New Orleans in Literature (Part I)

New Orleans has long been recognized for its literature and cuisine, and now that beautiful and beleaguered city can add the ultimate triumph on the football field to its list of distinctions. And there is reason to think the Saints’ victory Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV will at last lift the Crescent City from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: Book Cover$24.00 hardcover / mcsweeney’s

  • No single book cast the Katrina story more poignantly than David Eggers’ Zeitoun, the true story of a Syrian-American father of four who  chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy—an American who converted to Islam—and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: Book Cover$15.00 paperback / grove

  • Zeitoun is only the latest in a string of memorable characters who populate the literature of New Orleans, fact as well as fiction. Ignatius J. Reilly was a figment of John Kennedy Toole’s fertile imagination played out to a fare-thee-well in A Confederacy of Dunces. A reader of Boethius and drinker of bottle after bottle of Dr. Nut, virgin and lute player, writer-down of maledictions against contemporary society (in Big Chief writing tablets), owner of an erratic pyloric valve that gives him “bloat,” wearer of desert boots, tweeds, and a green hunting cap with flaps, Reilly finally gets a job, though at a hopeless clothing factory, Levy Pants, where he organizes a “Crusade for Moorish Dignity” to better the black workers’ plight. This is only a small slice of this comic masterpiece that uses New Orleans as the perfect literary setting.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: Book Cover$15.00 paperback / random house

  • Sadly, Toole committed suicide in 1969, at 32, leaving only this astounding book that was not published until a decade later, and then thanks to the persistence of another novelist who made New Orleans his profitable backdrop, Walker Percy. Percy won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1961 with The Moviegoer, the story of Binx Bolling, a young stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the  “treasurable moments” absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Nine Lives by Dan Baum: Book Cover$15.00 paperback / doubleday

  • Dan Baum jerks us back to reality with Nine Lives, in which the author tries to figure out why the people of New Orleans, as well as many from all over the world, are so devoted to a place that was, even before the storm, the most corrupt, impoverished, and violent corner of America. Here’s the answer. This is a multivoiced biography of the dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city through the lives of nine characters over 40 years, bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed the city in the 1960’s, and Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. All their stories converge in the storm, where some characters rise to acts of heroism and others sink to the bottom. But it is New Orleans herself—perpetually whistling past the grave yard—that is the story’s real heroine.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren: Book Cover$15.00 paperback / harcourt brace

  • Huey P. Long was the larger-than-life governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932 who envisioned running for president until he was assassinated on Sept. 8, 1935 inside the state capitol in Baton Rouge, and Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel All the King’s Men, based loosely on Long’s life may be one of the best political novels of all time.

Cover Image$45.00 hardcover / andrews & mcmeel

  • In a strange way, the unique cuisine of the city and region somehow brings together the tastes of all of these characters—Ignatius, Bix, Baum’s and many others, including the Longs—and My New Orleans will change the way you look at this style of cooking. Here from world-famous chef John Besh are 16 chapters of culture, history, essay and insight, and pure goodness. Besh tells us the story of his New Orleans by the season and by the dish. Archival, four-color, location photography along with ingredient information make the Big Easy easy to tackle in home kitchens. Cooks will salivate over the 200 recipes that honor and celebrate everything New Orleans.

One Response to “New Orleans in Literature (Part I)”

  1. Frances Madeson says:

    You accidentally forgot Mary Robison’s new miniaturist novel, 1 D.O.A., 1 on the Way. An omission equivalent to writing about comic novels in the POPO period ( post-Osama, pre-Obama-periodization c/o Steven Augustine) and neglecting to mention Cooperative Village (which is, as I’m sure you know since BookCourt was an early supporter, a whole lot funnier and more incisive and relevant to the present moment than that tired old Confederacy of Dunces everyone keeps flogging). Ah well, maybe things will be better when the saints come marching in.

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