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Publisher's Summary

"I loved it." (Ann Patchett)

The best-selling author of American Housewife - "Dark, deadpan and truly inventive." (The New York Times Book Review) - is back with 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 23 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 listeners a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

Several pieces in this collection originally appeared in the following publications: “Making a Marriage Magically Tidy” in the New York Times column “Modern Love” (June 2, 2017); “How to Stay Happily Married” in Paper Darts (Winter 2017); “Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1979” in Eating Well (November/December 2017); “How to Be the Best Guest” as “An American’s Guide to Being the Best Guest” in Financial Times (March 2016); and “When to Write a Thank-You Note” in Garden & Gun (February/March 2018). 

©2019 Helen Ellis (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Thank you Helen Ellis for writing down the Southern Lady Code so that others may learn. As a Southern Lady myself, I can not only confirm the veracity of the facts, I can tell you the book made me laugh like a hyena. A true Southern Lady loves anything that is both funny and profound, which this book is, so I loved it.” (Ann Patchett)

“Helen Ellis’s Southern Lady Code lives between Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes and Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake. Ellis’s irreverent doses of humor are life lessons celebrating colloquial expressions, regional specialties and offering delightful commentary on everything from what should be served at cocktail parties to what should occur behind closed doors.” (A.M. Homes)   

"Sassy…her essays are like being seated beside the most entertaining guest at a dinner party. Ellis is a refreshing entry into the annals of women humor writers that includes Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck and Hollis Gillespie…[she] mines her Alabama heritage for all its worth, giving her essays a Southern spin that readers below the Mason-Dixon Line in particular will find relatable.” (Atlanta Journal Constitution

“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.” (People

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  • Overall
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Love the sassy, southern, narration!

Essentially a book of comedic essays written by a long time happily married southern woman now living in Manhattan. Funny, warm, personal, self deprecating, and focused at least in part, on aging. For me the best parts of the book are any of the times she quotes her mother who has spent years instilling good southern manners in her daughter. Each passage begins with her mother yelling...Helen Michelle! And is immediately followed by some tidbit of perfect advice. Her mom should write a book.

There are a couple of very jarring mentions of graphic violence, the worst is the description of a real murder, relevant because the author attended a murder trial to support her friend, the District Attorney. As well as some graphic descriptions of porn on Twitter. Both felt very out of place in a book of comedic essays. But most of the essays are about life, food, friendship, marriage, middle age, and of course manners. And I loved the narration, it was like Reese Witherspoon but turned up to 11 on the southern accent dial.

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False Advertising

She’s a great narrator with good inflection and cadence. I just don’t like her as a person. I wanted more actual southern lady code and less Manhattan socialite lore. I can tell she’s trying to be funny, but it seems disingenuous and self-serving. Overall, I give it a "Meh."

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The night the lights went out in Georgia!

As a “Yankee” I have always enjoyed southern humor, accents and stories - you name it! I grew up watching The Golden Girls and Designing Women with my Grandma and can proudly say that I still watch those programs today more than live or current television programs (thanks Hulu)! A southern woman (or man) can tell a story like no other! I enjoyed the list of essays and could relate to every one in some fashion and the presentation was spot on. I wanted to sit on the authors front porch and talk pillow talk for hours. This book had me at hello and knew I would love every word after the reference “the night the lights went out in Georgia”!

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For all the southern girls who no longer live in the south!

Loves the cadence of the book. Loved hearing the all about the should and should nots of social graces. Helen Ellis is right on with everything! I could listen to this over and over again! Now if I can only get my yankee husband to listen. I get teased where I live about my cooking, thank you cards and being completely dressed and ready it’s 9am even if I’m not leaving the house. The hissy fits I throw when the house is messy. Helen is truly relatable to all southern girls!

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Funny, charming and full of life lessons.

I enjoyed this book as it was a series of short vignettes that reflected every day life for many people. Listening to the author/narrator was like sitting at the Well worn kitchen table with your best friend and a glass of sweet tea.

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Fabulously Honest

I absolutely LOVED these essays! As a Southern Lady, I found Helen's honesty totally hysterical and genuine. I don't even mind that she "outs" some of our code language. I love the profanity sprinkled throughout...in public a SL would never curse, but with girlfriends one can be herself. And, when listening to these essays, you'll feel like you've been girlfriends with Helen since childhood. Listen, laugh, cry, and enjoy!

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Just OK

As a Southern woman, I know there is tons of material to work with for this book. Unfortunately, I found most of the humor flat or trite. It had the potential to be so much better.

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Loved Every Second!

I laughed out loud!! she does such an awesome job of sharing her experiences :)

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Southern Woman thinks we're interested in her

I definitely struggled to finish this one. I guess I have no interest in a former Southern woman's struggles. Oh well.

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Cute!

This is cute and funny until it gets tedious. However, really liked her piece covering the trial and her prosecutor friend. That's when things got real, and sometimes things need to get real. (note: I'm writing this during the pandemic, despite the book being published prior to it, and sh@+ is real right now.)