Definitely Not Martha Stewart, by Janice Wells

Janice Wells writes a column (same title as the book) in my local paper, which I occasionally read and usually enjoy. When I saw that this book — a collection of her columns — was for sale, I picked it up on impulse to add to my mom’s Mother’s Day gift bag, thinking it was something she might enjoy.

My mom was more enthusiastic about it than I’d expected, and so of course I had to borrow the book. By coincidence, on the weekend I borrowed it I was away from home, staying in a house owned by none other than Janice Wells, a house my friends and I had rented for the weekend. Though I’ve never met the author, there is something strangely intimate about reading someone’s book while renting their house. It almost felt like I knew too much, and Janice Wells might have to shoot me.

But then, if she was going to start killing off people who knew too much about her, she probably wouldn’t have released this book. It’s a surprisingly intimate little book — breezy and light, with short newspaper-column length chapters and lots of laughs — but it also offers the intimacy of a memoir. It tells the story of a woman’s life after she leaves a twenty-year marriage and strikes out on her own, making do with the housekeeping skills she cultivated during her marriage but far fewer resources with which to exercise those skills. It’s a domestic guide, a book of humour, and a memoir all wrapped into one, well summed up in its subtitle: “Domestic Tales of Starting Over.”

Wells is fond of her “Not-Martha” identity: the house we stayed in has one of those “Martha Doesn’t Live Here” plaques by the door. I have a friend who also has this plaque, and she is one of the best housekeepers I know. I’m pretty sure, from the interior of her summer place, that Janice Wells is another. I don’t think you can get away with one of those “Martha Doesn’t Live Here” messages unless you are enough of a Domestic Goddess that people might begin to mistake you for her. If I put up a sign like that, people would just roll their eyes and say, “Well, duh … obviously Martha doesn’t live here! Martha would need to have this place fumigated before she’d even have lunch here!!”

The message of the plaque — and of Janice Wells’ book — is “Here is a woman with excellent housekeeping skills, who really cares about making a home beautiful and comfortable — but she’s not a freak and she doesn’t get bent out of shape about it. She knows how to laugh at herself.”

I highly recommend Definitely Not Martha Stewart as a light-but-surprisingly-deep summer read for Domestic Goddesses — and the rest of us!

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6 Comments

Filed under Canadian author, Newfoundland author, Nonfiction -- memoir

6 responses to “Definitely Not Martha Stewart, by Janice Wells

  1. “If I put up a sign like that, people would just roll their eyes and say, “Well, duh … obviously Martha doesn’t live here! Martha would need to have this place fumigated before she’d even have lunch here!!”

    ROFL! I knew I adored you.

  2. “If I put up a sign like that, people would just roll their eyes and say, “Well, duh … obviously Martha doesn’t live here! Martha would need to have this place fumigated before she’d even have lunch here!!”

    This, even above your amazing abilities in creating great groups; writing fantastic books and stories; singing with vim and vigour; being a kind, funny, and nonjudgmental friend; and the perfect partner in Trivial Pursuit, makes me love you.

  3. Hey, I don’t have a clean house, but I have the love of my friends … what more could I ask??

  4. Janice Wells

    Trudy, what a coincidence and what a treat to read this last night! Thank you so much!

    You’re right; I am a compulsive nester, but five minutes after I walk into it, all is chaos.The house you walked into was the result of a week of tidying, cleaning, tacking things up, taking things down, etc. none of which would have been done if you weren’t coming. Its never a priority except when Christmas or company is coming.
    I should rent the house more often; God knows what I’d get done!

    Drop in unannounced anytime if you want to feel right at home and please, you and the others, introduce yourselves if we cross paths. I know almost nobody in the writing world and can’t seem to get over my avoidance of meetings.

    Cheers
    Janice

  5. Janice, I’m so glad you found this … I meant to send you an email telling you about the review but of course I procrastinated … another reason I’m SO not Martha!!

  6. Diana Butler

    I personally like the sign Martha doesn’t live here and it’s a good thing…. because of the story of Martha and Mary in the bible. Another book speaks of having a Mary’s heart in a Martha world. I would much rather have a Mary’s heart than a Martha world.

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