Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What she read: The House on First Street

       In between promoting Children with Cancer: A Comprehensive Reference Guide for Parents (Oxford U. Press, 2010) and working at the library (, I always find time to read. Usually I have several books going at once, because heaven forbid I should not have a book handy to fill odd moments when I could be doing other things--like, say, thinking. There is the audiobook in the car, the lunch book at the library, and always a pile of books by the bed. Recently I finished Julia Reed's The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story (Harper/Collins 2008).
       I have only been to New Orleans once, and it was in the post-Katrina era, but even with the city running on fewer cylinders, I was hooked. I was one of the intrepid American Library Association conference attendees when the ALA was the first major convention to return to the city after the devastation.
       This started out as a lunch book but ended up as an under-the-tree-in-a-swing-in-Maine book. In her charming story, Julia Reed explains how she went to New Orleans in the early 90s the cover a political campaign (for Vogue? really?). And pretty much stayed. Raised in Mississippi, Reed was living in New York and writing for Newsweek, among other publications. Gradually, though, she found herself in the Crescent City a lot more than in The Big Apple. What happened, of course, was love. A man and a city and then a house. Her book details the woes of renovating an old house using the worst contractor in town.--or maybe in the whole country. Or the world. After a year of frustration, fury and eventual progress, they moved into the house in the Garden District--a month before Katrina struck. The latter part of the book provides an insider's view of the hurricane and recovery.
As they say, I laughed, I cried, and I wanted to visit New Orleans again. For other New Orleans books, I recommend A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (pre-disaster) and local columnist Chris Rose's One Dead in Attic, post-Katrina. Quite the city, either way.

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