THE NOLA BOOK NERD’S BIBLE
The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans (Second Edition)
by Susan Larson
If there is such a thing as ‘truth in advertising’ it can be found in the second edition of The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans by Susan Larson, for this is a resource for the true booklover (casual readers need not apply). This handy treasure trove of information is a guide to all things literary in NOLA including a survey of the city’s entire literary history; addresses for sightseers of famous writers who once lived here; a date book for planning your literary vacation; a comprehensive guide to local libraries and bookshops; an extensive bibliography on books about the city and by local authors; and, for lagniappe, several vignettes from local writers such as history must-sees from a Tulane professor, the best places to write by the author herself, and ‘the sexiest places to read a book’ by, not surprisingly, the author of The Last Madam.
I read The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans from cover to cover for this review but, though there are some narrative parts, it’s more meant to be kept in your backpack or tote and pulled out when you’re wandering the French Quarter wondering where Faulkner or Tennessee Williams hung out or when in one of the fabulous local indie bookstores trying to decide what to read next. Larson‘s narrative on local literary history is the most ‘readable’ section of the guide, at times making me wish she would linger longer on some of the more fascinating periods as she strives to cram so much into so few pages, though the most impressive–and by far largest–section is Larson‘s bibliography of all things New Orleans.
Larson was a longtime book editor for the Times-Picayune and continues to host The Reading Life on local public radio, so her reading credentials are solid. Due to this lifetime of rabid reading, her bibliography stretches for 100 pages and covers fiction, memoir & biography, history, photography & architecture, children’s lit, music, poetry, and various other sub-genres. This is, you might note, the Second Edition, so while much has changed since 1999 the biggest event has been a little storm you may have heard about; thus the bibliography contains an entire Katrina section. Most books are followed by a short description to help you choose wisely, but, lest you fear being overwhelmed by too many choices, Larson begins each section by cherry-picking her must-reads.
While Larson‘s reading list is both daunting and impressive, I was encouraged to find that many of her must-reads are books I’ve chosen through my research and recommended via Read Beans On Monday. Larson also discusses in detail how writers are drawn to New Orleans, speaking directly to this audience as a sort of advisor to the aspiring literary soul. As she described the magnetic literary appeal of the city, though, I couldn’t decide if I were part of a grand literary tradition or just an imitator lacking imagination?!
As I said earlier, The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans is the perfect resource for a book nerd such as myself to keep tucked in his backpack for those unexpected moments (though unfortunately I checked it out from the library!) Because of this specificity, though, I imagine the audience is limited. If you’re living in or planning to visit New Orleans, though, and are the type of person who puts your monthly book club offering off till the last minutes because you have five things you’re waiting to read, frequents local literary events and book fairs, or gets Book Riot updates in your Facebook stream and never misses an episode of their awesome podcast, then this is a must-have resource to help you embrace this fascinating city and make the most of your visit–or life–here.