Wallflower at the Orgy

30 Aug

I’m running behind this week, which I could lie and chalk up to something altruistic—”So sorry, I’ve been busy curing cancer”—or even something moderately acceptable, like watching the Republican National Convention, but the truth is that I’ve been doing none of those things (no really, I haven’t been curing cancer). The truth is I’ve been out of pocket because I’m too busy watching two seasons of The Vampire Diaries in less than two weeks. The truth is that Netflix is ruining my life.

Fortunately for all of us, I have a backlog of books to review, and I’m going on vacation next week (worry not, the laptop is coming), during which time I’ll spend my days riding bikes, lounging by pools, eating foods with cheese in/on them, and reading. I may even do some of those things at the same time. Long story short, there are plenty of reviews ahead, and theoretically plenty of blog posts from a more insightful and upbeat, and less stressed and cynical, version of myself. But we are talking the Jersey shore here, so let’s not get too optimistic.

Anyway! During my book binge last week, I within 24 hours bought and read Nora Ephron’s Wallflower at the Orgy, a collection of essays she penned back around 1970. I actually have a number of Ephron books still to read, part of a conscious policy on my part to space out books by authors I love, lest they stop writing or, as is sadly the case with Nora Ephron, pass away.

I suppose in part because of the author’s recent death, I find it difficult to say anything bad about Wallflower at the Orgy, which was a short and predictable collection of classic Ephron ruminations—on fashion, on people, on New York, etc. But even my main critique—that the book is a little too referential to withstand the test of time—turned out to be only partially true.

Helen Gurley Brown, legendary editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and the subject of one of the essays in Wallflower, passed away this month. Frommer’s, the travel guide company Ephron profiles in its 1970 heyday, was bought by Google a few weeks ago. And an essay on The Love Machine, a 1960s novel about the sadistic sexual escapades of a TV executive, is described by Ephron as poorly written but wildly popular due to its capitalizing on women’s secret desire for sexual domination. Ahem, Fifty Shades.

It’s strange to read magazine articles—most of the essays in Wallflower are reprinted—from 40 years ago, and not only for the obvious reasons: hilariously defunct mentions of fashion trends and prices. Through reading news writing from another decade, you also get a kind of amazing glimpse of life in general back then, and how people, events, companies and other trends come back around. And so even if some of the essays in Wallflower were a little dry by virtue of their declining relevance, they’re still interesting as a source of overall context.

(I can only imagine what a circa 2052 person will think of my curmudgeonly 2012-era ramblings. I just hope their reaction is less “I can’t believe they let people have abortions” and more “I can’t believe gay people couldn’t marry.” …And also maybe a little “I can’t believe they didn’t have jet packs.”)

Anywho, in closing, here’s the quote from Wallflower that inspired its name. It’s a pretty apt description of why I was always drawn to journalism, even if I ended up more on the beeps and boops side of things than, say, my other inspiration. Enjoy! Next time you hear from me, I’ll be ocean-side, eating cheese (fries.)

“Working as a journalist is exactly like being the wallflower at the orgy….People who are drawn to journalism are usually people who, because of their cynicism or emotional detachment or reserve or whatever, are incapable of being anything but witnesses to events. Something prevents them from becoming involved, committed, and allows them to remain separate. What separates me from what I write about is, I suspect, a sense of the absurd that makes it difficult for me to take many things terribly seriously. I’m not talking about objectivity here (I don’t believe in it), nor am I saying that this separateness makes it impossible to write personal journalism. I always have an opinion about the orgy; I’m just not down on the floor with the rest of the bodies.”

THE FACTS:
————————————————–
TITLE: Wallflower at the Orgy
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AUTHOR: Nora Ephron
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PAGES: 187 (in paperback)
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ALSO WROTE: I Feel Bad About My Neck, Heartburn
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SORTA LIKE: Time-traveling to 1970
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FIRST LINE: “Some years ago, the man I am married to told me he had always had a mad desire to go to an orgy.”

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