Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Laissez les bon livres rouler, volume un

When you think about New Orleans culture, what names come to mind? If you’re a foodie, probably Emeril Lagasse and restaurants like Commander’s Palace. The more musically inclined among us probably envision Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall. New Orleans is proudly and rightfully known for its contributions to the culinary and music worlds, but it’s also been the inspiration for many classic and bestselling novels.

It wasn’t until I took several English literature courses at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge that I became interested in Louisiana fiction. A Confederacy of Dunces, written by the late John Kennedy Toole and winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize, has special pride for the LSU community, for it was first published by LSU Press.

Featuring a cast of “only in New Orleans” characters, this book is considered by many to be a quintessential New Orleans novel and one of the great Southern novels. Although some of Ignatius Reilly’s New Orleans was gone long before Hurricane Katrina hit (such as meeting under the clock at D.H. Holmes), this remains a fascinating atmospheric novel of New Orleans. A movie version has been in development for ages; in my mind, part-time New Orleans resident John Goodman would be the perfect Ignatius Reilly (unfortunately, he’s probably too old for the part now).

Although not specifically set in Louisiana, All the King’s Men is also a book frequently encountered in LSU literature classes. Written by Robert Penn Warren, an LSU professor and the only person to win Pulitzers for both literature and poetry, the novel chronicles the rise and fall of a charismatic and power-driven Southern politician. Although Warren never intended it to be a fictional biography, it is undeniably inspired by the still-controversial and larger than life Louisiana governor, Huey P. Long. Winner of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize and named one of the greatest novels of the 20th century by Modern Library, All the King’s Men is a fascinating look at the corruption of power, told through the eyes of a political reporter.

If you think brooding vampires begin and end with Twilight, then you must not have read Anne Rice’s Lestat novels (her vampires do NOT sparkle). In Interview With a Vampire, Rice creates an exotic and otherworldly New Orleans that’s seductive and addicting. This is not for the fainthearted; Rice often gets disturbing and unsettling. The film adaptation is average, but who cares about that when pretty boys Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas are playing moody vampires! Woo hoo! The movie was filmed in and around New Orleans, which was a huge deal for the city (now, it’s not a big deal if a TV or film is filmed in New Orleans).

More of a mystery buff, particularly historical mysteries? Try Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series. Set in 1830s New Orleans and featuring a free biracial man, Hambly’s well-researched but incredibly readable series chronicles the interchangeable world of Creole and Caucasian New Orleans. The rich and scandalous life of Creole and upper-class Caucasian New Orleans society is juxtaposed against the frightful reality of enslaved African-Americans.

If you find it difficult to get into A Free Man of Color (the first book), be patient; Hambly needs to explain pre-Civil War New Orleans class society in order for you to fully understand the whys and wherefores of the series. The most recent entry in the series was published this year. If you’re in the mood for contemporary thrillers, read John Grisham’s The Client and The Pelican Brief.

I hope this whetted your appetite for fiction about the Big Easy! For a brief look at some New Orleans based nonfiction, stayed tuned for next week's entry. Or, if you need more inspiration or are interested in more nonfiction, let me know in the comments field.

Jennifer @ Warrenton

No comments:

Post a Comment