Whiskey in a Teacup

review: Marla Cantrell
Reese Witherspoon
Touchstone |  303   pages  |  $35

When the world seems to be tipping into a tsunami of bad news and bickering, it’s a relief to find a book that’s as gentle as Reese Witherspoon’s Whiskey in a Teacup. The title comes from Reese’s grandmother Dorothea who described southern women as delicate as a teacup on the outside but fiery as whiskey on the inside. She appears throughout the book in old sepia photographs and in anecdotes from Reese, who talks about how her grandmother taught her manners, fashion, and the rules of being a lady.

Other members of Reese’s family show up in stories that delight. Her mother, Betty, a retired nurse, works as a hostess in a honky-tonk because she loves being around people. Her grandfather, Jimmy, was a World War II fighter pilot who loved gardening, and showing Reese the ropes as he harvested tomatoes and pruned roses. Her brother, John, shares his recipe for ribs and barbeque sauce. And her surgeon father, John, Sr., makes an appearance at the bowling alley where Reese became a stellar bowler. There are also stories about Reese’s husband, her three children, and her three dogs, one of which is named Hank Williams.

The stories of her childhood show a girl who wanted to grow up to be president and marry Willie Nelson. On picture day when she was in second grade, her mother, who believed you didn’t look awake without wearing blush, called Reese back to the car and applied so much blush to her cheeks that she looked sunburned in her class photos.

In the background is a wave of nostalgia that feels like a street lined with magnolias. As you step into Reese’s childhood, you can almost smell the Aqua Net hairspray, see the wide porches of her Tennessee home, feel the condensation on a mason jar of iced tea on a sweltering day.

It’s easy to get caught up in the look-behind-the-curtain tale of a star as big as Reese. But beyond that are practical tips on everything from the perfect way to style your hair with hot rollers to how to be the perfect dinner party guest.

The recipes, from family, friends, and Reese, make the book even more enticing, and many fall in the realm of old southern cooking. There are tips on celebrating the holidays, how to throw a barbecue, even how to be a do-gooder.

As my own grandmother would have said, it seems as if Reese was raised right. She is enthusiastic about decorating her home, putting a monogram on anything that’s not moving, and making sure she’s a good friend.

Whiskey in a Teacup is a beautifully designed book, with certain pages that look as if they’re printed on vintage wallpaper. It’s a great book to own and an even better one to give to someone starting out.

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