a terrific summation of the big beats in her life that made the greatest impression. She tells the story of her high school journalism teacher, who, with his first lesson, inspired her to be a journalist. Shortly after that lesson, Ephron entered a writing contest and won first place.

In one short essay, Ephron writes about the summer she spent as an intern at the White House. She met President John F. Kennedy. She proudly boasts that she is likely the only one who didn’t have an affair with him.

Ephron does not candy-coat the processes of ageing. She does not highlight what’s good about it but rather explores the side-effects and impact of ageing. With humor and accuracy she describes the time-consuming energy it takes to fight off the years (with minimal success). She does not discuss ageing as if it is something she must accept with grace and dignity. Rather, it is a complicated and a frustrating ordeal.

In the chapter “What I Wish I’d Known,” Ephron lists, in single simple sentences, what she learned. The observations are charming, amusing and poignant. It is valuable advice. Finally she writes about death and the problems we have talking about it. Ironically — or perhaps tellingly — Ephron has not much to say.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman is more about mortality than ageing. It is a fare thee well. It is her sharing the things she most appreciated: cooking and living in New York, having interesting friends and parenting her boys. Reading it after her death, it’s more potent and more intense — even with the laughs.

This is a good book for woman of any age over 20. It is better to get some insight now on how it is going to end up. Someday you will have to give up the bikini. Ageing is inevitable and you are going to die. Our time here is short and the information in this book may make you consider life and ageing a little differently. Perhaps even relish more the moment at hand.