Sunday, February 18, 2007
Letters from New Orleans by Rob Walker
I reviewed four books about New Orleans last year preparing for the ALA annual conference in the city. The Garrett County Press noticed and asked if I would accept a free copy of the second edition of Letters from New Orleans by Rob Walker. There were no strings attached, though the publisher hoped that I would like and review the book. I said yes and received it in the mail a couple of weeks ago.
Walker and his girlfriend E moved to the Crescent City late in 1999 and were surprised by the local tradition of firing of guns in the air on New Years Eve. He wrote a letter about the random injuries that resulted and government efforts to curb the gun play. In the letter he also wrote about unpacking, buying paint, listening to New Orleans music, and the theft of the rental car. He sent the letter to friends by email, who shared it with strangers.
In the next three years he wrote thirteen more letters and sent them to an increasing number of people. They also found their way to Slate.com, the New Republic, and other websites and magazines. In 2005, just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the book was published.
Walker wrote lovingly about what he saw everyday riding his bike around the city. He told about street life, housing projects, musicians, and the annual Carnival, which is capped off by Mardi Gras. He spoke to lots of people and described intersections, vacant lots, pillars under the Interstate, and old buildings.
The second edition is little changed from the first. An introduction and two postscripts have been added and one chapter has been updated. Walker admits that the stories now reflect a life that is past. He also mentions the great interest in the tragedy from outside the city. He suggests that many of those criticizing New Orleans refuse to see that their lives are in as much danger from forces beyond their control as the citizens living below sea level.
Letters from New Orleans is an interesting book that should find more readers.
Walker, Rob. Letters from New Orleans. Garrett County Press, 2006. ISBN 1891053019