"Three Books ..." is a new series in which we invite writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme.
When I was growing up in Yazoo City, Miss., my mother wasn't much into housekeeping or cooking. But she did teach me one thing: How to tell a real engraved wedding invitation. Thus at an early age began my lifelong obsession with weddings.
On this one, I am not alone; Southerners love weddings. Even those rebels who run off to Telluride to get married in hiking boots are the exceptions that prove the basic point: There's a whole body of lore about weddings and how our people do them. Such as: You don't send cards telling people where you're registered. And you never, ever, have a cash bar at the reception.
But enough with etiquette; let's get to the "I do's." Here are my three books about weddings:
Otherwise Engaged, by Suzanne Finnamore, paperback, 224 pages
For a more contemporary satire, go check out Suzanne Finnamore's 1999 novel, Otherwise Engaged. In it, 36-year-old protagonist Eve orchestrates getting her divorced, live-in lover Michael to propose, then spends the rest of the volume running around San Francisco freaking out about the wedding. This book's been labeled "chick lit," but it's a lot more thoughtful than that, with lots of digression about Michael's ex-wife and daughter, Eve's psychotherapy, and the amount of Valium in the bathroom cabinet. Well before Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, Eve is a successful advertising executive who drives a sports car and wears $20 Donna Karan hose but is as earnest — and as amusingly unhinged — in her desire for marriage as anybody else.
These days, there is no guarantee that our children will grow up to follow our wedding traditions or even will marry in the religion we raised them with, although I am trying hard on that one. I tell you one thing, though: My son will never have a cash bar at the reception.
Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.
'Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch that Bouquet'
Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch that Bouquet, by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, hardcover, 272 pages
For those raised elsewhere, Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch that Bouquet is a handy guide to hosting the perfect wedding — Southern style.
Written by Gayden Metcalfe and her fellow Mississippi Deltan, Charlotte Hays, this book is both a hilarious read and a real, practical resource, with recipes like sausage cheese balls and shrimp remoulade. While it's heavy on the social conventions of what some folks call "Whisky-palians," it also makes a point I've not seen cited lately anywhere else, which is that a Southern Baptist wedding where no alcohol is served can be as high-society and tasteful as anything else.
Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth, paperback, 320 pages
Southerners also love weddings that are absolutely nothing like the ones they grew up with. One of the best portraits of a wedding that perfectly exemplifies its time and place is found in Philip Roth's wondrous 1959 novella, Goodbye, Columbus.
Tag along with working-class librarian and ex-philosophy major Neil Klugman as he woos the careless Brenda Patimkin against the golf courses of Short Hills, N.J. Poor Neil still lives back in Newark — from which Brenda's family had fled after their bathroom sink business took off — and the whole novel is a study in the class rifts that money creates. When Brenda's brother announces that he will be getting married very, very suddenly — and this being the 1950s, you know why — Neil gets to participate in a lavish, all-night hotel wedding that underscores the rewards and costs of "making it" out of the old neighborhood.