Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bookish Tourism - New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is known as The Big Easy, and for good reason.  There is so much to see, do, and eat, but there's never a rush.  Explore.  Stroll around.  Take it easy.  New Orleans has a burgeoning literary culture, partly rooted in its history, but firmly planted in modern day.  This is shown through the many amazing bookstores, the authors writing in and about the area, and the committed people publishing the books.  On my most recent trip, I spent a lovely few days soaking up as much of the literary as I could, while still taking it easy.  Here are a few of the highlights -

Faulkner House Books

Located in the building where William Faulkner lived and wrote his first novel, Soldier's Pay, Faulkner House Books is a treasure trove of amazing literature of all types.  Upon entering this compact, elegant, charming space you immediately feel transported to another world.  There are plenty of Faulkner tomes here, as well as some rare and antiquarian finds; everything is thoughtfully curated.  I ended up leaving with a copy of Soldier's Pay (it seemed wrong not to, considering) and a collection of essays called Southern Bound: A Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers, and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart by John S. Sledge.  I have since read the Faulkner and, while I didn't love the story, I will always have the memories of buying the book in the space where it was written.  You can find more about them here.

Arcadian Books & Prints

About a block north of Faulkner House Books stands Arcadian Books & Prints, a bookshop that also invokes feelings of being transported to another world.  This world, however, is much more haphazard and...magical.  Books are stacked floor to ceiling, in mismatched cabinets, on rickety tables.  It was a literary labyrinth to navigate, finding antique and new books alike.  I was almost afraid to pick up some for fear that a whole shelf might collapse around me, in a dramatic avalanche.  What a way to go!  This didn't happen, but I did get the sense that the shop itself was being held up by books and magic, rather than walls.  The shopkeeper's desk also seemed to be made of books, and he would happily (if not a bit crankily) discuss anything New Orleans and literature with the patrons.  And the bookshop has the most amazing, Rory Gilmore-smelling-a-book scent!  I ended up choosing the essay collection Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker.

Librairie Bookshop

A more quaint and austere New Orleans bookshop, yet not without character, is Librairie Bookshop. Well-lit and spacious, yet very much a treasured hole-in-the-wall institution, this bookstore has a wide array of titles, but focuses on New Orleans-area literature and maps.  The aisles are filled with literary quotes handwritten on note cards, giving shoppers inspiration.  I left with a copy of New Orleans Jazz by Edward J. Branley.

Crescent City Books

At the time I visited, Crescent City Books had just completed a move into its new home on Baronne Street.  While very bright and open, especially compared to Arcadian Books, this shop is deceivingly full of great books, maps, and prints.  It's also the southern outpost of Black Widow Press, a micropress focusing on translated and contemporary poetry.  The bookshop also has a delightful resident cat, named Isabelle.  After receiving belly skritches, she was happy to recommend me her favorite books by rubbing her head on them.  Read more about the bookshop, and see extensive photos of the building (including the airplane body doorway here.  I ended up with Errata by Michael Allen Zell and City Without People: The Katrina Poems by Niyi Osundare.

Garden District Bookshop

Nestled in the gloriously air-conditioned and homey Rink Shopping Center, Garden District Bookshop is a spacious and beautifully cozy space.  Anne Rice is a local author, and there is a large space devoted to her work, so any fan would do well to make a stop here.  There are frequent author events, and information about them, as well as the shop itself, can be found on their website.  None were happening when I was in town, but I hope to be able to coordinate a trip so that I can attend one!  Most of the stock in this delightful shop were new releases, and significant space is made for signed copies.  My partner, a John Grisham fan, was delighted to find a signed, first edition of his book Rogue Lawyer.  I came away with a signed copy of Joseph Boyden's The Orenda

There were so many other bookish places I wanted to visit, but just didn't have the time - Maple Street Book Shop, the New Orleans Literary Festival, the Backspace Bar & Kitchen, touring Anne Rice's home, exploring Hotel Monteleone, and more.  There are so many reasons for me to trek back for another holiday!  If you haven't been there yet, I hope that I've inspired you to make a bookish trip to the Big Easy.  If there are other literary events or locations that I should check out on a future vacation, please let me know!

Librorum annis