Here’s to questions that meet their answers

I love Nora Ephron’s work. Nearly everyone who knows me knows how much I adore her movies–or if they don’t know, they surely wouldn’t be surprised by it. I love her work so much, in fact, that I spent last night cooking and mentally singing the soundtrack to You’ve Got Mail. (OK, she didn’t write the soundtrack. But Nora Ephron’s movies are the sort that have soundtracks that stick with me. So there’s that.)

Even so, I can certainly manage a giggle when a writer I admire makes a gaffe in a column. That’s one of the dangers of columns, isn’t it? Your words are intended for what’s hot that day or that week. They may not hold up over time.

The general sentiment of “How to Write a Newsmagazine Cover Story” (Esquire, October 1975, reprinted in Scribble Scribble: Notes on the Media) passes that test. It’s a snarky instructional guide on how to become a writer. (“Reporters have to learn how to uncover FACTS. This is very difficult to learn in your spare time. There are also serious journalists. But serious journalists have TALENT. …”)

Ephron mercilessly pokes at Time and Newsweek writers, listing example after example of how to do as they do. (“Find a subject too much has already been written about.”) “Try, insofar as it is possible, to imitate the style of press releases.”) And the column is very funny.

But it’s also funny to watch one of my heroes, whose screenplays so accurately depict relationships, step so far afield. Rule No. 2 in this how-to guide is “exaggerate the significance of the cover subject.” As with each rule, Ephron includes examples from news magazine cover stories. In this case, those include Liza Minnelli, Francis Ford Coppola and Lauren Hutton.

You know what they say about hindsight. I only hope seeing a great writer like Ephron’s mis-predictions will someday help me take my own in stride.

I also love Esquire so much that I recently forced a copy, featuring a half-naked Brooklyn Decker on the cover, into the hands of a date. “Read this,” I told him. “It’s brilliant.” That may qualify me for “best date ever” status, don’t you think? He emailed two days later, after reading it cover to cover, and affirmed my taste in magazines.

Oh, and the entry title comes from Tara Leigh Cobble’s “Here to Hindsight.”

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