''When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh.'' This might be Nora Ephron's most famous advice, widely quoted when the best-selling essayist and rom-com queen passed away last year at age 71. By that point, she'd spent decades transforming her worst moments into banana-peel jokes, making herself a hero instead of a victim and often turning the banana into a cream-pie recipe afterward. This hugely entertaining collection, The Most of Nora Ephron, includes classics like Ephron's novel Heartburn and her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally..., as well as columns, blog posts, and her final play, Lucky Guy. In the 1970 essay that opens the whole thing, she explains that she was well suited to becoming a journalist because she possessed ''a sense of the absurd that makes it difficult for me to take many things terribly seriously.'' But this book suggests that the opposite was true. What made Ephron great was that she took the very things seriously that others dismissed as frivolous: Cosmopolitan, Teflon, breast size, and, most of all, herself.
Many people already know how Ephron felt about her neck (bad) and what she'd miss when she died (bacon). But while these gems are included here, they're offset by the ruthless young Ephron, who skewered journalistic ethics at The New York Times and made Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown cry during interviews. Tracing her evolution from these hard-nosed early pieces to the later, vulnerable essays on aging makes this book even more moving. She seems to age backward, from a cynic to a willful Pollyanna, as she succumbs to myeloid leukemia, the illness she hid from friends. ''Denial has been a way of life for me for many years,'' she writes in one essay. In another, she warns, ''Never let them know.'' About what, she doesn't say. But it sounds like it's the one thing that this serious writer, in her hunger for life and all its bananas, never took seriously: death. A