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September 09, 2005

October Vote - NOLA Style

Watching the devastation in The Deep South this last week, I've been lamenting the fact that I've never visited New Orleans. I've decided to visit it through literature instead. I've forgone the normal nomination process this month (thank you for all your suggestions; they will be saved for next month) to focus on books set in New Orleans. All of the books are very different - in time period, in character, in style. I hope you will help me honor this great city by voting. Also, please visit Margene and Susan's Give A Little blog to see the wonderful work knitters are doing for the cause.

Thank you.

Here are the nominations for the October 17th Discussion:

[Voting is below book descriptions. You can only vote once. Voting will close Tuesday, September 13th. Thank you!]

Choice #1: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
John Kennedy Toole’s hero is one, “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times). Ignatius J. Reilly is a flatulent frustrated scholar deeply learned in Medieval philosophy and American junk food, a brainy mammoth misfit imprisoned in a trashy world of Greyhound Buses and Doris Day movies. He is in violent revolt against the entire modern age.

A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece that outswifts Swift, whose poem gives the book its title. Set in New Orleans, the novel bursts into life on Canal Street under the clock at D. H. Holmes department store. The characters leave the city and literature forever marked by their presences — Ignatius and his mother; Mrs. Reilly’s matchmaking friend, Santa Battaglia; Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant at Levy Pants; inept, bemused Patrolman Mancuso; Jones, the jivecat in spaceage dark glasses. Juvenal, Rabelais, Cervantes, Fielding, Swift, Dickens — their spirits are all here. Filled with unforgettable characters and unbelievable plot twists, shimmering with intelligence, and dazzling in its originality, Toole’s comic classic just keeps getting better year after year.

Choice #2: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
When The Moviegoer was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel.

On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from this real life. But one fateful Mardi gras, Binx embarks on a quest — a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and sends him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

Choice #3: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams
by Ellen Gilchrist
In the Land of Dreamy Dreams is Ellen Gilchrist's fabled first collection of stories, the book that won her acclaim in 1981 and to which each of her subsequent works has been compared. Peopled largely with young southern females who chafe against the restrictions of their upper-class lives, these stories convey the humor and tragedy to be found wherever retreat into imagination is preferred over reality. Introduced here are Nora Jane Whittington, Rhoda Manning, and other recurring Gilchrist characters beloved for their failures, tenacity, and all-too-human hope in the face of frustrated love.

Choice #4: Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje
Bringing to life the fabulous, colorful panorama of New Orleans in the first flush of the jazz era, this book tells the story of Buddy Bolden, the first of the great trumpet players--some say the originator of jazz--who was, in any case, the genius, the guiding spirit, and the king of that time and place.

In this fictionalized meditation, Bolden, an unrecorded father of Jazz, remains throughout a tantalizingly ungraspable phantom, the central mysteries of his life, his art, and his madness remaining felt but never quite pinned down. Ondaatje's prose is at times startlingly lyrical, and as he chases Bolden through documents and scenes, the novel partakes of the very best sort of modern detective novel--one where the enigma is never resolved, but allowed to manifest in its fullness. Though more 'experimental' in form than either The English Patient or In the Skin of a Lion, it is a fitting addition to the renowned Ondaatje oeuvre.

Choice #5: Yellow Jack by Josh Russell
Yellow Jack is a ribald, picaresque trip through an 1840s New Orleans saturated with sex, drugs, death, and corruption. It is the story of Claude Marchand, an apprentice to Louis Daguerre, who discovers the magic art of photography when he hides a broken thermometer in a cabinet and finds that the mercury fumes bring out images etched by the sun in metal plates. After a falling-out with Daguerre, Marchand flees from Paris to New Orleans where he becomes the first daguerrotypist in America and he gets hopelessly entangled with both a voodoo-adept octoroon mistress and the erotically precocious daughter of a prominent New Orleans family. As the city is ravaged each summer by yellow fever (yellow jack), Marchand's miraculous art is tested by death, politics, and jealousy. Mercury drives him mad, but his work will nevertheless make him immortal, after a fashion.

Choice #6: Hall of Mirrors by Robert Stone
Rheinhardt, a disk jockey and failed musician, rolls into New Orleans looking for work and another chance in life. What he finds is a woman physically and psychically damaged by the men in her past and a job that entangles him in a right-wing political movement. Peopled with civil rights activists, fanatical Christians, corrupt politicians, and demented Hollywood stars, A Hall of Mirrors vividly depicts the dark side of America that erupted in the sixties. To quote Wallace Stegner, "Stone writes like a bird, like an angel, like a circus barker, like a con man, like someone so high on pot that he is scraping his shoes on the stars."

[All of the book links lead to Powells, which has more information, including links to reviews.]

Voting has closed. Thank you!

Posted by Knit One Read Too at September 9, 2005 01:11 PM


Have you read Feast of All Saints, by Anne Rice? Not a vampire book.

Posted by: Patti at September 9, 2005 02:16 PM

I probably won't be able to read right along with you all because of school, but I hope to catch up over the holidays. Great idea to do a NOLA book, C.

Posted by: Lolly at September 9, 2005 02:19 PM

What a great idea, Cara. I never visited NO, either, though DH and the girls did just last January! I think a couple of these will make my reading pile in any case.

Posted by: Vicki at September 9, 2005 02:26 PM

I'm okay with anything except for A Confederacy of Dunces. I really didn't like that book. Very weird.

Posted by: Eva at September 9, 2005 02:28 PM

I love this idea for a subject. My first trip down was planned for Feb. Needless to say the friends we were going to stay with will be back up in Portland well before then.
No matter which book is chosen thank you for putting out some good titles to read after this month's selection.

Posted by: Deb at September 9, 2005 02:32 PM

this is a great idea! Ive never visited as well, so at least I can mentally visit this way.

as a photog Im interested in yellow jack, though Im not trying to sway the vote in any way...nope absolutely not...

Posted by: Yahaira at September 9, 2005 02:59 PM

Well, I've tried and failed to make it through Confederacy of Dunces, so rather than pile that on top of Don Quixote (which I'm actually liking a lot), I picked the Moviegoer - the first time I've picked a book in the lead. Woo!

Posted by: Donna at September 9, 2005 04:33 PM

Wonderful choices, Cara! A related subject would have been "Isaac's Storm" by Erik Larsen. Can't wait to start reading.

Posted by: Nancy at September 9, 2005 06:50 PM

I'm always ridiculously pleased when I vote for a book that turns out to be in the lead. I think The Moviegoer sounds fascinating. Great idea, Cara.
I noticed, though--rather a dearth of female authors, no? Just a thought, perhaps for next time or sometime soon.

Posted by: Laurie at September 9, 2005 07:30 PM

I think several of these books sound fascinating. This would be my first k1r2 RAL and I'm so excited.

Posted by: erica at September 10, 2005 12:49 PM

I'm almost finished with Wives and Daughters - love it.

I think Confederacy of Dunces, Yellow Jack and The Moviegoer sound great...

Can't wait to find out which wins :-)

Posted by: Esther at September 11, 2005 12:25 PM

Yellow Jack. Yellow Jack. Yellow Jack.

There was an Anne Rice novel (Feast of All Saints) that was set in NOLA, that didn't involve vampires or witches... Maybe next time!

Posted by: MJ Gumayagay at September 12, 2005 03:23 PM