One of my 2019 New Year's resolutions is to read two books per month (24 for the year). My first pick for the month of June was Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis. I learned about the book on Cup of Jo. My favorite writer for the site, Caroline Donofrio, recommended it (and convinced the whole team to read it). Since I adore Caroline's writing, I figured her taste in books must be spot on too, and promptly purchased the book.
Southern Lady Code is a collection of 23 essays that share Ellis' musings on the world, which are a delightful blend of Southern charm and New York City grit.
Raised in Alabama, much of Ellis' point of view was formed as a young girl, as she absorbed the rules of society through her mother. In an essay titled "When to write a thank-you note," she explains:
"'Did you write your thank-you notes? Is a Southern lady's 'Good Morning.' Mama said it to me after birthdays, Christmases, and countless other occasions when someone gave me a gift or a gift of their time. Now I say it to myself. It's like a mantra. Instead of Om, I wake up and think, Did you write your thank-you notes? If the answer is no, the writing of the note is my meditation.
I don't write thank-you notes every day, but I do write them for dinner parties or a special night out with a friend. When it comes to marriage, they should amend the bride's vows. Do you promise to love, honor, and write thank-you notes? You do. Do you have to write a thank-you note to your husband for picking a squirrel corpse out of the roof gutter? You don't. But it would be nice."
As someone who was also raised by a mother who was militant about thank-you notes, this chapter had me laughing out loud.
As an adult, Ellis moves to Manhattan. With the pressures of Southern life thousands of miles away, she begins to accept that she and her husband may not want to have kids. In "Free to be . . . you and me (and childfree)," she reveals:
"Not having children is one of the nicest surprises of our lives. We do what we want, when we want. We do for each other. We do well for ourselves. We enjoy life's little pleasures. For my husband this means playing softball for six hours every Saturday and Sunday like he has since he was twenty-one. For me, it means sitting uninterrupted on my toilet every morning and working the New York Times crossword puzzle until I fill in every square or my legs go numb."
When I was about half way through the book, I was talking to one of my best friends on the phone and I said, "It's like a lady version of David Sedaris." Well, imagine my shock (and happiness) when I finished the book and reached the acknowledgements section at the very end, which concludes with:
"And last but certainly not least: thank you to Mr. Haris - my husband, Lex - who reads me David Sedaris in bed. You are my Hugh. My every essay is a love letter, and I'm in love with you."
I knew it! I could feel the Sedaris influence in every one of her stories.
I so enjoyed this book. I devoured it in two sittings. If you have any summer vacation coming up, this is an ideal pool or beach read. You'll be cackling from your lounge chair.