Southern Lady Code

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I haven't read a book in under four hours in years, but Helen Ellis's "Southen Lady Code" broke that record. In two short hours, I was able to blast through her entire series of essays while chortling and highlighting all of her quick quips and advice on being a Southern Lady at heart in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. From marriage to traumatic childhood experiences that resemble the extremities on Arrested Development to stolen Burberry coats, Helen Ellis takes readers on a wild ride through her life while providing morals that only a Southern Lady could provide. Her mantra, "If you don't have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way," couldn't apply to this review at all.
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I chose this book because I am a Southern lady of the same age as the author.  I could relate to many of her high school stories from the 80s.  The advice from her mother was on point.  I still feel guilty if I don't write a thank you note.  I sill cannot wear white until after Easter.  Overall this was a short (single afternoon) and amusing read,
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This collection of essays was hit and miss for me, if only because some of the Southern Lady stereotypes have always bothered me as a southern lady. I loved the segments on manners, but my favorite essay might have been Serious Woman. Many of these are lighthearted to mildly outrageous, but this serious tale of supporting a friend felt the most right.
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I am currently reading this. I actually bought the audio and I love Helen witty sense of writing. I own her first book too and this is a book i would recommend to anyone
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If you don't have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way." 

Helen Ellis' cover quote sums up what it means to be a Southern Lady in a nutshell. Or at least, how Helen Ellis and I were raised, even though I am a few years older and have been away from the South longer. My mother and especially, my grandmother, did their darndest to make one of me but somehow I was never much good at it. I binge-read this collection of essays some of which are hilarious and others amusing, but all on target. I especially enjoyed How to Stay Happily Married which ends with "As long as your wedding ring fits, you haven"t let yourself go." Some of the other essays were not as relatable. Burberry coats, for instance, are not a part of my everyday life.

Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.
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I’m both a fan of short stories and of Helen Ellis’s previous work - American Housewife - so I was thrilled to learn of this new collection which, as a born and bred Southerner, seemed like a no-brainer. I should have counted how many passages I’ve highlighted within my copy; Ellis understands Southern culture so acutely and is able to laugh at the seemingly absurd (but extremely necessary!) lengths to which we, as Southern Ladies, have been instructed to go to in order to retain our sense of dignity and self-respect. There is no doubt that I will return to these stories often for a dose of laughter, empathy and fun.
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I loved this collection.  Simply put, as a southern woman I related so well to this.  Helen was witty, delightful and fun!  I will be recommending this one for a while.  I am not a fan of non fiction but this one is absolutely delightful.  In addition it is a quick read and one that you can pick up and put down when times are busy.  Lots of stars for this fun read.
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A light read with some giggles for anyone who knows southern women. I like the idea of an Alabama southerner serving onion dip and cheese log to their friends in Manhattan but had a hard time identifying with coats around $1k.. must be a different south from mine!
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Ms. Ellis gives us a series of biographical essays. Some touch on her own life, some are a list of instructions, all are highly entertaining. She gives young girls instructions on what to look for in a man (hint: nothing from the Bachelor), she talks about living in New York (it is definitely a privileged life but she doesn't hide that), and talks about aging. 
I wish it had been longer but I don't regret reading it.

Four stars
This book came out April 16th
ARC kindly provided by publisher and NetGalley
Opinions are my own
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I raced through this book and enjoyed it immensely.  Being Southern myself I related so well to may of the essays.  The author certainly has a witty and snarky way of telling a story. 
Many thanks to Doubleday Books and to NetGalley for providing me a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Ellis’s short story collection, American Housewife (my review), was hit and miss for me, but the hits led me to believe I’d love her brand of nonfiction social commentary. And, I was mostly right! Ellis has an inappropriate, outrageous sense of humor (my favorite!). And, pairing it with her spot-on social commentary on the South can be magic. Ellis now lives in New York, which I think gives her some necessary perspective on the South that makes her commentary even better. She covers marriage, thank-you notes, general etiquette (courtesy of her mother), and crazy stories from her childhood a la Jenny Lawson (I loved these).

