We’re Reading Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

We’re Reading Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

by Angela Garrison Zontek

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis is a literary cocktail of hilarious insights, snark, and shockingly good advice—best consumed with a vodka lemonade (and a shortbread cookie).

Helen Ellis is the beloved author of Eating the Cheshire Cat and American Housewife. In her latest book, Southern Lady Code, she speaks to her readers through a collection of humorous essays about the dilemmas and pitfalls of modern domesticity.  As a native Alabaman living in New York City, she brings all the tart charm and practicality of a Southern woman to the very big, real world problems of life in the city.


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Ellis is at her best when she shines a spotlight on the seemingly harmless rituals we perform on a daily basis, illuminating the mundane with her sharp wit and sensible nature. She relates her own personal experiences in an authentic way, if not slightly exaggerated for our own amusements.

Ellis is, unquestionably, a writer who works hard to perform for her readers (and undoubtedly, a devoted hostess to her guests). She’s devilish, in that she speaks of those unflattering little moments and thoughts we all have but dare not share with the stranger standing in line next to us at the grocery check-out.

Helen Ellis, Author

With her well-manicured finger on the pulse of what’s happening now in mainstream culture, and how it affects the lives of modern women, she addresses hot topics like minimalism, even speaking of its leader, Marie Kondo, along with such loaded-gun topics as smoking Marijuana, the “enjoyment” of pornography, and airplane (sexual) anxiety. She approaches these matters with true Southern grace, and a matter-of-factness that speaks of her upbringing, while making every story laugh-out-loud funny with a style that has   been uniquely cultivated by a life well lived and forged by experience.

What sets Ellis apart from other humorist authors is that she tackles the plight of modern domesticity and married life while never once choosing to say anything ugly (my mom’s word for mean or insulting). She forgoes the usual vitriol that typically accompanies the marriage jokes, and attempts to, well, try to reach her readers with a bit of sage advice.

Beneath each hilarious story about three-ways that never came into fruition, or overcoming her hoarding impulses, Ellis makes an effort to do more than just share her insights on maintaining quality relationships—she actively implores you to be grateful for what you have, and to do the work needed to keep it. Ellis is aware that she has your attention, and that she is here to entertain, but something that feels a lot like caring shines through all her tales of the weird and wild.

My favorite parts of the book are the conversations Ellis shares with her mother. Perhaps, because I’m a native Southerner, too, it was these inclusions that tickled me pink the most.

I could most certainly hear my grandmother advising me to count my blessings for landing a husband that never beat me with “a bag of oranges.” In fact, it’s my deepest, not-so-secret wish that Ellis writes her next book about her mother—fashioned as a self-help book for those impractical women who can’t seem to get their heads out of their own…bonnets. I think we all could make a laundry list of people who could use a little tough love and practical advice from a Tuscaloosa lady.

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis is a collection of hilarious essays on the daily ins-and-outs of a Southern woman living an interesting life in New York City. With an acerbic wit and a natural inclination for social grace, Ellis entertains her readers with tales of domestic mischief and social blunders. She invites you to sit down with her, not like with an old friend, but with that one neighbor, everyone has warned you about. She will make you laugh, cringe, and most importantly, think about why you shouldn’t sweat so much of the small stuff.

Grab a copy of the Southern Lady Code and let Helen Ellis whisper an outrageous story into your ear. She’s a hoot-and-a-half (that’s Southern Lady Code for funny as all heck).

Raised in Alabama, Helen Ellis lives in New York City.

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