Southern Lady Code (Ellis)

Southern Lady Code: Essays 
Helen Ellis, 2019
Knopf Doubleday
230 pp.

A fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: "If you don't have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way."

Say "weathered" instead of "she looks like a cake left out in the rain." Say "early-developed" instead of "brace face and B cups." And for the love of Coke Salad, always say "Sorry you saw something that offended you" instead of "Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants."

In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen.

While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
Education—M.A., New York University
Currently—lives in New York City, New York

Helen Ellis is the author of two novels, a collectiion of short stories, and one of essays. She is also a world class poker player.

Her first novel, Eating the Cheshire Cat (2001), is a dark comedy written in Southern Gothic fiction style. It tells the story of three girls raised in the South and the odd, sometimes macabre, tribulations they endure.

Her second novel, The Turning Book: What Curiosity Kills (2010), is a "teen vampire" story about a 16-year-old girl from the South adopted into a wealthy New York City family. The book's plot includes shape-shifting, teen romance, and the supernatural.

Ellis's story collection, American Housewife (2016) contains 12 stories that turn the stereotypical housewife ideal on its head. Each one centers on the trials and tribulations of a particular housewife.

In addition to writing, Ellis also competes in high-stakes poker tournaments. Passionate about poker from the time her father first taught her the game when she was six, she began playing in tournaments in 2008. Two years later, she won $20,000 at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
A year later, fellow author Colson Whitehead (Sag Harbor, etc.) hired her as his coach in the World Series of Poker. He wrote about the expperience in his book The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death (2014).

(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/3/2016. Also from a 12/22/2015 New York Times article.)

Book Reviews
Helen Ellis returns with an essay collection about shifting moral codes as seen through the lens of her Southern upbringing.… [Her] sense of humor and honesty never fail to charm.
Wall Street Journal

Prepare yourself for some off-the-wall hilarity… Ellis is fun—like the Nutter Butter snowmen she serves at her retro holiday parties.

Good advice and great reading.… Ellis kills, whether on the page or at the poker table.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Expecting out-of-town guests who need schooling in the ways of the South? Hand them a copy of Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis.
Augusta Chronicle

With a voice that’s equal parts Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, this Alabama-raised, NYC-honed author should be your new woman crush.… Full of piss and vinegar and hilarious one-liners that beg to be read aloud. Best of all, Ellis—a woman of spiky, unrepentant complexity—makes the case for living according to no one’s rules but your own.
Family Circle

It’s hard to adequately describe these delightful autobiographical essays. Maybe that’s because Alabama-born Ellis’s take on Southern manners and mores is a unique blend of sardonic and sincere. More likely because it’s difficult to formulate sentences when you’re laughing this hard.

A vibrant storyteller with a penchant for the perverse… Ellis shares her mother’s etiquette advice for handling street crime… and tells of her father staging pretend gun violence to liven up a birthday party. Ellis is a strong, vivid writer—and this book is gut-busting funny.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) By turns lighthearted and heart-wrenching.… Reminiscent of each character from the TV sitcom Designing Women, Ellis’s wonderfully amusing writing is hard to put down, and this book is no exception.
Library Journal

Ellis is a hoot and a half, which, as she might say, is Southern Lady Code for "laughing 'til the tears flow" funny. In nearly two-dozen essays filled with belly laughs and bits of hard-won wisdom, Ellis’ self-deprecating wit and tongue-in-cheek charm provide the perfect antidote to bad-hair, or bad-news, days.

Humorous essays from a sassy Southern gal.… The author's brand of humor is subtle and mostly unforced. Her one-liners… and consistently droll remarks keep the amusement factor high and the pages turning. Feisty, funny, lightweight observations on life Southern-style.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for SOUTHERN LADY CODE … then let the conversation roll:

1. Begin by talking about Helen Ellis. How would you describe her? Funny, yes. But what else?

2. Which of the essays did you enjoy the most? Let everyone select a favorite and talk about why.

3. Does Ellis's conception of life, the manner in which one treats others, her depiction of Southern etiquette, her attitude toward marriage (and her husband) ring true … have resonance to you? Do you find semblances to your own life in any of her essays… or not? Are there points which you found yourself disagreeing with her?

4. What is Ellis's attitude toward Southern women and their "code"? Does she defend the Southern way of life ... make fun of it? Is her tone one of affection or is it critical and demeaning?

5. And of course, talk about her humor, pointing out some of the funniest lines or situations.

(Resources by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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