Imagine your funniest friend—the one who can take make you laugh with little more than a sideways glance. The one who can make light of even the direst of situations. Now imagine that friend sitting you down and regaling you with 12 of her trademark wonderful stories. That’s pretty much what it’s like to read Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light, a new book by Helen Ellis (Southern Lady Code).
In each of the book’s essays, Ellis tells stories about friendship and middle-age—even the not so glamorous parts (*cough* menopause *cough*). Conversational, witty and often poignant, the collection is one you’ll blow through while ear-marking pages to send to your group chat with your friends.
Though each piece has its merits, a few standouts include “Grown Ass Ladies Gone Mild,” “I Feel Better About My Neck” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Helen.” The first covers a trip to Florida Ellis took with a group of her childhood friends, where they decided they weren’t too old to plan an excursion to a water park. The second, a play on Nora Ephron’s classic I Feel Bad About My Neck, recounts the author’s experience getting a neck lift. The third, another literary nod—to Judy Bloom’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—tackles, with humor of course, the indignities of menopause, from hot flashes and weight gain to unfortunate and unexpected hair growth. (Menopause is like puberty, Ellis notes, except that during menopause, women are “the ones who get a mustache.”)
Though mostly light and breezy, Ellis does touch on some of the less sunny parts of life, from a friend’s breast cancer diagnosis (before a girls’ trip) to the strangeness of watching your parents age and cleaning out your childhood home.
Above all else, Ellis is an absolute joy to read. As she so superbly puts it in the essay “I’m a Believer,” “I was not put on this earth to make strangers take me seriously.”