ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Three Books is our new reading series in which we ask writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme. We are still in the sixth month of year, June. It's the month of weddings, and writer Caroline Langston has three books that she says you should say I do to.
CAROLINE LANGSTON: When I was growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, my mother wasn't much into housekeeping or cooking, but she did teach me one thing: How to tell a real engraved wedding invitation.
Southerners love weddings. 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.
Now there is a handy guide for those who were raised elsewhere: "Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch that Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding." Written by Gayden Metcalfe and her fellow Mississippi Deltan, Charlotte Hays, this book is both hilarious 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.
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, New Jersey. 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 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.
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.
SIEGEL: Writer Caroline Langston lives in Cheverly, Maryland, and you'll find details about these three books, plus a recipe for that Southern wedding specialty sausage cheese balls, in the book section of our Web site: npr.org.
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