The Writer Who Was Always There for Us

We look back at the wisdom of the brilliant Nora Ephron, whose endlessly charming and candid tales of her own life made all of ours immeasurably better.

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Nora Ephron was a celebrated, and decorated, writer—a three-time Oscar nominee with numerous timeless films and best-selling books under her belt—whose own life sounds like the stuff of movies. Shortly after graduating from college, she interned at the White House under JFK before landing a job at the New York Post, which promptly led to a life as a successful columnist, and, ultimately, a career writing movies like When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie & Julia.

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But she is remembered for so much more than her accolades (she died in 2012). She managed to observe us—our glories, our foibles, and all the daily business of living that falls in between—while still feeling unquestionably like one of us. Anytime you caught her in conversation on a talk show, it was impossible to change the channel; her calmly cheerful demeanor was magnetic, and she made you want to listen. She had a way about her that simply made you feel as though she were inviting you into her world.

Jeff Daniels and Meryl Streep in Heartburn (1986).
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Whether she was sending up her own tumultuous divorce with Heartburn—her celebrated 1983 novel that went on to become a film in which she was played by Meryl Streep—or penning the seminal romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally..., her ability to make compelling art out of the nuances of everyday life turned her into a valued advisor for her legions of adoring fans.

In honor of what would have been her 75th birthday, here are 10 pieces of sage life advice from the great Nora Ephron that just might help answer some of the big questions nagging you right now. 

Nora Ephron about to enjoy a lunch in celebration of 'Breaking and Entering' in New York City. Photograph courtesy of Hal Horowitz/Getty Images

On the Joy of Food

"I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times."

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On Being a Lady (or Not)

"Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women." 

Nora Ephron holding her book 'I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman,' at the Washington Jewish Literary Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2006. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

On the Sublime Thrill of Reading"

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss."

Photograph courtesy of Mario Ruiz/Getty Images

On the Reality of Dealing With Your Mom and Dad

"You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were or back into the people they used to be. But they're never going to. And even though you know they're never going to, you still hope they will."

On the Joy of Food, Continued

"You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can … and not have evenings where you say to yourself, 'What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!'" 

Nora Ephron signs an autograph in the book that she wrote 'I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman,' at the Washington Jewish Literary Festival in Washington, D.C. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

On Writing

"You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn't work. I mean we've all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn."

On Summer Love

"Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be."

On Hosting a Party

"You should try to relax about having people over. I have friends who are nervous hostesses, and it just contaminates the entire mood of the evening. They are always rushing from the room to check things and have a wild look in their eyes when they return from the kitchen."

Terry Tang and Eleanor Randolph, of The New York Times, and author Nora Ephron attend a dinner hosted by Glamour Magazine Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive in 2003. Photograph courtesy of Myrna Suarez/Getty Images

On Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

"When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh."

On How to Get Things Done

"I don't have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don't do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece."

And, Lastly, the Point of It All

"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim." 

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