Big Easy Reads

People heading out to New Orleans for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference—and those who will be following along from home (or the reference desk)—may want to get a jump on some regional lore. In addition to highlighting some notable sessions happening at ALA 2018, LJ editors have picked a selection of books set in and about New Orleans to get you in the mood no matter where you're reading from.

People heading out to New Orleans for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference—and those who will be following along from home (or the reference desk)—may want to get a jump on some regional lore. In addition to highlighting some notable sessions happening at ALA 2018, LJ editors have picked a selection of books set in and about New Orleans to get you in the mood no matter where you're reading from.

Asbury, Herbert. The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld. Basic Bks. 2003. 512p. ISBN 9781560254942. Asbury, author of Gangs of New York, goes one (or two) better with this thick book of French Quarter (and beyond) lore. This is a book to dip into right before you head to the Crescent City. Be warned, though, contemporary readers: this book was originally published in 1936, and the language around race and gender reflects that.

Babst, C. Morgan. The Floating World. Algonquin. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781616205287. When older daughter Cora refuses to abandon New Orleans as Hurricane ­Katrina sweeps in, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave, and his white, upper-crust wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, must leave without her. “A richly written, soak-in-it kind of book; now you’ll know what it was like to have survived Katrina.”

Bienvenu, Marcelle & Judy Walker, eds. Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. Chronicle. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781452144009. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, these recipes and stories were collected to celebrate the food and food history of this great city. With a mix of Cajun and Creole dishes as well as recipes that showcase the influence of Irish, Italian, Spanish, Caribbean, Native American, and Asian cuisines on NOLA palates and restaurateurs, this will inspire a little envie in any foodie.

Brite, Poppy Z. Lost Souls. Dell. 1992. 384p. ISBN 9780440212812. Fans of vampire fiction and spine-tingling horror set in New Orleans who've exhausted the Anne Rice novels will be thrilled (literally) to discover Brite’s dark and twisted world. A teen boy named Nothing searches for his vampire family in this sexy, over-the-top thriller. Be sure to also check out Brite's short story collections, including the excellent The Devil You Know.

Burke, James Lee. The Neon Rain: A Dave Robicheaux Novel. Holt. 1987. 275p. ISBN 9780743449205. The first installment in Burke's long-running and popular series starring New Orleans Detective Dave Robicheaux, a hard-boiled gumshoe with a dark past and a bruised heart.

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. McSweeney’s. 2009. 342p. ISBN 9781934781630. This national bestseller presents the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a man who witnessed and endured Hurricane Katrina and the harrowing days following the storm.

Fink, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. Crown. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780307718969. Fink's account of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the staff and patients in New Orleans hospital also covers the aftermath, when staff were accused of euthanizing patients (an LJ best book of 2013).

Gran, Sara. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. Houghton Harcourt. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780547428499. This dark and quirky tale, set 18 months after Hurricane Katrina, finds the title character searching for local prosecutor Vic Willing, who’s been missing since before the storm. In her quest, Claire is guided by the words of a famous French detective and her own hallucinatory dreams.

Krist, Gary. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Crown. 2014. 488p. ISBN 9780770437084. Krist's exposé of New Orleans at the turn of the century proves that truth really is stranger than fiction by detailing the prominent figures within Storyville, the Crescent City's red-light district. Fans of Boardwalk Empire would enjoy this crime thriller as well. (an LJ Best book, 2014)

LeCoeur, Ursula. The Devious Debutante. Royal Street. (Love in New Orleans, Bk. 3). 2015. 362p. ebk ISBN 9780578166698. Maureen Collins’s father has hired a new lawyer, Ben Merritt, who is also a government agent investigating opium smuggling. After an impulsive kiss, Maureen falls for Ben as she realizes her interest in the local profligate Vespasian Colville is purely platonic. In spite of her father’s opposition to her marrying a Yankee, Maureen perseveres in her romance with Ben. Full of New Orleans flavor and romantic tension, this third series title—a contrast of historical mystery and torrid romance, with a star-spangled climax—is a winner.

Murphy, Michael. Eat Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Unique Food Culture of the Crescent City. Countryman. 2014. 264p. ISBN 9781581573176. From gumbo to crawfish boils to po'boys to beignets and chicory coffee, it's almost impossible to have a bad meal in the Big Easy. But why chance it? This guide highlights over 200 spots—from cheap, on-the-go street food to ultra fancy Michelin-starred eateries.

Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. Knopf. 1961. 256p. ISBN 9780394437033. Percy’s novel gives us a few days in the life of Binx Bolling, a disaffected young man on the eve of his 30th birthday but not quite grown up. The book is as atmospheric as New Orleans itself—all nuance, restlessness, and unarticulated feelings—those dreamy fault lines between alienation and engagement.

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau. St. Martin’s. 1993. 436p. ISBN 9780312098698. A bewitching fictionalization of the woman behind the legend: Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. Knopf. 1976. 352p. ISBN 9780394498218. The book that launched a hundred vampire ships. Rice's first (and arguably best) in her "Vampire Chronicles" introduces readers to the soulful, undead Louis, who begins his vampire life in Louisiana and New Orleans, but his story is quickly overshadowed by his partner in undead crime, the glorious, notorious Vampire Lestat, whose motto could be "Undead and Loving It."

Rice, Anne. The Witching Hour. Knopf. (Lives of the Mayfair Witches, Bk. 1). 1990. 976p. ISBN 9780394587868. From the mind that brought us "The Vampire Chronicles," this volume kicks off another supernatural saga set in New Orleans. This time readers are introduced to a family of witches with a strange and enduring gift/curse. Romantic and utterly engaging.

Sandmel, Ben. Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans. The Historic New Orleans Collection. 2012. 304p. ISBN  9780917860607. In a city of musical eccentrics and vivid personalities, Ernie K-Doe sits high—he even crowned himself "Emperor of the Universe." The first New Orleans singer to top the pop and R&B charts with his 1961 classic, "Mother-in-Law," he never hit number one again, but he ruled the airwaves for years on local station WWOZ, inventing his own hyperbolic patois and dazzling listeners until his death in 2001. New Orleans journalist and musician Sandmel pays tribute to the emperor in this biography.

Ruta Sepetys. Out of the Easy. Philomel. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780399256929. Set in the French Quarter in the 1950s, this is the story of Josie Moraine, the 17-year-old daughter of a prostitute. She dreams of getting out, attending college, and making a career for herself. But the dark and intriguing world of the Big Easy's underworld may waylay her grand plans.

Solnit, Rebecca & Rebecca Snedeker. Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. Univ. of California. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780520274037. So much more than a guidebook, this offers readers essays, perspectives, and maps from a diverse range of New Orleans natives and scholars, covering tourist destinations, historic neighborhoods, the jazz scene, environmental impact and history, and much more. A must-read for anyone planning to visit the Crescent City.

Sublette, Ned. The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. Lawrence Hill. 2008. 368p. ISBN 9781556527302. Chronicling the first century of New Orleans history, Sublette provides a deep dive into the eclectic and ever-evolving city’s geography and spiritual traditions, as well as the lasting impacts of the slave trade and the roots of jazz.

Saxon, Lyle, Robert Tallant, & Edward Dreyer. Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales. Bonanza. 1984. 581p. ISBN 978051701922. "Gumbo ya-ya" is a Cajun phrase meaning "everybody talking at once," which perfectly sums up the flavor of this beloved collection of stories and folklore. Capturing the unique blend of cultures, ethnicities, races, and classes that compose the stew that is Louisiana, these stories were first collected as part of a WPA project during the 1930s.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove. 1981. 320p. ISBN 9780807159606. There is no better guide to New Orleans’s eccentric charms than Ignatius J. Reilly, the obese and irascible hero of Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning picaresque novel. After you finish the book, download “An Ignatian Journey,” a digital walking audio tour and story map from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and retrace the footsteps of Toole’s unforgettable character.

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Pam Klipsch

I'm so surprised you didn't include Barbara Hambly's wonderful Benjamin January historical mystery series, starting with "A Free Man of Color" (1997). There are fifteen books in the series so far, the most recent "Murder in July" (Dec 2017). Hambly movingly and unsparingly portrays how the change from French to American rule rendered the lives of people of color ever more precarious.

Posted : Jun 19, 2018 12:39

Barbara Genco

I would add...Chris Rose's now classic 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina [Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (August 4, 2015) 384 pages 978-1501125379]. LJ's reviewer noted: "The physical and psychic dislocation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is painstakingly recollected in this brilliant collection of columns by award-winning New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Rose (who has already hand-sold 60,000 self-published copies)." If you want to understand NOLA you must read Chris Rose.

Posted : Jun 13, 2018 09:12

Sallie Pine

as a now retired librarian who grew up in La (BR, not NO) I have to add to this list. For the children is all of all of us, anything by Jewell Parker Rhodes, especially in this list Ninth Ward. and Susanne Johnson's excellent fantasy series beginning with Royal Street. For mystery series,I just ran out of room...

Posted : Jun 11, 2018 05:10



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