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When Harry Met Sally Nora Ephron died last night at age 71, and I was surprised at how sad I am about it – until I realized that she had a skill that I admire so very much: she wrote and told the truth and was funny about it. As I said on Twitter, a LOT of other people said her words, but we knew the words were hers. When she made movies, we knew it was her voice. That is one powerful writer's voice.

If you have some time today, you might enjoy her 1996 speech to the graduating class at Wellesley College:

I want to tell you a little bit about my class, the class of 1962. When we came to Wellesley in the fall of 1958, there was an article in the Harvard Crimson about the women's colleges, one of those stupid mean little articles full of stereotypes, like girls at Bryn Mawr wear black. We were girls then, by the way, Wellesley girls. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that while I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism. It was so long ago that we had curfews. It was so long ago that if you had a boy in your room, you had to leave the door open six inches, and if you closed the door you had to put a sock on the doorknob. In my class of, I don't know, maybe 375 young women, there were six Asians and 5 Blacks. There was a strict quota on the number of Jews. Tuition was $2,000 a year and in my junior year it was raised to $2,250 and my parents practically had a heart attack.

Ephron, to my surprise, was likely the source of a quote I found in other places in other movies: be the heroine of your own life. Word to that. What a legacy for a writer: to have your words embedded in a generation's vernacular: “I'll have what she's having.” “Baby fish mouth.” Her voice remains now that she's gone – still one of the most powerful writer's voices I have experienced.

 


Via Me & My Kindle, a tale of artistic tomfoolery: artists have created a program that automates every step of the Amazon ebook self publishing production process. 

“Where does authorship start and end?” wondered two artists in Berlin. So as a digital project, they created a software program which automatically performed every step in the publishing process for an ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store. And then two weeks ago, in a special press release, they revealed their project’s dark twist. “Our bots are compiling and uploading hundreds of ebooks on Amazon.com with text stolen from the comments on YouTube videos.”

The books had titles like Wierd song you cute by Timsest Pitigam. The fake names were also generated by the computer, so you’d end up with ebooks like Sparta my have by Loafrz Ipalizi. A writer at MIT’s “Technology Review” blog identified those as two of his favorite titles, calling the whole project “a masterpiece of machine-generated unintentional comedy.” But behind it all, the artists insisted, they were trying to make a point.


Somehow I ended up on a list of names of people looking for piracy protection services. This results in hilarious email. For example:

 

“Armed Piracy Defence also provides its own Armed Guard teams, under water security surveliance divers and commissioned
remote vessels that can escort slow ships, yachts or oil rigs ready for deployment within 48-72 hrs between any of the
25 major ports.”

“For as little as $3500-$3800/day for 3 guards, our experienced staff can give you the peace of mind you need to keep your
crew and cargo safe.”

 

ALL TO PROTECT BOOKS?! Awesome.

(I'm kidding, but the idea of deploying armed guards and divers to protect a digital shipment of books makes my brain chuckle.)

(That would make a great movie!)


And finally, I'm over at Kirkus Reviews today talking about three books I cannot wait to read- but alas aren't out quite yet. What books are you looking forward to this summer? Is there a book you absolutely cannot wait to read? 

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  1. 1
    M_E_S says:

    It’s not a romance, but I am literally counting down the days until I get the new Thursday Next book.  It doesn’t come out in the US until October, but I ordered a copy from Amazon UK to have it when it comes out July 12th across the pond.  The shipping was ridiculous BUT I SO DON’T CARE.

  2. 2
    snarkhunter says:

    I am so glad you said something about Ephron’s death. I knew I could count on this site for commentary. :) I gasped aloud last night when the news said she’d died. I’m in Seattle (well, west of there) at the moment, and so the news commentary focused on what Ephron did for Seattle, which is, of course, Sleepless in Seattle. One thing I think we lose with her, though, is smart romantic comedies. There are others who write them, but so many of them are so bad. Ephron didn’t dumb her stories down just because they were romantic. She made them smarter for it.

  3. 3
    Lisa Pegg says:

    Ooooh, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness comes out on July 10! And she’ll be at Books Inc Palo Alto on the 11th. The science squee is resounding.

