As you might expect from someone who had her first library card before she could read, I read a lot of books as I went through my years-long, still-ongoing journey to finding my own inner Diva. I’ll make recommendations about books and other resources here on Splendor – feel free to adopt or reject any of them!
Let’s start with a few that have had a real impact on me.
First, The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne. As a girl raised in the South, I know that Duke’s mayonnaise really is better, I trust a local cafe that lists macaroni and cheese as a vegetable, and I have a natural affinity for the long, involved answer to the question, “Who is she?” In short, the Queens are my people, although they hail from Jackson, Mississippi instead of the rolling hills of the Carolina Piedmont. This book is outrageous, plus it has some recipes that won’t thrill them at Weight Watchers, but will have your in-laws saying very nice things about you. The SPQ were my first look at how American “women of a certain age” could not only be as loud, outlandish, and memorable as their younger selves, but could even do more because we’re at the point in our lives when people just don’t expect it from us – therefore, we have the element of surprise! Lovely, life-affirming book.
Second, Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier. I went through a love affair with French-to-American lifestyle books when I was faced with an overstuffed closet that still gave me “nothing to wear.” I ate too much overly-processed food too often, thought perfume was only for special occasions, and believed that high heels and matching lingerie were only for pretty young things with defined waists and dewy skin. I was not at all smart, but Entre Nous (along with a few other books I’ll get to later) really changed my mindset. With frequent sidebars about divas like Josephine Baker and Pauline de Rothschild as well as books to read and movies to watch, this has become a go-to gem in my collection.
Of course, the basic Diva ideas of how to live well and authentically despite what society may think are hardly new ideas. To see what I mean, I suggest you take a look at two books by Marjorie Hillis. Written in the late 30’s when the US was still struggling to overcome the Great Depression, Hillis took a clear-eyed, yet humorous look at the situation of women, many of whom were seeking to build a life of their own without much of a pattern. As you read Bubbly on Your Budget (also titled Orchids on Your Budget) and Live Alone and Like It, it’s clear that she’s writing for an audience that has some degree of privilege (and there are a few parts of Live Alone that are on the cringey side because of that), but she’s also writing for both the young career girl who doesn’t want to accept a invitation for a date simply in order to get a full dinner and the “woman of a certain age” who is living alone by choice or circumstance. Both books are filled with some charming advice about how to throw a good dinner party and how to seek out interesting companions, among budgeting and cocktail advice. (Plus, I now want to emulate her ideas regarding regularly having breakfast in bed.) Moreover, neither one preaches the worn-out gospel of catching a man in order to consider yourself successful. Rather, Hillis expects women to get up and do something with their lives and to be happy and comfortable while doing so.
Rhonda Van’s The Bath Gourmet manages to cram 50+ recipes for spa baths into one slim volume. Going far beyond the basics (Epsom salts, coconut oil, and a few drops of essential oil), this book will have you stocking your kitchen cabinets with a wide variety of spices and extracts (after all, how can you have a Pirate Bath without rum extract?) and hopefully having a good time splashing around. Van has ideas for a dozen different moods and feels strongly that most problems can be helped by a half-hour in the tub, a point of view on which I heartily agree. And yes, it may take some time to track down seaweed soap, but once you’ve tried the Sushi Bath, you’ll wonder how you managed without it.
If you want to attain the French “look,” whether as a style signature of just for an afternoon, you know that a scarf is often a finishing touch. We Americans don’t really wear scarves as anything other than a way to stay warm in the depth of winter – or at least that was our way pre-Covid. Now, scarves are becoming far more common and Lauren Friedman’s 50 Ways to Wear a Scarf can give you some insider tips. You can go from the simple classics of “the bandit” and “the loop” to channeling your 1950s glamour girl with “the top down.” And don’t overlook the head wrap ideas – you never have to have a bad hair day if you know the secrets of “the Frida” or “the Minnie Mouse.” Keep in mind that not all scarves can be worn all ways – some styles require a skinny, long scarf while others benefit from a square shape – and after paging through this book with its clear instructions, don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking to increase your scarf options way beyond your winter favorite.