New Orleans' lively literary scene is a holiday gift to book-lovers

Tuesday, 05 December 2017, 06:36:42 AM. It’s a bright, beautiful Small Business Saturday and bookseller Tom Lowenburg is handing out name tags and lanyards to local authors at Octavia Books to act as booksellers-for-a-day. Michael Tisserand,

It’s a bright, beautiful Small Business Saturday and bookseller Tom Lowenburg is handing out name tags and lanyards to local authors at Octavia Books to act as booksellers-for-a-day. Michael Tisserand, author of "Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White," heads around the corner to Toast for coffee, and then comes back to sell a copy of one of his favorite books, a graphic novel called “The Best We Could Do,” by Thi Bui, to a friend.

Anne Gisleson signs a copy of her memoir, "The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving and Reading,” for a man who’s driven in from River Ridge.

Amid family and community struggles, readers form a group for 'Thinking, Drinking, Reading, and Grieving'

Local books are really the focus of this event. Buy small, buy local. Constance Adler, author of “My Bayou: New Orleans through the Eyes of a Lover,” comes by to pick up a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing.” Ben Sandmel shows up with a big poster for his book, “Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans.”

In a town where every bookstore has a large local interest section — mostly because there are so many local books — Small Business Saturday is, as Lowenburg puts it, “the opposite of that invented holiday, Black Friday. It’s not about manipulating crowds, but it’s all about our ability to provide a great shopping experience for our customers. It’s not the busiest day for us, but it’s really the beginning of the holiday season. And books are always great last-minute gifts.”

“People have a high interest in local books here,” Lowenburg said. “And that’s something we do all year round, support the literary community. It’s a specialty of our store, but it’s also part of who we are and what we do.”

For the New Orleans-o-phile on your list:

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Local Books -- Brian Boyles

“New Orleans and the World, 1718-2018, Tricentennial Anthology,” by Brian Boyles, executive publisher, Nancy Dixon, executive editor, (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, $60) is one of the year’s most beautiful books, a perfect coffee table volume, and an episodic history of the ways in which New Orleans has become a world-renowned city. A who’s who of leading scholars — the editorial board was composed of Richard Campanella, Robert L. Dupont, Freddi Williams Evans, Alecia Long, Kara T. Olidge and Lawrence Powell — contribute lively writing, accompanied by vintage and contemporary art.

“New Orleans: The First 300 Years,” edited by Errol Laborde and Peggy Scott Laborde (Pelican Publishing, $35) assembles essays from experts in various fields and accompanies them with vintage illustrations. We’ve come a long way, baby! Don’t miss Brobson Lutz on public health and Errol Laborde on civic celebrations, Proceeds benefit WYES.

“Let’s Go Get ’Em,” by Michelle L. Elmore (ArtVoices, $60) This glorious photography book with portraits of Mardi Gras Indians is sure to please anyone who admires that Carnival tradition. Elmore is a former New Orleanian who obviously knows the city well — she’s also released two other photo books, “Ya Heard Me” (ArtVoices, $45) and “Come See About Me” (ArtVoices, $45.)

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Local books -- Let's Go Get 'Em, Michelle Elmore

“Saints and Lesser Souls,” by Ronnie Virgets (Conundrum Books, $19.95) The gravelly-voiced local favorite serves up more Crescent City characters — most of all, himself! Look for the unforgettable story of Virgets playing Santa at Lakeside.

“Secret New Orleans,” by Chris Champagne (Jonglez Publishing, $19.95). The comic who makes us laugh with his homegrown humor turns out to be a wonderful tour guide in this selection of charming destinations off the beaten track.

Beyond Bourbon Street: 'Secret New Orleans' unearths city's quirkiest treasures

“The Bachelor in New Orleans,” by Robert Kinney, with block prints by Eugenia and Bob Riley (Garrett Country Pres, $22.95) This reprint of a charming novelty guide from the 1940s is utterly charming — and don’t worry, bachelorettes are included, too!

