Rob Walker may use his day job as a New York Times Magazine Columnist to support himself, but with the publication of LETTERS FROM NEW ORLEANS he clearly steps into the arena of fine writers whose messages stand solidly on their own. This collection of shared letters via email does not come across as yet another Blog site, but instead reveals a writer of sensitivity of observation, calm excitement of discovery, and an artist who can enter a space apparently foreign to him and make it not only his experience but also that of his reader.
This too short book covers a period of time when Walker moved to New Orleans and adapted to the idiosyncrasies of that magical city in daily exploration of its peculiar wonders. With his companion 'E' he attends a New Orleans church service (as the only white people present) and learns to appreciate the gospel singing, the attire and the unconditional love that pours from the congregation; he dresses for Carnivale and participates in the traditions of bead throwing and costuming that have only been images in films and photos; he takes us on a journey through the celebration of a New Orleans funeral - which is anything but morose - and teaches us about the 'cemeteries' of tombs above ground in this city below sea level; he ponders on the traditions of firing guns into the sky to celebrate most any event; he explores the famous 'St James Infirmary' of song fame, sharing the origins of the place and the myths; and he mixes with the people in this city of poverty of pocketbook but wealth of mind.
Reading Rob Walker could be experienced as a prelude (or postlude) to appreciating the art of Tennessee Williams and the Jazz Greats. His technique in writing is to keep it simple and observational, and in doing so he raises his writing to the level of poetry - succinct with themes and variations that always return us to the spirit of one of America's most treasured cities. Highly recommended reading.
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Garrett County Press -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Walker, the New York Times Magazine's 'Consumed' columnist, shares episodic vignettes of three years (2000 — 2003) spent in New Orleans. He takes in the usual (Mardi Gras, Carnival, a funeral, a gospel choir, Gennifer Flowers, Galatoire's, K-Doe) as a resident tourist, but his writer's perspective strays just enough off center to remain interesting. The streetcar named Desire long gone, Walker visits the history and tenants of the Desire projects. He pursues the blues standard 'St. James Infirmary' through its recording history and around the world. He dons a skeleton costume and parades with one of the Carnival krewes. Not the meal at Galatoire's but the local uproar about a fired waiter gets his attention. Indeed, the quality that makes Walker's 'modest series of stories about a place that means a lot to [him]' rewarding reading is his immersion in the local. Neighborhood bars, regional history, hometown notables and a dash of mayoral politics reign in the recurring presence of New Orleans' dominating event, Mardi Gras. Walker's book, 'not a memoir, a history, or an expos,' won't help a tourist get around in New Orleans, but it will help him or her see beyond the tour guide's pointed finger. (July 20)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by The New York Times Book Review,
"...These stories now function as 21 silent little jazz funerals: exuberant, celebratory and tragic."
"Letters from New Orleans tells the stories that you've never heard before and that you just can't hear while jaunting through the muggy city during Jazz Fest or Mardis Gras.... Fresh and poignant."
by Flak Magazine,
"Letters From New Orleans... stands within the most robust tradition of geography-centered writing. It's a complicated tribute. In its willingness to pursue topics as far-flung as musicology, urban decay and the cultural history of Carnival season, it recalls writers such as V.S. Naipaul, who approach cities and countries with a hungry interest in demolishing false expectations."
by Chicago Tribune,
"This is not a travel book per se, but rather an outsider's account of America's strangest town.... The chapter on R&B singer Ernie K-Doe's lounge is a masterful little piece of social observation.... Seeing the city through Rob Walker's eyes reveals a place at once familiar and yet different."
"Walker's musings reveal him to be an astute observer of human nature, urban renewal (or lack thereof), tradition, music, economics, frivolity, and other sociocultural phenomena.... Letters succeeds as a collage of eloquent impressions of New Orleans and reads like thoughtful dispatches from a learned friend."
Rob Walker, columnist for the New York Times Magazine (Consumed), energizes the lately enervated worlds of memoir and travelogue with his book-length debut, Letters From New Orleans, a reconnaissance of a city obsessed with the forensic details of denial.
In January of 2000, Rob Walker left a high-powered media job in New York, and with his girlfriend, moved to New Orleans. Letters from New Orleans collects, in one volume, the delightful and unsettling observations Walker sent to friends and fans about his intriguing new life in New Orleans.
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