By the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans. It’ll be my first visit, and one I’ve been looking forward to my whole life – or at least since I read The Vampire Lestat. While we’re there, I want to walk along Bourbon St and see Marie Laveau’s grave and eat bignet’s and drink chicory coffee.
Wow! Travel cliché much?
Seriously, though, I told my daughter yesterday to expect me to move slowly so I’d have a chance to absorb as many of the sights, sounds, and smells as I could. So I’d have time to talk to the person serving my coffee, to memorize their accent (unless of course they’re a college student from Brooklyn, which could also be cool, but in a different way). And so I’d have time to learn by heart the place I fall in love with a little harder every time I read about it.
I’m not 100% sure, but I think my first literary exposure to New Orleans did come from Ann Rice. (And yes, going past her house is definitely on the to-do list.) The city is almost another character in Lestat and in Interview With A Vampire, and it’s an even stronger presence Feast Of All Saints, her novel about the gens de couleur libre, or free people of color, a class of black and mixed race people who carved out their own cultural place between the white upperclass and slaves. The city in that story is gorgeous and mysterious and vicious, a perfect fantasy to fall in love with. (Apparently it was made into a movie in 2001…might have to check that out…)
Another of my favorite series set in a similar version of New Orleans are the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly. The first, A Free Man Of Color, tells the story of a physician and music teacher whose skin color makes him particularly vulnerable to a murder charge because the document declaring him a free man is as fragile as the paper it’s printed on. The mystery is well-constructed and the period details are amazing. I almost want to go back in time and live in that Creole world.
A more recent – and tremendously fun – New Orleans appearance happens in Definitely Dead, book six (I think) in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire mysteries. Sookie’s cousin Hadley is killed (and that’s in the blurb so not a spoiler) and Sookie inherits her estate, which turns out to be more than she expects. New Orleans is hot and sexy and so is Quinn, the were-tiger who’s along for the ride. This is one of my favorite Sookie books. Hmm…might have to bring my copy along to read on the airplane.
And I can’t forget one of the best books of any type describing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson begins a couple days before Katrina hits, and gives you an insider’s view of the storm and the people who survived it. The paranormal elements are fun (especially the very crushable take on Jean Lafitte!) but the real story is the city and her resilience. Royal Street is the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, definitely in the auto-buy section of my bookshelf.
So even if you’re not lucky enough to have a midwinter trip to The Big Easy planned, put some Kermit Ruffins or Harry Connick, Jr on your stereo and crack open one of the books on my list and have your own little vacation. And if you have a favorite New Orleans book that I should take a look at, leave a recommendation in the comments. Or tell me about a city you’ve got a crush on…
Laissez les bons temps rouler!