Read Bean On Monday: Fleur de Lit, A One-Stop NOLA Literary Resource


Fleur de Lit

modern-booksFor today’s Read Beans On Monday I’m linking to a couple of reviews by local blogger and literary advocate Candice Huber. I stumbled on her site, Fleur de Lit, a few weeks ago and it’s already been a great resource that has turned me on to several local events and enabled me to network with a few local authors.

This site attempts to create a comprehensive list of local readings, book signings, book fairs, and other literary focused events. Fleur de Lit has also started a monthly reading series of its own at The Pearl Wine Company: Reading Between the Wines. Be sure to check out the site for dates, times, and locations.


Huber also maintains a personal blog where she has started including book reviews of her own. Her first two entries are by local authors and involve New Orleans or southern Louisiana so fit perfectly with this blog’s theme.

The Booklovers’s Guide to New Orleans, Susan Larson

This book sounds like part literary history of and part literary tour guide to New Orleans by the popular local NPR host of The Reading Life, Susan Larson. It sounds fascinating and I hope to review it myself soon. In fact, it sounds like a book I should have read nine months ago!

Night of the Comet, George Bishop

This story set in rural southern Louisiana is starting to garner national attention, telling the story of a high school science teacher who stakes his reputation on the promise of a comet and his bookworm son. Huber has high praise for its pathos and relatability.




Read Beans On Monday: My Bayou by Constance Adler


My Bayou: New Orleans Through the Eyes of a Lover

by Constance Adler

My Bayou is a difficult book for me to review. I don’t like to focus on the negative, and this book certainly wasn’t without merit. Constance Adler is a skilled writer and there were times her reflections on life in New Orleans centering on her strolls along Bayou St. John intellectually intrigued me and other times where they emotionally moved me, yet for large stretches they also left me cold. Part of this was audience–I’m pretty sure I’m not her primary target–but part of it was the haphazard, wandering nature of her reflections. Adler is also an accomplished blogger, so it bothered me that I didn’t like this book because of the meandering format. The book struck me as a blog bound together in book form, though I’d like to think–hell, desperately hope–that this transition can be accomplished more naturally.

My Bayou opens with [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Prime by Poppy Z. Brite



by Poppy Z. Brite

Poppy Z. Brite is a popular New Orleans author who, following in the footsteps of Ann Rice, came to popularity with homo-erotic horror stories often involving vampires, though apparently upping the ante on violence, weirdness, and explicit scenes. Or so I hear. I wasn’t familiar with Brite until recommended by friend and native Chris Tusa, and when I headed to the library, one of the books that abandons horror for the gritty realism of the New Orleans restaurant world, Prime, was his only book available. (We’ll use the masculine pronoun per the author’s preference, as the issue of Brite’s gender identification is a story unto itself and doesn’t concern me.) After a long-term relationship with a local chef, Brite was apparently fascinated with the inner working and dirty underbelly of the local fine dining scene, and though I stumbled into this work blindly, it ended up being a great choice and compelling portrait of this unseen side of New Orleans.

Prime, it turns out, is [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Nine Lives by Dan Baum


Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans

by Dan Baum

Nine Lives is yet another stirring and beautiful book about New Orleans that will captivate and mesmerize you from the opening page. This book delivers exactly what the title promises, 9 separate life stories that are woven together to read like a novel, though these are actually people whom Dan Baum met while covering Katrina for the New Yorker. Some of the lives intersect casually, some intimately, and some never meet at all. They all come from different walks of life and varying social strata in different parts of town, yet Baum recognized that each had an amazing story to tell and by combining them, he tells the history of the city starting with Hurricane Betsy and winding through the post-Katrina recovery.

This is the genius of the novel. Although [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Surviving Hurricane Katrina by Mary Gehman


Surviving Hurricane Katrina

by Mary Gehman

hurricane-ivanYesterday I wrote about how the Morpheus, the god of dreams, made my Mardi Gras dream come true. Today I turn my attention to the near-incomprehensible nightmare of Mary Gehman, a writer, researcher, publisher, and professor who tried to ride out Katrina in her Mid-City home, only to find herself embroiled in a week-long ordeal that hit most of the archetypal Katrina images: rising waters in the home, stranded on an overpass, lack of food and water while helicopters hovered doing nothing, hell at the Superdome, and a disorienting bus ride to destinations unknown.

I am taking a different approach with today’s review. This is not a book or even a published article. Mary (I’ll her first name because I feel like I know her intimately after this account) owns a small independent press, Margaret Media, and dedicated a page on its website to this 29 page, single spaced document.