  4. 4
    LauraN says:

    Piracy defense?  I’m seeing a romantic comedy of errors:  Brilliant but clueless author, beset by internet pirates, accidentally hires a man (a former Navy SEAL, of course!) to protect her houseboat, where she lives in a major port city.  Let the hijinks and sexytimes commence! 

  5. 5
    LauraN says:

    Also, he should probably blow shit up at some point.  Let pirates beware!

  6. 6
    Tamara Hogan says:

    I was quite verklempt when I heard about Nora Ephron’s death. In their remembrance, HuffPo posted the following excerpt from the same 1996 Wellesley commencement speech: 

    “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.”

    Rock on, Nora.

  7. 7
    Kate says:

    I will always love Heartburn the best of all her books.

  8. 8
    Nabpaw says:

    i was waiting desperately for Loretta chase’ new one, but it came in today!! so now I’m waiting desperately for Sherry Thomas’ new one!! I love it when all my favorite authors have new books at the same time!

  9. 9
    Michelle C. says:

    We could kick it up a notch, and make it 3 Navy SEAL guards, because that’s mentioned in the ad. And, the three guards are brothers, triplets (!), now let the sexytimes commence. And she must choose, but how can she becuse they’re all smoking hot. Ty is the oldest, thoughtful, reflective. Then Matt, he’s the jokester, and very cocky. The youngest is Heath, he’s the do-gooder.

    Of course if I was her, I would choose all three.

  10. 10
    Faellie says:

    Sadly, there is ship piracy off the Arabian gulf right now, with hundreds of crew being held hostage in Somalia and many of them being tortured and murdered for ransom.  I can understand Sarah’s joke a little bit, but the real thing is not funny, not sexy and is happening to real people right this minute.  It’s also making international trade more hazardous and more expensive (including moving oil tankers) and hurts the developed world economy all of us depend on.  Not enough people know or care about it.

    OK. rant over.

  11. 11
    LauraN says:

    Ok, we’ll make it a tragicomedy then.  *rolls eyes*

  12. 12
    LauraN says:

    A menage story?  You saucy minx!  As long as we don’t have a “I’m in ur ass, saving ur life” moment, I’m in.

    Hell, if computers in Berlin can self publish on Amazon, so can I.

    You know, I heard on NPR yesterday that some other computers have used youtube to teach themselves to recognize . . . cats.  That’s what they learned, apparently.  So computers are using youtube to self publish and recognize cats.  I don’t know where this is going, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anywhere good.

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    You’re right – actual piracy (by which I mean the example you state above, which is horrific) is a real and hideous problem. Digital piracy in comparison to nautical piracy seems… a word I can’t come up with right now. I thought it was funny that my writing about digital piracy has yielded several of the above messages regarding hiring armed guards to protect ships, and I receive several of these email messages a week. But I am sorry if my joking about it offended you.

  14. 14
    DesLivres says:

    I thought most of the internet and users of it was about cat videos.

  15. 15
    DesLivres says:

    Here’s what I don’t get (and this may probably be the most romance-irrelevant comment ever posted here) is that the secondary function of any Navy is to protect shipping, and we have a stack of navies. Why aren’t they escorting shipping convoys they way they used to?

  16. 16
    LauraN says:

    Excellent question.  They used to, back in the “golden age” of piracy, which is ok to write romances about, apparenly, because time makes it ok?  But joking about the absurd juxtaposition of online and sea piracy is wrong and insensitive?  Sigh.  I know that oversenstive people are part of the ying/yang of the internet and we need them or the internet would be all 4chan and porn, but really.

  17. 17
    Terrie says:

    Am I the only one who finds it annoying when people feel obligated to publicly chastise other people for making a joke that they don’t find funny?  I do believe there is such a thing as offensive humor.  It is humor that attacks and belittles.  It is meant to harm.  Some jokes are not meant to cause harm but trivialize other’s suffering.  I can also see that as a problem—particularly if the jokes are part of a climate that means the suffering will not be addressed as it could or should be.  Humor can be used in bullying and that also is something I believe deserves rebuke.  In all those situations (and certainly more than I can cover here), I believe it makes sense to discuss the humor at hand.  But I don’t believe that every time someone makes a joke on a subject that also has serious dimensions, it is an act of offense.  And I say this knowing that a discussion of what constitutes appropriate humor is far more complicated than I can tackle here. 

