Monday, 14 May 2012

Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes (Sandra Chastain et al.)

--The blurb--
"Come sit on the porch a spell. Let's talk about times gone by and folks we remember, about slow summer evenings and lightning bugs in a jar. Listen to the music of a creaky swing and hand-cranked ice cream and cicadas chorusing in the sultry night air. Let's talk about how things used to be in the South--and for some of us, they way they still are. Welcome to the world of Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes, where [...] authors Deborah Smith, Sandra Chastain, Virginia Ellis, Debra Dixon, Donna Ball and Nancy Knight come together for the first time to create this [...] collection of nostalgic tales. Here life's lessons are handed down [...] from eccentric relatives, outrageous pets and unrepentant neighbors, and served up with a generous dollop of that most valued of all Southern commodities: good old fashioned storytelling. From Mississippi to Georgia, from Florida to Tennessee, these daughters of the South will take you on a lush tour of the times and places they know best, each voice as refreshing and inviting as a glass of cold sweet tea on a hot afternoon. So come. Let us take you back. Let us take you home."

--The review--
With the rise and rise of self-help books, and in particular the Chicken Soup for the Soul series in America, it's hardly surprising perhaps that the warm and fuzzy style of the majority of these books should pervade the national consciousness. Upon reading Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes one is certainly reminded of this popular and successful series thanks to the emotive and confidential style in which these authors write. In spite of the title, the stories are not overly religious and so should not put off anyone who is not this way inclined.

The quality of the stories in this collection - which is the result of a collaboration by six different female authors - does inevitably vary. While some of the stories are overly saccharine for some tastes, there is without doubt more to this compendium than the tradition and trend started by the Chicken Soup series. Certain stories have a real "laugh-out-loud" aspect as well as a spiritual one, as the authors regale us with wacky tales of dotty relatives and slightly deranged pets. The texts are comforting and accessible without any feeling of dumbing down as we are told of situations we can all relate to, set in the slightly muggy heat of America's Deep South: whether it's trying to fit into a family as a new in-law, or trying to host a party that simply must go well, most readers will find something that rings true for them, whether they're reading from Alaska or France, Britain or India.

But alongside its humour, it is the purpose of this compilation that sets it apart from other tomes of its ilk. While many self-help books seek mainly to inspire (with any other side effects being secondary, accidental or peripheral) this collection not only motivates and touches us with heart-warming and amusing stories, but also, in equal measure, sets out to give us a true sense of place (and, furthermore, achieves this aim). In reading these tales, the reader is transported through the trials, tribulations, thrills and spills of other families just like theirs, and equally to the warm, friendly and tropical atmosphere of the South (giving me severe Florida-itis in the process; it's been now five years since I was last there). 

Simultaneously nostalgic and refreshing as promised, anybody wanting a dose of escapism, realism, humour and inspiration all in one book will surely find what they are seeking here.

Works by the same authors

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