Synopses & Reviews
Rob Walker, columnist for the New York Times Magazine
, 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.
Walker traded his New York life, including a shmancy media job, back in January of 2000. He and his girlfriend set up shop in New Orleans and soon after, Walker began sending, via email, "The Letter From New Orleans" to interested parties. All fourteen pieces, along with additional material and photo spectra, are included in the book.
Subjects covered include: celebratory gunfire, rich people, Michelle Shocked, the riddle of race relations today, robots, fine dining, drunkenness, urban decay, debutantes, the nature of identity, Gennifer Flowers, the song "St. James Infirmary," and mortality.
"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.)
"...These stories now function as 21 silent little jazz funerals: exuberant, celebratory and tragic." The New York Times Book Review
"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."
"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." Flak Magazine
"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." Chicago Tribune
"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." Booklist
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.
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.