- Paperback: 220 pages
- Publisher: Garrett County Press (June 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1891053019
- ISBN-13: 978-1891053016
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.5 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Letters from New Orleans Paperback – June, 2005
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When Rob Walker and his girlfriend relocated to New Orleans in 2000, Walker (a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine) started filling his friends' email inboxes with tales of adventures from his new home. Those stories--capturing the simple, everyday, and often unbelievable moments that regularly transpired in the Crescent City--are the basis for the fascinating Letters from New Orleans. Here, the author describes the parades and jazz funerals not as a tourist would see them, but from behind the scenes, amidst the personalities. Over the course of 20 or so vignettes, Walker finds himself in dive bars that should probably be condemned; bicycling through an improvised community park that happens to exist directly below a busy freeway overpass; and mulling the consequences of random, celebratory gun firings that appear to be a regular occurrence in New Orleans. Throughout, Walker is the perfect fly on the wall; he's equal parts journalist, anthropologist, and tour guide. He devotes his energy equally to the beautiful, the downtrodden, and the wacky, but these are clearly love letters to the unique people of New Orleans. Walker is, quite simply, infatuated with his adopted city. With the 2005 flooding of Hurricane Katrina happening just months after the publishing of this book, these pieces serve as even more poignant snapshots; some of Walker's favorite landmarks may be gone forever. With that in mind, the author is devoting the proceeds from this wonderful effort to Katrina victims. --Jason Verlinde
From Publishers Weekly
Walker, the New York Times Magazine's "Consumed" columnist, shares episodic vignettes of three years (2000–2003) spent in New Orleans. He takes in the usual (Mardi Gras, Carnival, a funeral, a gospel choir, Gennifer Flowers, Galatoire's, K-Doe) as a resident tourist, but his writer's perspective strays just enough off center to remain interesting. The streetcar named Desire long gone, Walker visits the history and tenants of the Desire projects. He pursues the blues standard "St. James Infirmary" through its recording history and around the world. He dons a skeleton costume and parades with one of the Carnival krewes. Not the meal at Galatoire's but the local uproar about a fired waiter gets his attention. Indeed, the quality that makes Walker's "modest series of stories about a place that means a lot to [him]" rewarding reading is his immersion in the local. Neighborhood bars, regional history, hometown notables and a dash of mayoral politics reign in the recurring presence of New Orleans' dominating event, Mardi Gras. Walker's book, "not a memoir, a history, or an exposé," won't help a tourist get around in New Orleans, but it will help him or her see beyond the tour guide's pointed finger. (July 20)
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In "Letters From New Orleans," Walker examines his own love affair by crafting slice-of-life vignettes shot through with the kind of colors and detail that make the reader want to tumble right down the rabbit hole with him.
Walker gets gets off Bourbon Street and gets real. "Letters From New Orleans" is personal and yet has wonderful, broad appeal owing to Walker's skill as a writer and storyteller. One need not have lived there or even visited to enjoy this book, but those who have had the pleasure of New Orleans, will be further delighted (and educated). It left me wanting more. I've read it three times; I'll read it again.
As for books about New Orleans, this little gem is a huge must. It captures the wackiness, the peculiarities, the enchantment and the "je ne sais quoi" that makes this American city unlike all the others. Rob Walker is donating the proceeds to hurricane relief efforts, which makes reading it even sweeter.
I was in New Orleans when as Katrina approached and the Mayor urged visitors to leave. I was lucky to get three connecting flights home to California. "Letters from New Orleans" was like a balm which I needed to feel something other than sorrow.
This too short book covers a period of time when Walker moved to New Orleans and adapted to the idiosyncrasies of that magical city in daily exploration of its peculiar wonders. With his companion 'E' he attends a New Orleans church service (as the only white people present) and learns to appreciate the gospel singing, the attire and the unconditional love that pours from the congregation; he dresses for Carnivale and participates in the traditions of bead throwing and costuming that have only been images in films and photos; he takes us on a journey through the celebration of a New Orleans funeral - which is anything but morose - and teaches us about the 'cemeteries' of tombs above ground in this city below sea level; he ponders on the traditions of firing guns into the sky to celebrate most any event; he explores the famous 'St James Infirmary' of song fame, sharing the origins of the place and the myths; and he mixes with the people in this city of poverty of pocketbook but wealth of mind.
Reading Rob Walker could be experienced as a prelude (or postlude) to appreciating the art of Tennessee Williams and the Jazz Greats. His technique in writing is to keep it simple and observational, and in doing so he raises his writing to the level of poetry - succinct with themes and variations that always return us to the spirit of one of America's most treasured cities. Highly recommended reading. Grady Harp, February 08