Crazy Salad – 3/5 Stars
For me, reading this book came in three real swings. The first was marrying my reading of later essay collections to this one. There’s a lot of similarities between the essays in say I Feel Bad About My Neck to some of the essays here, especially ones like “Crazy Lady” and the ones about her college reunion. So there’s a kind of continuity. These essays tends to be funny in general, and slightly cutting but not particularly incisive. All of which is fine, because this isn’t their aim. But they present a real contrast then, to the other set of essays here that really do have something sharp and poignant to say.
This second set mostly have to do with Ephron’s coverage of the political feminist movement and some specific conferences at the time. She both narrates and analyzes the back and forth of the two major factions (broadly speaking between the slightly older, but possibly more inclusive faction held by Betty Friedan and the younger, more radical but probably whiter faction headed up by Gloria Steinem). Neither Steinem nor Friedan are expressly leaders, but do act as synods more or less.
But then then the book really cam crashing down for me with the final essay, a review of Jan Morris’s memoir Conundrum. I haven’t read the book, but I have read other’s by Morris, and know her story. The book is Morris’s coming out story as a trans woman, and because of it being the 1970s, there’s a fair amount of paving the way happening in this book. I imagine that many trans writers would read it and have some critical things to say. Morris seems to jump into her new life with a kind of abandon and possibly recklessness. Her language and behavior might even be confused and a little performative as she negotiates uncharted territory. These are features I’ve read in other trans memoirs. But Ephron’s review is cutting a cruel throughout. It’s not simply that she’s early on as well and her opinions are based in the times (which they are), but that she’s antagonistic toward Morris. She calls out Morris out for performing femininity in performative and essentialist ways (despite that what Ephron often writes about herself is a kind of essential femininity — and even by saying Morris’s femininity is performative is a kind of essentialist gatekeeping). As you can imagine, Ephron misgenders and deadnames Morris throughout, and only seems to get pronouns correct (while also scoffing at having to consider pronouns) in order to mock. It’s a pretty ugly essay that accuses Morris of obsession and confusion and at the end ties it up with the dismissive comment “It would be a man, wouldn’t it?” I don’t honestly feel I should extend Ephron an ounce of compassion in my reading of her essay as she can’t bother the same for Morris (oh, she even goes out of the way to call the language clunky — as in the language being to used to narrate an experience very rarely articulated in modern memoir). Barbara Tuchman writes in one of her histories that the way to define a historical mistake is to ask a few questions: was there an alternative? Would the author know about this? So I think to myself, was there an alternative to Ephron’s writing? Yes, she could have a) not written it or b) sought to understand. Would the author know this? Yes. I recently read James Felton’s pop-history of The Sun newspaper, and he references an article from the mid 1970s about a wedding between a trans woman and a cis man. The paper, even with a shocking wedding, seems to wish the couple well. Somehow Ephron fell below the compassionate standards of The Sun on this one.
Scribble Scribble – 4/5 Stars
A much better collection or one unmarred by the transphobic essay that ended Crazy Salad, this collection of essays involves Ephron writing very sharp criticism of media and media outlets. It’s another collection of previously published works, so the mix is by nature eclectic, but the different pieces range from very interesting book reviews of New Yorker figures to poignant and damning analyses of Watergate coverage. To the 2020 reader, what really comes through in this book is how much the medium maybe have changed in 45 years, but how little the presentation and weakness of corporate media ultimately has been. Individual references and essays do stand out, especially book reviews, but the methodology and total effect of this collection is in its way to cut through what was even at that point the total bullshit of mass media. Think Network in book form (previous to Network even!).