Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mama Makes Up Her Mind

I loved, loved, loved this spunky, funny, classically southern book so much.  I really do love Southern books and this one, a memoir by Bailey White, a self-proclaimed spinster and her opinionated mother's adventures in northern Florida was priceless.

Bailey White came to public attention through NPR some time in the early 2000s.  I had heard her books recommended and widely praised for years and I finally decided that I needed to do something about the fact that I had never read anything by her.

This memoir is just collections of short stories loosely divided into categories.  The stories are funny and well-written and I felt that they were worth every minute of my time that reading them took up.  Bailey White still lives with her mother in the home where she was born.  Since writing this book, she has abandoned her job as an elementary school teacher to work on her writing.  This book is just stories of daily life that manage to be both hilarious and very commonplace at the same time.

I started the book somewhere public (can't remember where) and remember working very hard to keep from laughing out loud every 5 seconds.  You know that awkward sensation of realizing that pretty much everybody's eyes are on you as you sit grinning from ear to ear and chuckling to yourself?  Well, I had that sensation for pretty much the whole book.

The stories are varied-about White's old car that refuses to break down, about Mama, who finds a tick in her pantyhose on the way to a wedding and spends the whole drive there fussing about it, about the taxidermist next door who can't cook, so takes lessons from Mama.  Each of the stories are just a few pages, but this is not one of those books that you are going to read 5 pages of every day until it's finished.  Oh, no.  Be prepared to spend a large portion of your waking hours behind the covers of this book.

I think the best thing about this book is Bailey White's voice.  It is this voice that shines through in each story and it's the thing that draws all the stories together under a common theme.  It takes a lot of skill to develop a good writer's voice and I was impressed by how clear and likable White's was.

My favorite section was the category about White's teaching adventures.  I loved the story about teaching all of her students to read completely based on the story of the titanic.  Bailey White doesn't teach first grade anymore and I am sure that the loss of her presence at that school is felt.  I would have liked to see her in action, because, the way she talks, you can tell that she was truly devoted to her students and her job.

Southern books and southern writing is pretty prolific in the US.  There are always new southern novels and southern memoirs and southern cookbooks and southern...., but this one really does stand out.  I liked that the south was celebrated without being taken advantage or made fun of.  I think that Bailey White did a good job of this in large part because she lives there, she is an insider and, as such, knows all of the faults and gifts of the south.  It kind of drives me crazy when "outsiders" try to write Southern fiction.  It doesn't work and ends up either being condescending or just weirdly awkward.

If you like to laugh out loud and if you like good writing, then I urge you to please go and hunt this book out. I am only sorry that I am just now finding out about this wonderful writer.  I'm off to read Quite a Year for Plums, a work of fiction that Bailey White wrote.

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