Some of these essays are outrageously funny, while some are still fairly outrageous (but less so for Ellis), but also poignant. And, the ones with some poignancy were my favorites. She writes poignantly about her decision to be child-free in “Free to Be…You and Me (and Childfree)” and her friend Meredith’s work as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx in “Serious Women.” And, her social commentary shines in “Party Foul” (a crazy story from her childhood) and “Emily Post for the Apocalypse” (her mother’s view on manners for “extreme situations”). The only mis-step for me was the mini-essays that are collections of one-sentence thoughts on a topic…these just didn’t work for me and broke up the rhythm of collection. Southern Lady Code was exactly the balm I was looking for following the immersive experience of Miracle Creek!
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Thank you NetGalley for this review copy.  Every so often I need a break from heavy reading, and Southern Lady Code was just what the doctor ordered.  I saw Helen Ellis on her book tour, and then I raced through these hilarious essays.  She does a great job and breaking down stereotypes, but also embracing the importance of culture and place.  Some essays are laugh out loud hysterical, and others touching.  I thoroughly enjoyed this fun glimpse into Southern life!  If you are Southern (or not!) I highly recommend.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Books for providing this DRC in exchange for an honest review.

As a southern transplant, when I saw this book, I knew I had to give it a read to educate myself better on the Southern Lady ways. I already picked up on a few things, including "Bless your heart" meaning, "you silly fool." When Doubleday approved my request, I squeaked with excitement, finished up a handful of books I was reading, and then dove right in.

It took me two days to zip through Southern Lady Code, and I had to physically restrain myself from laughing out loud in public. Ellis was born and raised in Alabama, who then went on to attend college in Colorado before officially moving to NYC. Pulling lessons from her southern roots, she gives the reader a collection of short essays about how to respect the Southern Lady Code, and what the meaning behind certain terms and phrases translate to. As the cover of her book states:

    "Southern Lady Code: noun. A technique by which, if you don't have something nice to say, you say something not-so-nice in a nice way."

I wish I could quote the plethora of additional phrases for you, as I highlighted and noted so many that made me laugh or nod in a "ah-ha!" way, but I'd be spoiling many of the chapters within. The stories she told surrounding those phrases were so honest and relatable, and more often than not, I found myself wanting to take notes so that I too could behave like a southern lady. Keeping the house spotless a-la Marie Kondo instead of being messy, or writing thank you notes for any occasion in which you wish to expect gratitude- those are things that abide The Code.

Ellis writes in an effortlessly clever style, with charm and humor that makes the reader feel as if you were having a conversation. She sets up each chapter with a statement that pulls you in, then keeps you hanging on every word so as not to miss the punchline or the lesson of her statement. She's also very confessional in a subtle way, giving glimpses of her most private experiences. I admired that she didn't put on a facade to make herself seem like the perfect example of a Southern Lady, but outwardly admitted her faults and struggles, then revealed how she faced them.

Ellis has created a new fan, and I am eager to get my hands on a copy of this book- not only to share with friends, but to flag up for inspiration on how to be a supportive friend, a "best guest" at events, and when to know how to splurge on an investment piece for my wardrobe... as well as use the proper vernacular in my Kentucky home.

(This review will be posted on my blog on May 8, 2019 at
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Helen grew up in Alabama and moved to New York City with her husband, Nate. Like any Southern lady, she knows how to say something mean in the nicest way possible, in order to avoid offending the person she intends to speak badly about, bless her heart! In the essays in this book, she tells stories about her life from childhood through adulthood in a way that makes the reader feel like they were there with her or wished to have been along for the ride. Lots of laughs in this one!
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Helen Ellis is back, with a bite. The acidic, acerbic writer who brought us American Housewife has returned with new essays in Southern Lady Code. Breaking down the old Southern myths and wives’ tales, Ellis decodes and demystifies the magic of being a Southern lady:

“Put together” is Southern Lady Code for you can take me to church or Red Lobster and I’ll fit in fine.

“It’s an heirloom” is Southern Lady Code for cold steel and gun powder.

“Showing him the ways of womanhood” is Southern Lady Code for tongue. 

As I was reading these short bursts of sage frivolity, I couldn’t help comparing them to those in American Housewife. These felt more true-to-life, more honest, so I looked at the cover. Sure enough, where American Housewife was labeled “Stories,” Southern Lady Code says “Essays.” So when she talks about seeing ghosts, doing jigsaw puzzles, and  the time her father hired a gunman to scare her and her friends, all that really happened, as opposed to declaring war with a neighbor in an expensive Manhattan apartment over the decor of the hallway (one of my favorites from American Housewife!) or dumpster diving with celebrities. 