I learned of Mary’s account Friday after [Read more…]

Read Beans on Monday: Yellow Jack by Josh Russell



Yellow Jack

by Josh Russell

Josh Russell’s fictional historic re-creation set in 1840’s New Orleans, Yellow Jack, is a quick and compelling read that whirls its reader through two equally tragic narratives: the destructive power of a love triangle in a time of conflicting social mores and the annual devastating epidemics of yellow fever, a.k.a. ‘yellow jack,’ that ran rampant through this swampy outpost.

Russell tells his story through the eyes of Claude Marchand, a fictional apprentice of Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the first camera or daguerreotype. After Marchand has a falling out with his teacher he smashes Daguerre’s equipment, setting him back several years, and runs off to New Orleans to set himself up as part magician and part artist years before the photograph makes its European debut. Upon his arrival, though, Marchand takes to the streets in desperation and survives by using the pistol he’d taken from his master to rob locals. This theme of thievery rings true in New Orleans‘s history and serves as a good introduction to the danger the has always followed the city’s excess.

Marchand soon starts a transition to respectability, however, after he is [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld by Herbert Asbury


The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld

by Herbert Asbury

I knew going in that highly recommended local history The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld was written by the same author who wrote The Gangs of New York of movie fame. I didn’t realize, though, that Herbert Asbury wrote this historic sequel to its more famous predecessor in 1936! Much like Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children, though, it has stood the test of time and remains a local favorite.

This is the third comprehensive history of New Orleans I’ve reviewed, and this would have been a better place to start. Asbury is a more conversational writer and engaging storyteller so the book is much more accessible than the two more academic (though still appropriate for casual readers) histories. The Accidental City does a thorough job documenting the political maneuvering and alliances that went into forming the city, with a strong emphasis on race relations, while The World That Made New Orleans uses race as one of its major motifs, along with documenting how New Orleans was influence by Caribbean culture.

With its pre-civil rights publication, The French Quarter doesn’t dwell a great deal on race, though there is a chapter on Congo Square. When it does delve into this territory, the obvious prejudices of the day can be a little discomforting. Overall, though, the book focuses more on the colorful characters that inhabited the city through the ages. Make no mistake, Asbury is a skilled journalist and historian, but this is muck-raking of the highest order. The pages are filled with stories of famous gamblers, prostitutes, pimps, madams, thieves, whisky house owners, riverboat bullies (fighters), outlaws, rebels, and every other type of [Read more…]

French Quarter Living: Labor Day Last Hoorah!


My Favorite French Quarter View: Leaning Out the Bathroom Window!

Favorite French Quarter View:
Leaning Out Bathroom Window!

It will be two weeks Monday in my new home and so far so good. For the first time since heading this way in February I feel settled and truly able to focus on not only the blog but other writing and personal goals. My Year of Mardi Gras is a gift to myself and if at times I’ve seem frustrated, it’s because I felt like I was inadvertently squandering this precious time. There is not much of a chance for this adventure to fail (my motto, remember, is that if this blog fails it will be the most fun failure in history!) but if I look back and realize I squandered my time on foolish drama (i.e. Jake & Snake) that would qualify.

It Looked Quaint & Funky...

It Looked Quaint & Funky…

Granted, I did get some great stories from the debacle and had more reader responses to those posts than just about any others. If I am able sell this adventure as a memoir, it may turn out to be hours well wasted. Sometimes, though, you don’t realize just how stressed you were until removed from a situation, and the release of tension from my shoulders has surprised even me. Not only has my blood pressure plummeted, but my mind is clear and focused. I moved into that quaint but crumbling French Quarter apartment where gray dirt rained down from the ceiling on a daily basis coating floors and furniture like living in a coal camp because it teamed with history that promised literary inspiration. Instead, [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: Tom Piazza Interview

You wrote Why New Orleans Matters in the months following Katrina, and the second half deals with the aftermath of the storm. Had you already conceptualized the first half, a memoir of how you fell in love with New Orleans?

Oh, no. In fact, before Katrina people would periodically ask me if I were thinking of writing anything about New Orleans, and I’d say no. I had been in New Orleans for 11 years when Katrina happened, but I still didn’t feel that I knew enough. There are so many layers to the place.

