“Don’t you just love these long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?” ~ A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
I can tell you what I did – I read Susan Larson’s updated The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans. And I loved it. The quote above is one of my favorite Tennessee Williams quotes because it sums up New Orleans afternoons so eloquently and ties it up in a pretty bow. And that’s what Susan Larson has done for the New Orleans literary scene in her updated version of the book I’ve been waiting on for 14 years.
Part New Orleans literary history, part tour guide, part literary calendar, part book list, and part lagniappe, The Booklover’s Guide is just plain fun. Did you know that Kate Chopin, Walt Whitman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all lived in New Orleans? What about the fact that the Maple Leaf Bar is the home of the longest-running poetry reading series in the South? These are just two of the countless fun literary facts you’ll get from Larson in this book.
The back cover states: “Perhaps only among the oak-lined avenues, Creole town houses, and famed hotels of New Orleans can the lust of A Streetcar Named Desire, the zaniness of A Confederacy of Dunces, the chill of Interview with the Vampire, and the heartbreak of Walker Percy’s Moviegoer begin to resonate.” And if you’re a lover of New Orleans or even just a lover of books, The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans will resonate with you as well.
The first volume of The Booklover’s Guide was released in 1999 with a cozy cover depicting an inviting scene of a sunny French Quarter balcony, complete with a steaming cup of coffee, a wrought iron fence, potted plants, and the alluring nostalgia of the past. The updated version’s cover is a drastic contrast, portraying a tattooed girl sitting in the dark interior of a streetcar, gazing out of the rain streaked windows, and holding a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces in her lap. The two covers perfectly convey the feeling and spirit of the city at different times in history – pre and post Katrina. The first expresses the city dreaming the days away in a haze; the second imparts more vitality, the feeling of being ready to go anywhere and do anything.
The Booklover’s Guide takes the reader on a journey beginning with a gripping literary history of New Orleans. That history includes exploring the legacies of such writers and New Orleans notables as John James Audubon, Mark Twain, George Washington Cable, Grace King, Lafcadio Hearn, Kate Chopin, Sherwood Anderson, Lyle Saxon, Lillian Hellman, and of course John Kennedy Toole, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Anne Rice, among others. After schooling in the literary history of the city, Larson moves on to literary landmarks, marking such locations as the Maple Leaf Bar, which has the longest-running poetry reading series in the South, many writers’ past homes, and old New Orleans favorites such as the Hotel Monteleone, the Napoleon House, the Pontalba Buildings, and the Columns Hotel.
Larson doesn’t stop there. She also provides a literary datebook of annual festivals and events, a definitive list of New Orleans bookshops, libraries, and literary resources (think research centers and literary groups), and recommendations of over 600 (yes, you read that correctly) New Orleans-related books. My favorite part is the closing section of the book titled “Lagniappe,” where notable local authors write about their favorite things such as what jazz maven John McCusker would take to a desert island, Greg Herren’s top 10 ways to “get your gay on” in New Orleans, and recent winner of the Louisiana Writer Award Christine Wiltz’s sexiest places to read a book in New Orleans.
Larson is the definitive source of information on the literary scene in New Orleans. She was the book editor of the New Orleans Times Picayune for over 20 years, and she now hosts one of my favorite radio shows, The Reading Life, on WWNO. She is also a founder of the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans and a board member of both the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. Not to mention that on two occasions, she was selected for the three person panel that guides the selection of the Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction.
In a Nola.com interview with Chris Waddington, Larson stated, “The real point of the guidebook – and my radio show – is that our lives as readers are wide open. Some books we need, some books enrich us, and some books tell us how to cook gumbo.” The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans accomplishes all three.
You can buy The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans at any local bookstore.
Upcoming Literary Events with Susan Larson:
You can catch Susan to sign your copy of The Booklover’s Guide at any of these upcoming events:
October 14, 6:45 p.m. Black Widow Salon in Crescent City Books, 230 Chartres St.
October 23, 7:00 p.m. Coffee & Conversation presented by the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival at the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 West Napoleon Ave. in Metairie