Book Review: Never Sit If You Can Dance by Jo Giese – 4 stars

You know all those things that your mom and/or grandma say that you don’t pay any attention to day-to-day but become part of the fabric of your life? That’s what this book is about. A light read with a heavier impact, this book is sweet and endearing but will leave you slightly emotional and weave it’s way into your thoughts long after you’ve turned the last page!

Giese’s book is a memoir:  she positions it as a memoir of her mother’s life but, in truth, it is also a memoir of her own.  Her mom, whom she calls ‘Babe,’ was born in 1916 and is clearly a product of her time.  Giese tells her mother’s story in vignettes, each representing some saying or life lesson that she impressed upon others.  Everything from ‘Don’t be drab’ to ‘Never leave a compliment unsaid,’ Babe’s lessons are straightforward and initially, I worried that there wasn’t quite enough there to warrant a book.  I’m glad I kept reading, however, as Babe’s life lessons (though perhaps coming off as a little simple and dated) are as important and applicable globally as they were to the person she became.

Babe lived the classic 1940s and 50s housewife life…she raised three children, supported a working husband and managed relationships with her extended family.  Not all was rosy for her, however, and Giese allows us a peek inside the crippling depression that Babe suffered with after several miscarriages and the pain that losing a spouse and outliving all of one’s friends must cause.

Through Giese’s book, we see a picture of a loving wife and mother in Babe.  We also see some of the typical mother-daughter discontent that arises over a lifetime of loving one another.  The lessons that Giese gleans from her mother’s outlook on life are poignant and honest:  you can imagine that although Giese grew into her appreciation of her mother’s wisdom, it likely grated on her when she was younger and had less of the gift of hindsight.  While it’s possible to question whether or not Babe’s lessons are really that important…I dare you to read about her methods for saying goodbye and not have it change the way you view partings forever.

Giese is a journalist by trade and the book is written in a very straightforward, friendly style.  I admire the way she tells her mother story cleanly and allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions while still fortifying the tales with her own impressions and feelings.  This book could easily have devolved into a ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ guidebook from the 1950s.  Giese, however, infuses the stories with her peronsal spin and allows the reader to see how Babe’s tutelage impacted the woman she ultimately became.   Giese allows the reader to follow her mother right up to her death in 2015 and leaves us, through her stories with a better understanding of what vulnerability and nurturing really mean. 

At 168 pages, Never Sit If You Can Dance is a quick and easy read. Be careful though. You may not recognize the deep impact that book’s simple message is having upon you until you close the book and walk away. Babe’s message, as well as Giese’s, will stick with you and wander back to you like an old friend just when you least expect it!

To get your copy of Never Sit If You Can Dance, click the link below:

Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother

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