The Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis


This is not the kind of thing I usually read. I’m not typically a reader of essays, and – though I am Southern – I’m not intrinsically drawn towards Southern stories. That is why I am so grateful for bookstores, where I stumbled across this collection by Helen Ellis. The title (and the cover) got me to pick it up, but the first page made me snort as my thumb and index finger came immediately together to turn the page. This is the kind of bookstore moment we crave, right? I knew I’d leave with something that 1. Was not “in my wheelhouse” (which as Ellis translates is Southern Lady Code for “comfortable.”) and 2. Was addictive.

In the tub over the next few evenings, I quickly binged this collection like you binge your new favorite Netflix series. A few sittings. A few “episodes.” You look forward to it. It’s over too soon.

Ellis’ series of thoughts, anecdotes and insights made me feel like I was hanging out with a witty and self-aware friend that shared distinctly Southern family background quirks. I wondered, “Does she actually have my Mammaw’s church cookbook at home?” and “I thought it was just my mom that taught me the power of ‘no thank you.'”

I was surprised that, in the essay on good manners in extreme situations, she left out that Southern Lady’s must leave the house tidy when leaving it …in case of death (because, you know, you wouldn’t want people to remember you as a slob). These are the sort of family secrets she seemed to know and share in this collection.

This insanely readable book of essays will definitely appeal to you if you are a “Southern lady,” or even if you aren’t. Read it if you are craving a cozy girl’s night in. Read it if you need a laugh. Maybe this essay collection is not for not for everyone, but you can see yourself being friends with the fictional likes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Lorelai Gilmore, you can be definitely literary friends with the non-fictional Helen Ellis.

I think I’ll go buy her other essay collections.

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