Right after the disaster, my better half, Mary, and I were in Missouri, where she grew up. It was extremely traumatic being stuck there and watching what was happening down here and not being able to do anything about it. I talked to my editor at Harper Collins, Cal Morgan, and he asked if there were anything they could do to help. We started talking and very quickly evolved the idea for a very short book that would make the case for why New Orleans has to survive, because at that time there were a number of voices out there, including some high-profile ones, who were saying, ‘Hey, yeah, the place should be just be bulldozed.’ The book was my response to that.

Reading City of Refuge, which you wrote afterwards, I got the sense that Why New Orleans Matters served as a blueprint for the novel. Did you purposefully use it as a roadmap or did experience subconsciously bleed in?

One is non-fiction and the other is a novel. Those are two different modes. Some people assumed that Craig’s character was based on myself, his experiences on mine, but that is really not the case. The problem that Craig faces in the novel is that he is a family man and has divided loyalties, to his family and to the city he loves. I have a friend who moved to Chicago with his wife and children from New Orleans after the disaster, as Craig and his family do, and I got a lot of insight into the choices, and the anguish, involved from long conversations with this friend, as well as from other friends who were in similar situations. His experience is very different from my own, although I and, obviously, everyone else had to make hard decisions about whether to come back or not.

When you write a novel, [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: My Cold War by Tom Piazza

Last week I skipped Red Beans on Monday, or posting at all, as I was busy visiting with family in Myrtle Beach where my sister cashed in her timeshare. I did bring a copy Tom Piazza‘s first novel, though, which followed his publication of a collection of stories and several non-fiction books on jazz. Piazza has agreed to sit down for an interview for next Monday’s post so I can delve deeper into my reviews of City of Refuge and Why New Orleans Matters. I enjoyed these two books so much, though, that I picked up My Cold War for the plane (the reason I got caught in the library on the way to Mardi Gras World, if you read my last post) so, though I didn’t plan on making this Tom Piazza month on Read Beans on Monday, that’s how it’s worked out. This novel has nothing to do with New Orleans but Piazza, I believe, was already living in the city when it was published. Either way, he’s a born again New Orleanian, and it was nice to take a thematic break from local matters as much as I love reading about New Orleans. So, here’s one to grow one.


My Cold War

by Tom Piazza

My Cold War is a first-person fictional memoir about a college professor struggling to write a history of the Cold War in the superficial, sensationalistic manner for which he’s become renowned. Cold War Studies is a niche he has carved for himself at his university, yet when a former admiring student now successful in the publishing world gives him a huge advance to collect his pithy vignettes into a book, he finds himself frozen with writer’s block in the midst of a mid-life crisis for a life that has always been in crisis—a personal Cold War struggle with his childhood and the beliefs of his father.

As he grew up in the fifties, the narrator’s father was a rigid engineer who preached self-sufficiency, eschewed compassion, and was obsessed with the communist threat. His emotional distance and sudden harshness scarred the narrator who has grown to be incapable of making true intimate connections. He is lingering in a marriage that, although civil, is more like two professionals sharing an office  than an intimate system of mutual support and when he finally attempts to reach out to his wife, she is too practical and preoccupied to shepherd him through his hour of need. Furthermore, he is estranged from his last surviving family, younger brother who once admired him, and part of the novel deals with his painfully misguided trip to try and mend fences after eight years of silence.

This novel is a slower-moving and more introspective than his other reviewed work, fostering a purposeful sense of personal malaise as metaphor for the nation’s post Cold War flounderomg search for purpose and morality. City of Refuge was nearly twice as long but felt like a quicker read being a book about action and survival versus a book of inaction and ennui.

The narrator’s paralysis emerges as he slowly loses faith in his self-styled superficial brand of faux-history. His study of the Cold War dismisses right vs. wrong and deeper meaning to focus on pop-culture themes and iconic images. His academic work is as shallow as his relationships and, though he is ridiculed by colleagues, he has made a popular name for himself with the public; however, he doesn’t know how to react as it slowly dawns on him that his entire life and career has been about trivializing and running away from the paranoia his father, a member of the anti-communist John Birch Society that was famous for ‘exposing’ supposed communist sympathizers, took so seriously.

Once again Piazza’s influences as a music writer shine through. One of the more interesting aspects of the novel, at least for a Bob Dylan nut like me, is the way he describes Dylan’s sway on Cold War pop culture, shocking the world when he morphed from social conscious acoustic protest singer to defiant electric guitar wielding leather clad individualist. Even the mention of the John Birch society is likely a reference to the hilariously satirical Dylan bootleg, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” where the narrator begins to see ‘red’ hiding everywhere, including in the U.S. flag, leading him to conclude: [Read more…]