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Heartburn by Nora Ephron (Books 2021, 5)

When I wrote about watching When Harry Met Sally… last year, I said that ‘Nora Ephron may be my favourite screenwriter after Aaron Sorkin, where dialogue is concerned.’ The dialogue in this novel isn’t so sparkling, but the narration is.

It’s a fictionalisation of the breakdown of her marriage to the journalist Carl Bernstein, and it’s amazing how funny she makes it, considering how painful the experience clearly was.

Seems to be her only novel, which is kind of a shame.

The strangest thing is that the woman Bernstein had an affair with is the daughter of prime minister Jim Callaghan.

Far more interestingly, though, is that, according to Wikipedia, Ephron was one of the few people who knew the identity of Deep Throat.

None of which has anything to do with the book, which you should just read.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, 2020 - ★★★★

A great story about a competition we all grew up with, and then stopped caring about because it was endlessly uncool, and then started taking an interest in again because it was so daft and fun.

Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, this film (made with the cooperation of the European Broadcasting Union, which is the body behind Eurovision) pokes fun at the competition in all the right ways, and does it with love and a big heart.

See in Letterboxd

North Star

I wrote recently about not enjoying or finishing Claire North’s 84K. In her latest blog post she lists her (improbably large) back catalogue, with notes. On 84k:

My most miserable novel ever.

The word “dystopian” has been applied to it a lot, and I’d say that’s fair.

However, she also tells us about her forthcoming Notes from The Burning Age, which sounds amazing:

To make up for just how monumentally dystopian 84K is, Notes from the Burning Age is a look at the distant future of the earth… in which we’ve got it right. We sorted our shit out, we built an environmentalist utopia of clean energy, social justice, respect for all and so on. And we did all of it partly because we really learned to love and value this beautiful, glorious planet, as well as each other, and partly because the spirits of the earth awoke, provoked by our blundering destruction, and nearly stomped us into tiny tiny bits.

If you think that’s the pitch, you will be potentially surprised to know that’s just the first 50 pages, and the book is actually a cat-and-mouse espionage thriller.

She really has written an astonishing number of books, under three different names. I’ll be sure to try some of the others.

Bookshops are Back

Sometimes you don’t even realise what you’ve been missing. Or how much you’ve been missing it. I went to our local bookshop, the lovely Pages of Hackney, to pick up a book that I had ordered and that had to come from the US.1

They’ve stayed in business through this mad year, and I’ve ordered several books from them in that time. If a book’s not in stock they can usually get it in in a couple of days. I just had to walk up the road and collect them at the door.

No going in, though. Apart from collecting an order, all I could do was look in the window.

So it was fantastic to be able to go into the shop and browse. I’d almost forgotten what that’s like.

  1. The Situation and the Story, by Vivian Gornick. I don’t know why it had to cross the ocean. 

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Books 2021, 4)

On Alexander Chee’s book of essays, which I was prompted to read because he was cited several times on my MA course.

Despite the title, this is not a writing ‘how-to’ book, except maybe by example. Nor is it a novel itself; it is a collection of essays. The subjects they cover do include writing and writing courses, most notably the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That was one of the first, if not the first, postgraduate-level course in creative writing, and Chee studied on it.

But the book covers a lot else, too. As Chee is a mixed-race gay man, you won’t be surprised to hear that those details feature in a number of the essays. As does living in New York and trying to make it as a writer. And growing roses, and the origin of Catholic rosary beads.

I was drawn to this because one of the essays was assigned reading on the MA early this term, and he was also cited at various other points on at least two modules.

His debut novel is called Edinburgh, which immediately interests me. Though you learn from a couple of the essays that he hoped, when younger, to go to Edinburgh to study parapsychology, but didn’t; and that the Edinburgh connection in the novel didn’t survive the writing and editing process, but he kept the title anyway.

I don’t know what his fiction is like yet, but he’s a fine essayist.