“Bayou St. John: A Brief History,” by Cassie Pruyn (History Press, $21.99). Cassie Pruyn’s first book was the poetry collection “Lena”; she turns her pen to one of the city’s most beloved waterways in this fascinating chronicle of her neighborhood.

“Cityscapes of New Orleans,” by Richard Campanella (Louisiana State University Press, $29.95) is a collection of short writings by the Tulane professor/geographer whose observations of our city are always illuminating, instructive and entertaining.

Richard Campanella takes a tour of New Orleans' 'Cityscapes'

“The Incomparable Magazine Street,” by John Magill, photography by Margot Landen (River Road Press, $45) is a long-overdue look at one of the city’s most beloved thoroughfares. Chances are you’ll do some of your Christmas shopping along Magazine, so read up on it!

“All Dat New Orleans: Eating, Drinking, Listening to Music, Exploring, and Celebrating in the Crescent City,” by Michael Murphy (The Countryman Press, $22.95) is one of the most jam-packed, fun-filled guides to the city EVER. Murphy, who died in October, was a publishing exec who fell in love with New Orleans, moved here in 2009, and immersed himself in his love for the place. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more charming and exuberant look at life here.

“The Louisiana Urban Gardener: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs,” by Kathryn Fontenot (Louisiana State University Press, $26.95) would be a great gift for anyone with gardening ambitions for backyard tomatoes or mirlitons or a kitchen herb garden.

“S Is for Southern: A Guide to the South from Absinthe to Zydeco,” editors of Garden & Gun Magazine (Harper Wave, $45) is a charmer, with Louisiana well represented by great writers. Who could miss John Barry on Katrina? Or Jessica Harris on field peas? Or Roy Blount Jr. on humidity?

Other notable books of 2017

“Leonardo da Vinci,” by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, $35) is the latest in the bestselling author’s studies of creative genius. The original Renaissance man truly comes to life in this chronicle, which is beautifully illustrated and written in a compelling style.

Walter Isaacson embraces the mystery in book on Leonardo da Vinci

“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Tulane University professor Jesmyn Ward is the most recent novel from the MacArthur winner, and it won her a history-making second National Book Award. This novel, set in Ward’s native Mississippi, is a powerful, exquisitely written tale of family struggle.

Author and Tulane professor Jesmyn Ward awarded MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant'

“The Talented Ribkins,” by Ladee Hubbard is the winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Prize this year. A brilliant riff on W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Talented Tenth,” it follows the lives of an offbeat and fascinating African-American family in Florida.

“A Kind of Freedom,” by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Counterpoint, $26 ), tells the story of a Creole family over three generations in our changing city. Nominated for the National Book Award.

Picture books for young readers:

“Cinderella Battistella,” by Bob Bruce and David Cuthbert with illustrations by Herb Leonhard and music by Freddie Palmisano (Pelican Publishing, $16.99) transforms the local classic musical production into a charming children’s book with just enough sly humor for adults (note how much the Prince resembles Elvis).

“Good Night to Da Parish,” by Cornell Landry, illustrated by Victoria Wisinski (River Road Press, $16.95). Landry won our hearts with “Goodnight, NOLA” (“Good night red beans,/ good night, rice”) and heads to the Parish for inspiration (“Good night Rocky & Carlo’s,/ Goodnight mac and cheese./Red gravy or brown gravy,/ You can have what ya please.”)

“Three Little Shrimps,” by Steven J. Spires, illustrated by Jonathan Caron (River Road Press, $16.99) is a sweet story of three shrimp who make their way home to their family.

“Sam, the Most Scaredy-cat Kid in the Whole World,” by New Orleans native Mo Willems (Disney-Hyperion, $17.99) is a funny tale of two friends overcoming fears by the creator of Elephant and Piggie.

Susan Larson is the host of The Reading Life on WWNO-NPR.

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