A Julia Sugarbaker for a new age, Helen Ellis is a true delight. Start here, with Southern Lady Code, and then move on to her other books and follow her on social media for even more spot-on observations that leave you nodding and giggling at the same time (or is that just me?). 

tl;dr More Helen Ellis, please! 

Galleys for Southern Lady Code were provided by Doubleday Books through NetGalley, with many thanks.
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This is a laugh out loud book.  I have already ordered the print version I enjoyed it so much.  It's a book I will be around to display on my bookshelf, maybe even right next to my copy of Gone With the Wind.  I will be telling my friends about it too.
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What a funny book, her writings remind me of Erma Bombeck.  You don’t have to be Southern to enjoy this as any woman can relate to what she talks about.  A shear delight that will be a hit with book clubs.
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Southern Lady Code gives us a peek into what it is to be a lady.

Imagine me crossing my legs daintily and lifting my teacup while saying “lady.”

While it doesn’t have the same venom and bite of American Housewife, Southern Lady Code gives us more down-to-earth tips and tricks on surviving as a lady in a man’s world.

Some of the tips and observations here are hilarious. For example:

“And then came Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Or as I like to call it: “Surprise, You’re Still a Hoarder!”
Helen Ellis, Southern Lady Code

Yep. I’ve had that feeling.

The real-life wife portrayed here is a bit softer than the fictional one in American Housewife. A bit more compromising, sometimes old-fashionedly so. She urges us to incorporate the football foam finger into lovemaking on Superbowl Sunday and tells us what it is to be properly put together.

I may be a bit biased in Ellis’ favor, though. I am a grandchild of a proper southern lady. 

My Grandmere, Rubye, was a force. She sold mass amounts of Tupperware and attended Eastern Star meetings in formal dresses she sewed herself. 

Southern ladies live on. And they are fabulous.

Many thanks for Netgalley and Doubleday Books for providing an advance e-reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Being raised in the South, I was really looking forward to this book.  I was captured by the line "If you don't have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way" which seems right on target.  

The book is a collection of essays and a quick read.  I was expecting a laugh-out-loud read, but I didn't find the book to be all that humorous.  I also didn't find the collection to be consistent across all the essays.  I enjoyed some more than others.  She does capture some of the uniqueness of characteristics of the South, but I felt they could have been expressed more humorously.  I am in the minority in my views of the book, because a lot of others found it to be very humorous.

If you like books about the South, you might want to give it a try.
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Helen Ellis makes me laugh out loud. If you can use some of that, you may want to read this book. Thanks go to Doubleday and Net Galley for the review copy. 

Southern Lady Code is a title that carries a code of its own.  Some people use the word “lady” to describe European royalty; some to describe a courteous woman, which is what I anticipated here; and some use it to describe a well-mannered woman with a very comfortable income, which appears to be the author’s operating definition. In terms of the “code,” I thought I’d be reading straight satire, but discovered that she has provided a combination of self-help tips and searing, sometimes raucous humor. It works surprisingly well. 

I have never made a cheese log before or wanted one, but Ellis’s recipe sounds so persuasively delicious that I may try it. That said, my favorite essays were short on advice and long on humor. I nearly hurt myself laughing over the construction man she found masturbating in her bedroom—did I mention that she gets a little edgy here?  And “The Ghost Experience” is massively entertaining.  There’s a lot of good material here.  Though at times her outlook is a little more conservative than my own, I like the things she says in support of gay and trans friends. 

Ultimately, I suspect that I am not the target audience for Ellis, who in her middle-aged years is dispensing life skills wrapped in bountiful amounts of humorous anecdotes. She is writing to her peers and to those women younger than herself.  I am ten or twenty years older than this woman, but I still came away impressed. So, ladies and women, if you can look past the assumption of a greater-than-average income, you’ll have a good time here, and if you can’t, try to get this collection at the library and read selectively, because more of these essays will resonate than not, for all of us. 

I rate this book four giggles, and it will be available to the public tomorrow, April 16, 2019.
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