Book Review: Nobody’s Cuter Than You

Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir About the Beauty of Friendship was released in April 2015, weeks after Mary & I had submitted our completed manuscript for the September-released Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink.

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Had we been aware of this book, we would have added it to our resource chapter. Had we read it, I would have wondered if my friend Mary had unconsciously picked up a phrase from it.

On page 16 of our book, Mary Jedlicka Humston looked back on our first meeting:

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On page 3 of Shankle’s book, she said much the same about her first meeting with her friend Gulley.

nobodys-cuter-than-you

I read Shankle’s wonderful book in one sitting, marveling at how much like the other Mary she was; forming female friendships with such ease. She was Mary JH, but with more money! Yes, I found myself wondering as I read her book what my life would have been like in elementary school if I’d had the wardrobe Shankle had. Is it easier to make friends with the right clothes, the hip hairstyle, and keys to a car handed to you on your 16th birthday?  It made me think of our Book Club discussion questions at the back of our book.

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Certainly having parents pay for college and access to Dad’s credit card made Shankle’s college days more fun than the years at UNI for either of the Marys, who had to pay their own way. I was a married woman my second year of college, had my first baby and worked part-time around my husband’s college classes and part-time job. There were no nights of partying, no groups of female friends. By the time I graduated college, I was the mother of four children, with four more to follow. When would I have had time for weekend road trips in which to bond with fellow females?  I found myself getting a little, um…jealous, and if you’ve read our book, you know that is a very uncomfortable feeling for me. I was even envious of Shankle’s fourth grade summer camp and the resulting turning point in her faith in Christ. I had to wait until age 51, and the loss of my mother for my own turning point in faith.

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Surprisingly, Shankle tackles the topic of jealousy in her book, too. Maybe one can’t discuss female friendship without broaching the subject. Perhaps everyone deals with envy at some point in their life.

The similarities between our books doesn’t end there. The author obviously shares a love of epigraphs with me. (the quotes of others at the beginning of each chapter). She also touches on loss, and the importance of being there for a friend.  Readers of Mary & Me know intimately of how my friendship with Mary deepened after I faced the loss of my husband.

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After reading Melanie Shankle’s memoir, I want to read her other books. I’m now a follower of her Big Mama blog. I want Melanie and her Gulley to sit down at a table with Mary and me to share a cup of tea (or coffee~ it is not clear which beverage this author prefers) and talk into the night about friendship, faith, jealousy, and what it means to be a Christian woman.

Readers will have a chance to win a copy of this book in the giveaway that I will be posting on our blog tomorrow.  Not only will we be giving away several books, a journal, and stationery, but a Barnes & Noble gift card is involved~  The giveaway drawing will be held next Sunday, September 18, which just happens to be National Women’s Friendship Day.

Pen to Paper, Artist’s Handwritten Letters

No one would mistake one of my letters as a work of art. Consider the missive I began this morning to my friend Mary.

letter to Mary

We stopped caring a long time ago what our letters to each other looked like. If neat handwriting, composition, and proper grammar had been a big concern of ours, we likely would have written much fewer than the thousands of letters that passed between us in the last 30 years.

Neither one of us remembers exactly how or when we decided not to keep each other’s letters, but the sheer volume of them had a lot to do with it. Where would one store such treasures that numbered in the thousands?

I do have a stash of letters I have saved; letters from my mother, siblings, a few from my grandmother, and many from my own children. Would my brother Bill be surprised to discover that I kept the letters he wrote to me when I was 16?

Bill letter

I thought then, and still do today, that my brother’s handwriting reflected an artsy soul. A 2009 letter from my nephew Garrett seemed a precursor to the talent he has since developed as an artist.  I discovered a similarly decorated envelope among my mother’s things after her death. She, too, saved his letter.

Garrett letter

All together, my saved letters number fewer than what Mary and I might have written in our first ten years of letter-writing, but they still take up a good space in the trunk where I store them. Handwritten letters are indeed a treasure trove, as attested by the stash I’ve kept in a trunk and in books like this one.

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Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, edited by Mary Savig, is truly a work of art in its own right.
A collection of letters by artists from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, the book reveals how letter writing can be an artistic act, just as an artist puts pen to paper to craft a line in a drawing. Brief essays explore what can be learned from the handwriting of celebrated artists such as Mary Cassatt and  Maxfield Parrish. Each letter is accompanied by an archival image of the artist or a related artwork, with a full transcription at the back. (I needed those transcriptions as the penmanship was difficult to decipher at times.)

I was surprised to see a Dubuque, Iowa art professor listed in the book. Sister Mary Paulita (Helen) Kerrigan, was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She devoted her professional life to painting and teaching, serving for 48 years as an art professor and artist-in-residence at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1962, she left Iowa to spend the summer studying at the Art Students League of New York, sketching in the streets of Manhattan and painting in a studio. This letter was her thank-you letter to noted painter and sculptor Charles Alston.

clarke college

Her handwriting demonstrates the Palmer Method of penmanship, popular especially in Catholic schools in the United States throughout the 20th century. Many of us remember the repetitive drills that brought us our own fluency in similar cursive handwriting. My mother took some art classes at Clarke College before marrying my father. I wonder now if one of her instructors was Sister Mary Paulita.

You can see the same style of handwriting in my mother’s letters that I have saved.

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More than thirty years later, my mother’s written words can bring tears to my eyes. This letter, written in December 1985, was penned during a difficult period for my parents. My mother wasn’t sure she would make it to my mid-December college graduation. She didn’t explain until later why she and my father did not attend. But despite the difficulties they were facing, my mother attempted to look at the brighter side of things, to “be surprised how God works and feel very blessed.”

It is the words “I love you and am so proud of you always” that brings tears. I admit, at the time this letter was written, all I’d seen when I read it was “I might not be there.”  The “It’s a hard life isn’t it!” speaks volumes to me today, the hint that there was so much more to her absence than she could share in a letter.

This treasured letter makes me smile, too. “My heart is full of poetry, like Angie says.” The sister my mother mentions now writes poetry. “And maybe just how you feel, too, Mary?” Yes, oh yes. What a letter written more than 30 years ago can do for me today is make me feel as though my heart, too, is “full of poetry.”

What letter we might write today will be pulled out of a trunk 30 years from now to bring both tears and joy to the recipient?

This lovely book is just the beginning in a series of letter-writing and friendship related books we plan on reviewing in this blog during September. Many of the books reviewed this month and in the past will be included in a prize package drawing on September 18, which is National Women’s Friendship Day. Stay tuned for your chance to win this book and many others.    –Mary Potter Kenyon