Wallflower at the Orgy – Nora Ephron

One of the things I do like about my local library is that they have a huge set of shelves that greet you when you walk in; in fact you almost walk into them because they are so in your face when you arrive. It was on these shelves that I spotted Nora Ephron’s ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ which grabbed my attention from the title and the image that it threw in my head. Pulling it off the shelf I saw that it was a collection of her early essays and after reading and thoroughly enjoying ‘Heartburn’ earlier in the year and so I decided to give this a go.

Nora Ephron is known around the world for her script writing and films such as ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. I had no idea that she had started her career as a journalist. From the title you might be expecting ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ to be Nora Ephron writing about sex, which I could imagine would be hilarious and brilliant; however it’s not the case. This collection was actually published back in 1970 and was Nora Ephron’s first collection of early journalism and some of the articles she had written in various magazines.

In this collection we get an insight into what is expected and what women want in the late 1960’s which makes for rather interesting reading. Ephron herself worked for Cosmopolitan as a freelance writer and so is writing ‘current women’s pieces’ (such as a hilarious make over that Ephron herself endures in a very funny essay) and meeting with those ‘current women’ including the founder of Cosmopolitan, one of the most powerful women at the time, Helen Gurley Brown who often finds herself in tears.

The novel also deals with journalism at the time, I was expecting Ephron’s 1970’s world of journalism to be very different from mine yet actually its not, in fact I would say that without such joys as the worldwide web, ‘google’ and the like journalists had to work a lot harder. Ephron starts the book telling how she was taught to write minimally and yet write around a person rather than simply repeat exactly what your interviewee tells you which a lot of modern journalists could do with learning. We get lovely Ephron features on clothing, self help, cooking, visiting movie sets (for Catch 22) and also a horrendously brilliant sounding gossip magazine called Women’s Wear Daily which is still running.

The book lover in my really honed in on the sections where Ephron discusses books. She had me debating actually picking up Ayn Rand’s works as she discusses ‘The Fountainhead’, her thoughts on ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal, which became a cult classic and I had never heard of so may have to look up, and a wonderful piece on Jacqueline Susann who wrote ‘Valley of the Dolls’ which has made me want to run off and read that now.

It’s a real mixture of essays which have one common thread which is Ephron’s wonderful narrative which is filled with honesty and also humour. There’s a knowingness which rather than making her sound a little bit smug and patronising actually makes you feel like when you have come to the end of each article you have just had a good natter with one of your friends. It’s not ‘Heartburn’ it’s something rather different and yet equally enjoyable, a book you can dip in and out of at your leisure. 7.5/10

This collection was from the library, I think it’s only out in actual shops in America though you can get it on a certain bookselling website.

Have any of you read any of Nora Ephron’s other collections? I have spotted there is a new one coming in 2011 which I am quite excited about. Have any of you read Erich Segal’s ‘Love Story’ and what did you think of it? Do you think I would like Jacqueline Susann’s ‘Valley of the Dolls’ as much as I now think I might?

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6 Comments

Filed under Nora Ephron, Review, Transworld Publishing

6 responses to “Wallflower at the Orgy – Nora Ephron

  1. I haven’t read Love Story but I do remember suffering through the two-boxes-of-tissues weepie movie version starring Ali McGraw. Beautiful girl, handsome man, young love in all its glory plus disease of the week. Sort of wonderful in its own way; if you do read the book I will be very interested to hear what you think.

  2. Eva

    I read my first Ephron essay collection earlier this year (I Feel Bad About My Neck) and very much enjoyed it; like you, the essays that touched on books were my favourite!

  3. I read this two or three years ago, shortly after it was reissued, and really enjoyed it. I was particularly fascinated not just by her descriptions of journalism during that period but of being a working woman in the ’60s and
    ’70s. The only problem is that I immediately went on to read I Feel Bad About My Neck and Crazy Salad and while they combined to give me a great portrait of Ephron’s skill as a writer, I can’t remember which essays belong in which volume anymore! Everything has rather blurred in my mind.

  4. Anbolyn

    I loved I Feel Bad About My Neck! She is a very astute and observant writer – and hilarious. Can’t wait to read her new book of essays which I see I’ll have to place a hold on at the library. Her essays on aging are sobering, but a dose of reality, I think, is admirable.

  5. I like Nora Ephron for her wit and I think this sounds like a really good book. Thanks for reviewing it.

  6. Deb

    My favorite Ephron book is CRAZY SALAD, another collection of essays from the 1970s. I think her later work (such as I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK) is just a little too flip, a sense that she’s just writing to show that she still can, rather than digging around and getting to the meat of a story–which she did back when her primary job was journalism. I think CRAZY SALAD contains one of Ephron’s best essays, about her visit to a company that makes “feminine hygeine products.” Laugh out loud hilarious.

    I have read LOVE STORY and VALLEY OF THE DOLLS–both are time capsules of the mid-to-late 1960s and thus have all the positives and negatives that you’d expect. I would skip reading LOVE STORY and just watch the three-hankie movie adaptation with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, as it is fairly faithful to the book.

    VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is actually a much better book than you’d suspect, given the rather campy movie adaptation (which isn’t all that bad either): Lots of ambition, drama, and heartbreak, and you will get pulled into the world of the central characters and their various attempts at acting careers.

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