    Still, for example, my father died of Alzheimer’s and cancer.  His last weeks on earth were a particular nightmare.  For months afterward, I couldn’t even hear the word Alzheimer’s without tearing up.  I certainly didn’t find jokes about it funny.  I would expect from people who were close to me that they wouldn’t make those kinds of jokes.  I did not expect it from the world at large.  The fact that I was highly sensitized on the subject was my issue, not everyone else’s.  If I heard a joke or saw a movie that found humor in the subject, I did not feel personally attacked.  I did not think it meant the person making the joke didn’t take Alzheimer’s seriously.  I didn’t think it meant that funding for Alzheimer’s research would not be what it could be because people found humor in a dark subject. 

    Humor can be used to aid in cruelty.  I am certainly against that.  But in this particular case, nothing Sarah said diminished the significance of actual naval piracy.  It was merely pointing out the ludicrous gap between the offer being made and her own situation.  So, adding in my completely unsolicited two cents on the subject: no offense was intended, no offense was given, no chastisement was necessary, nor were apologies due. Wouldn’t it be possible to remind readers of the serious side of the subject without suggesting there was something wrong in making the joke to begin with?  Or am I getting this all wrong?  (Wouldn’t be the first time).

    I am curious what others think on this subject.  When are we right to chastise another for a joke we don’t find amusing?  And I also want to note that the criticism originally offered was done so in a tone that was completely respectful. 

     

  18. 18
    Emily A. says:

    I hate to break it to you, but actually it was Billy Crystal and not Nora Ephron who came up with the line “I’ll have what she’s having.” Rob Reiner the director was “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” and he reminded us of that fact,  but still she was a very gifted writer.

  19. 19
    Bnbsrose says:

    July was my scheduled Anne Mccaffrey’s Dragonriders Memorial Read, but now it’s turning into just Memorial Read Month as I’ve added “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. I hope I don’t have to add anyone else to the read list.
    As for what summer books I’m most anxious for?
    1. “Ravishing the Heiress” Sherry Thomas, July 2
    2. “A Dangerous Lianson with Dt. Lewis” Jillian Stone, August 28
    3. “Riveted” Meljean Brook, September 4 – just in time to go with me to Boston for my dad’s service reunion. Tin Can Sailors Rock!!!

    LauraN, I think there is a mistaken belief out there that because we’re having a good time we must be unaware that there’s a real world full of bad things and bad people and must be reminded repeatedly. Debbie Downer wasn’t created out of thin air.

     

  20. 20
    Bnbsrose says:

    Thanks Terri. You said it so much better than I did.

  21. 21
    Faellie says:

    Thanks for your lovely reply, Sarah, although you didn’t need to include an apology.  Like other commenters, I come here for fun and light relief.  It was a shock to me to see something here which is a small but difficult part of my professional life, and my comment came out of that.  I didn’t mean to start a row.

  22. 22
    Rebecca says:

    Hi, Terrie -

    Your question made me think about when I think people are out of line to complain about jokes they don’t find funny, and when I think it’s perfectly justified.  And I think I’ve come up with a distinction that works for me (personally): We are right to call people out when their “humor” depends on a set of unexamined assumptions we would like them to examine.

    I’m not comfortable with the idea of “chastising” anyone for making a joke, because I believe in free speech, and free speech has ever been the province of satirists and licensed fools.  “To chastise” implies punishment, but I don’t think it’s “punishing” someone to say “would you really find that funny if you thought about it from this point of view?”  That’s just pushing someone a little out of their mental comfort zone.  The person who made the original joke may then re-examine her assumptions and feel genuinely abashed and ashamed, OR may re-examine her assumptions and say, “yup, I see where you’re coming from, but it’s STILL funny.”  Or the “joker” may be unable/unwilling to examine his own prejudices, and instead get indignant and offended and whine about the “PC police” trying to spoil his perfectly innocent fun.  Since two out of three of those scenarios lead to respectful discussion and a more just world, without particularly preventing anyone from giggling about whatever they choose, I’m all for it.

    Thanks for making me think about this.

  23. 23
    laj says:

    Not nice.

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