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Enough of the fluff from smart, savvy Ephron

I love Nora Ephron's writing. In addition, I have spent much of my life wanting to be her, and have her life. This is true of at least one of my friends, as well.

She is, after all, the ultimate whip-smart New York female writer. The author of several books of funny, perfect essays and reported pieces. The author of the roman a clef novel "Heartburn." The screenwriter of "When Harry Met Sally" and "Silkwood" and "Julie and Julia."

To the extent that I have a living heroine, she's it. (Mother Teresa, rest in peace.)

So please take what I am about to say with a grain of salt.

I'm disappointed in Nora.

And I have been for years.

Ephron has a big talent. Here's what it is: When you start to read her work, you can't stop. You don't want to stop. Her writer's voice is remarkably engaging and fresh.

But, in recent years, what she's done with that big talent is not so big. And it's getting progressively smaller.

Her first mistake, of course, was abandoning print journalism for Hollywood screenwriting. (She started out as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer.) Of course, most people would do the same thing if they had the chance. Still, it was the beginning of a slippery slope -- the trivializing of her greatness.

It was only a matter of time, a couple of decades, before the woman who once wrote for Esquire magazine about substantial subjects like the media and politics would be presiding over a divorce section for the online Huffington Post.

Is this her highest calling? I doubt it. Which is not to say I won't read it -- if it frequently includes her own writing. Still, I would also like to know what Ephron would bring to subjects such as WikiLeaks and Obama's presidency and Kim Jong Il.

That, it seems, is not going to happen.

And then there's the matter of her two most recent books: "I Feel Bad About My Neck," published in 2006, and now, "I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections." The two books amount to a matched set -- collections of brief pieces, most of them published previously, everywhere from Vogue to the New Yorker to the Huffington Post.

The pieces in the new book are fun to read, as is nearly everything Ephron writes. They take up such subjects as e-mail (it's annoying); egg-white omelettes (they're pointless); and aging (it's not pretty).

Ephron reminisces, opines and self-mocks. What she does not do is do any reporting, or sink her teeth into topics more substantial than her addiction to online Scrabble.

The woman who co-wrote the screenplay for "Silkwood," on the deadly serious subject of worker safety at a plutonium processing plant, is now reduced to bemoaning the way restaurants push Pellegrino water on their customers.

The writer who profiled Boston University's controversial president John Silber in Esquire now expounds on her fondness for certain nonstick frying pans.

The piece begins: "I feel bad about Teflon." Given the title of her last book, this is not exactly an original line.

Remember Erma Bombeck? The madcap housewife who wrote frothy humor columns?

This second volume of lightweight material, I regret to say, confirms the Bombeckization of Nora Ephron.

And yet.

There is an essay here titled "Journalism: A Love Story," one not published before, that -- along with one or two others -- makes this small collection worthwhile. She writes about her start at the New York Post, about her love for New York City, about an idealistic passion for a concept called truth, and how real life changed that.

A lost era comes alive in Ephron's words: "I loved the city room. I loved the pack. I loved smoking and drinking scotch and playing dollar poker." The piece is evocative, moving and original.

Big talent? Ephron still has it. I just wish she'd use it more often.

Margaret Sullivan is the editor of The Buffalo News.


I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections

By Nora Ephron


137 pages, $22.95

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