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Notable Books | Four books about New Orleans reviewed by Susan Olasky

Letters from New Orleans

When Rob Walker moved to New Orleans with his girlfriend in 2000, he wrote letters to his friends in which he described his early impressions of his adopted city. The letters don't pretend to offer in-depth understanding of a city known for its quirkiness, but Walker's keen observations, his newcomer's curiosity, and an engaging style make this a quick and perceptive introduction to the city as experienced by a resident rather than a tourist. Walker's letters deal with the frustrations of moving-how often does a car theft accompany a move?-along with the joys of discovering some of his new city's many secrets.

The House on First Street

After years of commuting back and forth between New York and New Orleans, Reed decides to move there. She thought of the Crescent City as a place to eat and indulge in all kinds of behavior, but when she moved there, married, and bought a big house in the upscale and historic Garden District, she began to appreciate the city in many new ways. Reed writes lavishly about food, drink, renovating her house, and attempting to renovate a couple of ne'er-do-wells. Katrina strikes just when the house renovations are almost done, and the rest of the book recounts a celebration-heavy journey back to normal.

Feet on the Street

Blount provides a personal "geography" of a city he likes and has visited often over the years. Written before Katrina, his introduction deals with residents' expectations that a big storm would someday hit. He writes about the anticipation of deaths and rooftop escapes, which is sadly ironic given the tragic reality. Blount's rambles are arranged by themes-oysters (the nature of them, where to eat them), friends, wetness (the climate, the dripping flowerpots), food-and aren't so much walks through neighborhoods as saunters through experiences associated with places in the city. The book makes more sense to those familiar with the places about which he writes.

A Confederacy of Dunces

Ask about novels set in New Orleans, and A Confederacy of Dunces usually tops the list. It's a broad farce with a memorable protagonist, Ignatius Reilly, a gassy, corpulent fellow who rails against modernity from his bunker of a room. For years his work has been to fill composition books with his screeds against the general tenor of the time, while his mother hovers nearby, nagging and serving him in equal measure. Events conspire to force him into the workplace, where he wreaks havoc of one sort and another. Walker Percy in his foreword calls the book "a great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions" and "also sad."


Now that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a publishing sensation-600,000 copies in the United States and 60,000 in the United Kingdom sold since its April launch-Quirk Books is publishing a second Jane Austen/monster mash-up: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters will feature the Dashwood sisters looking for love while beset by monstrous sea creatures.

The new novel, co-penned by Austen and Brooklynite Ben H. Winters, will be published on Sept. 15, the same day that Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code follow-up is expected.

Other publishers in the United States and Britain have pushed forward the dates of upcoming novels so as to avoid getting swamped by hooplah surrounding the publication of Brown's The Lost Symbol, but Quirk doesn't seem to be worried about the competition. The Guardian notes that the new book will be "60 percent Austen and 40 percent tentacled chaos."


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