Thinking about NOLA: Books! (Part 2)

Happy Friday on a Monday, ARLISians!

The holiday season just began, so it’s time to consider your February trip to New Orleans for the ARLIS/NA annual conference — and you need some reading material!

Your book, or books of choice might be read (real book or ebook), or listened to (audio book), during your “hurry up and wait” at the airport, and/or for that plane trip that lasts longer than it should, and/or to unwind after a long, exhausting day of sessions and tours in New Orleans. The following are only a few suggestions for your reading pleasure.

One can say that there is a only a fine line between what is considered “classic” literature and what is considered “popular” literature, and there is a bit of overlap from part one of Thinking About on classic lit, and this second part on “pop lit.”

For example, Shirley Anne Grau’s Nine Women: Stories (1987) is a short story collection about nine women who come from all levels of New Orleans society, from the daughters of servants, to very affluent women. According to Booklist, “Grau made her name with her 1964 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Keepers of the House, and has been in the foreground of southern fiction ever since.” That may be true but her name is certainly not as well-known as Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner (who began writing while he was in New Orleans). Still, Grau deserves our attention.

french-quarter-fiction-coverHow about a variety of authors? French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia sets the scene with pieces from every genre — mystery, romance, flash fiction and prose poetry (Joshua Clark, ed.; Light Of New Orleans Publishing, 2003). You may also find Life in the Wake: Fiction from Post-Katrina New Orleans (NOLAFugees Press, 2007) the perfect read.

New Orleans Noir (Akashic Books, 2007) is edited by author Julie Smith. The stories are by well-known and emerging authors writing about the before and after of hurricane Katrina. This is the 12th entry in Akashic’s city-specific noir series.

Julie Smith was the winner of the 1991 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel for her first book, New Orleans Mourning. She is a former reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the San Francisco Chronicle, and lives in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans.

I was curious about her prize-winning book so I read it not long ago. It opens with a sort of “guide” to the city’s unique terminology and its interesting inhabitants, so I was surprised when the plot went into unexpected places. This is the first of the Skip Langdon Series and I thought it was a good read. Skip is a female cop, a big woman with a big heart that only gets her into trouble. Smith is also the author two other mystery series, and in 2010 she founded a digital publishing company with an emphasis on mysteries, her own and others’, www.booksBnimble.com.

On Julie Smith’s booksBnimble site you can view a guide to New Orleans by the creator of the Tubby Dubonnet mystery novels, Toby Dunbar. His main character, lawyer Tubby Dubonnet, would rather eat a bowl of gumbo than deal with the murder and corruption he finds around him. There are eight Tubby Dubonnet mysteries thus far, with intriguing titles like City of Beads, Shelter from the Storm, Tubby Meets Katrina, and Fat Man Blues. I have read a few of these as ebooks and they are fun and full of the atmosphere of the neighborhoods and characters making up the Big Easy. Publishers Weekly said “Dunbar catches the rich, dark spirit of New Orleans better than anyone.”

nola-prime-evilO’Neil De Noux has written six New Orleans police novels featuring Dino LaStanza. De Noux is also the author of many, many other books based in New Orleans, including New Orleans Prime Evil, a ten book series. He is the winner of the Artist Services Career Advancement Award from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, The Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for Best Short Story, the Derringer Award for Best Novelette, and the Police Book of the Year. De Noux is a former Vice-President of the Private Eye Writers of America.

As far as the New Orleans populated with ghosts, goblins and vampires, the classic must be Anne Rice’s 1976 book Interview With the Vampire, which is set in the French Quarter. You may remember the movie, but perhaps not the book, which was followed by ten sequels. Rice was born in New Orleans and was a well known and active resident there before she left the city about a decade ago.

ghost-storiesGhost Stories of Old New Orleans written by Jeanne deLavigne and illustrated by Charles Richards (LSU Press, 2013) would be a fun way to learn more about the city.

Or how about this one to learn about the city? The Haunted History of New Orleans: Ghosts of the French Quarter (Subtext Publishing, 2013). Author James Caskey, a tour guide from Savannah, Georgia, says his book is “also a narrative journey of what I found in New Orleans, from food to legends to music to the distinctive patois of the locals.” So you get a tour as well as a scare!

If you are interested in Louisiana beyond the city limits of New Orleans, take a look at the books written by multi-award winner James Lee Burke. He won the Edgar twice, was given the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He is best known for his series set in and around New Iberia, Louisiana featuring Dave Robicheaux. Several of these books have been made into movies. Author Stephen King says he reads Burke because he is a “gorgeous prose stylist.”

I hope you find some gorgeous prose featuring New Orleans, or Louisiana, no matter what you choose to read. The above is only a taste of many of the more popular titles available. Speaking of taste, the next Thinking About post is about Food, so until then, cheers!

E. Lee Eltzroth, ARLIS-NA 2017 Publicity Coordinator

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