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A little bit of Reese, just not enough

Reese Witherspoon celebrates her Southern heritage in Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love & Baking Biscuits, her first book.

A little bit of Reese, just not enough
Book: Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love & Baking Biscuits Author: Reese Witherspoon

BOOK REVIEW

Actor and producer Reese Witherspoon has always seemed proud of her Southern upbringing, having paid homage to her roots in some of her acting gigs like Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Walk the Line (2005) as well as her South-inspired lifestyle brand Draper James.

She now celebrates her Southern heritage in Whiskey in a Teacup, her first book, in which she shares the customs, traditions and cuisine of the region where she grew up.

The book serves as a memoir, a lifestyle guide, and a cookbook all in one, putting together recollections from Witherspoon’s life with beauty, style and decoration tips as well as recipes from her family and friends.

The American performer recalls her idyllic childhood in Tennessee and what it taught her about family, hospitality, and togetherness. She talks about some of her favourite Southern traditions, ranging from “midnight barn parties to backyard bridal showers, from magical Christmas mornings to rollicking honky-tonks”. Her grandmother, Dorothea, is referenced throughout the book; she evidently helped shape Witherspoon’s personality and clearly meant a lot to her granddaughter.

The writer also details how she keeps her house and how she entertains, sharing some of her tips for everything from party planning and hosting a book club to her hot-roller technique and telephone etiquettes.

Accompanying all the childhood anecdotes and everyday guidelines are standard Southern recipes – many of them from Dorothea’s kitchen – for dishes like casseroles, pies, biscuits, cakes, teas, and salads.

Witherspoon’s sweetness shines as she lovingly pays tribute to her beginnings by taking a brief look at the various facets of the South and how it influenced her life. But in trying to be so many things at once – a collection of personal reminiscences, a lifestyle manual, and a recipe compilation – Whiskey in a Teacup fails to do justice to any of these aspects.

Repeating well-known generalizations about the American South does not an interesting book make; you can probably learn more about the region by reading about it online. Her lifestyle advice basically comes down to common sense. And if you want a Southern cookbook, you’d be better off getting a proper Southern cookbook.

Teacup doesn’t function as a comprehensive biography either. The anecdotes in the book are pleasant but mostly not very significant, and they don’t reveal much about Witherspoon. There are no real honest, frank discussions or confessions here. Her viewpoint comes from a position of privilege. The actor either doesn’t have an inspiring story to share or simply doesn’t want to share it. The career lulls and personal setbacks – like the end of her marriage to Ryan Phillippe and the infamous “Don’t you know who I am?” disorderly conduct arrest episode with her current husband Jim Toth – that she has been through don’t get a mention here. The book just focuses on maintaining the image that the actor has meticulously cultivated through her entire career. Even the catalogue-esque photos that accompany the text seem posed and staged instead of candid snaps.

If you want to read about Reese Witherspoon’s love for monograms, how she makes her casseroles, and why she feels pets are an important part of the household, then this is the book for you. The actor brings her Southern charm to the project but doesn’t bring any particularly original or creative content. The magazine-styled coffee table book reads like it was written by someone who didn’t want to have to write a whole book but wanted to publish one anyway. This quick read will entertain her fans but for the rest of us, there simply isn’t much depth here. A more detailed, nuanced look at the subject matter or a proper biography would have been a lot more interesting and rewarding.

Sameen Amer

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