Happy summer, Bacon friends! On my Top 3 list for June, you’ll find one book to make you laugh, one book to make you think, and one book that will make you glad your sister isn’t a serial killer.
Southern Lady Code, by Helen Ellis, is the funniest book you’ll read this summer, especially if you grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line. Southern Lady Code is “a technique by which, if you don’t have something nice to say, you say something not so nice in a nice way,” Ellis explains. Southern Lady Code covers a variety of situations, like when you accidentally take another lady’s coat at a party and – after your heroic efforts to find its rightful owner fail – you must buy yourself another coat…
After seventeen years of marriage, my husband is fluent in Southern Lady Code. An “investment piece’ is Southern Lady Code for costs more than a bedroom set, but you’ll wear it for decades. For me, it’s an insurance policy. I’ll never again take another woman’s coat by mistake.
In these witty essays, Ellis reflects on important things like how to tell an entertaining story at a dinner party, what to do when a birthday party goes bad, and how to get along with your husband. She reflects on her mother and father, who raised her right in small town Alabama, and also tells stories about her Manhattan life now (where she enjoys a regular game of poker, loves her openly gay friends, and was once called “Peggy Sue” by a passerby). She keeps her hair colored a rich brunette, in keeping with the local Manhattan habit:
…Forty-and-older brunettes are as common as monogrammed SUV’s in the South… You do not see grey hair on the Upper East Side. Salt and pepper is for the dinner table.
With a light touch, she offers wise advice on such matters as “How to Be the Best Guest” and “When to Write a Thank-You Note.” Of course you already know these things if you’re a Southerner, but a gentle and funny reminder never hurts.
Here’s her tip on how to behave when you walk in on a construction worker doing something inappropriate in your apartment in New York (or even, I daresay, in your home in Nashville)…
What you do is freeze. The door to your bedroom is shut and from behind it is coming a lot of heavy breathing. You tell yourself he’s watching a Bruce Willis movie on his iPhone on his lunch break. You’re tempted to swing open the door and holler, “YIPPEE-KI-YAY…!” But then you hear what sounds like an otter stuck in a pickle jar.
You do not open the door.
You do not reprimand the construction worker through the closed door.
You do not clear your throat or call out, “I’m home!”
You leave the premises and make a phone call.
This is what a smartphone truly is for. Not for Instagramming pictures of the sky outside your airplane window or asking Siri what year Die Hard came out. A smartphone is for calling your interior designer from a street corner to tell him to call his employee and tell him to go. Ladies who confront masturbators in their apartments get murdered.
Manners keep you safe.
And Helen Ellis will keep you laughing!
Heather Rose has different goals in The Museum of Modern Love, a book you might call a “novel of ideas.” It is, after all, set mostly in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and it considers the peculiar power of a certain piece of performance art. A novel of ideas fails – and might as well be some other work of nonfiction – if its characters only serve as window dressing. The Museum of Modern Love, instead, delights and enchants at every level. Based on Marina Abramovic’s art show in the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, the novel imagines the friendships that might grow between people who return to see her performance day after day. How – and why – does some art hold our attention and intrigue us? What does that art awaken in us? What does it ask us about ourselves? Art rarely aims to keep us safe.
But – sisters do. They aim to keep us safe, whatever it takes. Don’t they? My Sister, The Serial Killer takes us to Lagos, Nigeria, where we get to know the stunningly beautiful Ayoola and her responsible older sister, Korede. Ayoola has a bad habit of killing the men she dates – and Korede has a bad habit of cleaning up the mess. The author, Oyinkan Braithwaite, grew up in both Nigeria and the UK, and she writes with a dry British wit about strange things happening under the hot Lagos sun. In London and in Lagos, sibling relationships can be tricky. Bleach and rubber gloves are sometimes involved.
(Thank you, Agenia Clark, for this excellent recommendation!)
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What’s up at Bacon in the next few weeks?
Guest posts by Christina Apperson, Barby White, and Melissa Mahanes!
Also an interview with Margaret Renkl about her forthcoming Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, one of the most exceptional and beautiful books I’ve read in years.
Did you see her recent essay in the New York Times? “Let’s Hear it for the Average Child,” she says, in this season of graduations. Her prose simply soars.
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Next up on my reading list is a book recommended by Ann Marie McNamara:
I’ll also write about a book I didn’t care for but did finish. I usually put a book down if it’s aggravating me. Mary Miller kept me reading, in Biloxi, about a character I actively and thoroughly disliked. I want to give this some more thought. Am I glad I finished it? Was it worth the mental space I could have spent on a different book?
Mary Miller, Biloxi