Over the past year or so I’ve developed a new-found appreciation of books of essays. I think it all began with Marina Keegan’s ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’, which sent me down a rabbit hole of pleasing, concisely-written discourses on everything from the tyranny of possessions (E.B.White) to litter picking (David Sedaris).
The joy of a book of essays is that is offers a satisfying burst of instant gratification. You can pick it up, read a carefully composed insight into the writer’s life and thoughts, and pop it down again feeling you have achieved something, all in under 15 minutes. I also take great pleasure in tight writing. Essays (and short stories) bring me so much joy for this reason: the editing is done, the message is clear, the use of words is economical. There are no baggy sentences. No excess words.
And in these few considered words, the best writers can evoke moments in their lives that mirror our own.
One of my favourite essays, for all of the above reasons, is ‘I hate my purse’ by Nora Ephron, taken from her collection ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’. I mention all of this now, as it was to this essay my mind leapt today as I popped out of the house to grab a coffee before my 11:30 am meeting, grabbing my bag as I left.
When I opened it to pull out my debit card I encountered two of Florence’s oat bars, a small container half-filled with raisins, a blue knitted monkey, a tube of bubbles, a pair of child’s sunglasses (now too small even for Florence), my headphones intertwined with my keys, two Burt’s Bees chap-sticks (one yellow, one red), a pen, a nail-bar loyalty card (half-filled with stamps), a snail shell, a bottle of hand sanitiser (a new essential in these times of global pandemic) and (luckily) my debit card. My bag is approximately the size of a large hardback book which makes this inventory all the more impressive in my mind.
And what was it Nora Ephron had to say of such a miscellany? I have included an extract below for you to enjoy:
This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in some way match what you’re wearing).
This is for women whose purses are a morass of loose Tic Tacs, solitary Advils, lipsticks without tops, ChapSticks of unknown vintage, little bits of tobacco even though there has been no smoking going on for at least ten years, tampons that have come loose from their wrappings, English coins from a trip to London last October, boarding passes from long-forgotten airplane trips, hotel keys from God-knows-what hotel, leaky ballpoint pens, Kleenexes that either have or have not been used but there’s no way to be sure one way or another, scratched eyeglasses, an old tea bag, several crumpled personal checks that have come loose from the checkbook and are covered with smudge marks, and an unprotected toothbrush that looks as if it has been used to polish silver...
This is for women who find it appalling that a purse might cost $500 or $600—never mind that top-of-the-line thing called a Birkin bag that costs $10,000, not that it’s relevant, because rumor has it you can’t even get on the waiting list for one. On the waiting list! For a purse! … that will end up full of old Tic Tacs!
This is for those of you who understand, in short, that your purse is, in some absolutely horrible way, you. Or, as Louis XIV might have put it, but didn’t because he was much too smart to have a purse, Le sac, c’est moi.
Read on in Nora Ephron’s ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman’.
I love to write. Not to be read especially, which may seem counterintuitive, but to shape words into neatly formed sentences; to mould sentences into paragraphs and run paragraphs into pages. To chop and edit and move and manipulate. To capture the world in lines, dots and spaces with the potential to evoke memories and […]