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Summer Reading: New Orleans Style

New Orleans is such an interesting and fascinating place. I came here as a visitor 12 years ago, and moved here 11 years ago. From the moment I “discovered” New Orleans, I couldn’t find and read enough books about it.  It didn’t matter if it was fiction or nonfiction, and in a way I had already started reading about New Orleans long before I came here, being an Ann Rice fan with many of her titles already on my bookshelf.

I’ve picked out some of my favorite books about the incredible city of New Orleans to share with you. Pick one (or more!) up before your next visit to the city to get you excited to spend time in the Garden District, the French Quarter and all around New Orleans.

1. So I’ll start with one of my all time favorite Ann Rice books about New Orleans: The Feast of All Saints. The story is set in the French Quarter in the early 1800s, and it is about the Creole society that populated it then. Ann Rice has a way of describing the very streets you are probably walking on now, not much changed in the past 300 years, that will make you feel as if you stepped into a time machine.

2. Her son Christopher Rice is also a writer, and his first novel published at age 18, A Density of Soul gives the reader a fascinating look into the Irish Channel and Garden District neighborhoods. Mr. Rice learned well from his mother, and his narrative descriptions are poetic and evocative.

3. While we are in the Garden District, I suggest Julia Reed‘s The House On First Street. This is a nonfiction story of a love affair with a house and with New Orleans. If you have ever dreamed of buying a house in New Orleans this book will captivate your soul, and have you phoning your real estate agent.

4. Another fabulous nonfiction book, about the French Quarter and its inhabitants is The Last Madame by Christine Wiltz.  This is the story of Norma Wallace who ran the last high class brothel in New Orleans. Ms. Wallace died in 1974, so her story which spans her career from the 1920s to the 1960s is current enough to be palpable.

5. A classic that is a must-read for anyone who is interested in New Orleans is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The protagonist of this monumental work of fiction, one Ignatius J. Reilly, has become so real to New Orleanians that a statue of him stands in front of the Chateau Bourbon Hotel on Canal Street. There is also a great little restaurant at 4200 Magazine Street called Ignatius Eatery in his honor.

6.  A new nonfiction book, called Stealing Magnolias by Debra Shriver, has it all. It is a beautiful picture book, a concise history, a shopping and city guide, an insider’s view into the quirks and customs of New Orleans, and a Valentine to the city that will steal your heart.

7.  Although not specifically about New Orleans, the insightful best-seller The Help by Kathryn Stockett could be the story of any southern town or city, including New Orleans.

8. Movie, television, Broadway star and New Orleanian Bryan Batt has a wonderful memoir out called She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother that’s about his coming of age in New Orleans. It’s frothy and fun and Bryan shares things that only a local would know about, and now you can learn about them, too.

Now you can get all of these books online, but wouldn’t it be fun to shop the old fashion way and visit some of our wonderful book shops in New Orleans? On your next trip here, check out local bookstores Octavia Books or the Garden District Book Shop. Both stores have a tremendous selection of books about New Orleans, and they often have readings with local authors.

Until next time I remain the Visual Vamp, hunkered down in the air conditioning of my Irish Channel home reading my favorite books about New Orleans.

Valorie Hart is an interior decorator, stylist, and event designer. She lives in the Irish Channel just off Magazine Street where she loves to walk and shop. She relocated to New Orleans from New York in the year 2000, and is affectionately known as a New New. She writes the popular blog Visual Vamp.

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