I often feel like my love of books doesn’t get enough attention on this blog.
From searching for quirky independent bookstores to buying books as souvenirs (even in languages I don’t read and have no intention of learning) to maintaining a “to read” list that’s about a mile long at any one time, suffice it to say that the love of reading is a big part of my life.
You are reading: Best books about new orleans
I’m writing in the first person, but most of this applies to Jeremy as well: he doesn’t consume books as voraciously as I do these days, but he’s a lifelong reader himself; In fact, in our teenage dating days, we started flirting with each other by outperforming each other in the Russian and Czech novels we had read.
yeah, we’re nerds at heart.
I’ve been wanting to add more book-based content to the blog for a while now, and I can’t imagine a better destination to start than new orleans: whether it’s in-depth cultural books about new orleans or just novels with a setting. in new orleans, this is a city that loves its stories, its authors, and its bookstores.
we spend a lot of our time in new orleans focusing on its literary aspects: if you follow us on instagram (and if you don’t, you should!), you might remember us spending a whole day on instagram stories. take a self-guided walking tour of the best independent bookstores within walking distance of the French Quarter (and we found plenty!).
Today, I want to share some of the literary highlights of New Orleans: From the best books about New Orleans to the best New Orleans bookstores to add to your itinerary, here’s how to unleash your inner bookworm in New Orleans! !
how I read on the go
As much as I love having beautiful books lined up on the shelves, let’s face it: carrying heavy, bulky books about New Orleans while traveling is just too much of a hassle.
While traveling, I recommend reading on a kindle or through the kindle app on your phone to save space. I carry dozens of books with me this way, and while I miss turning the pages, the flexibility, lack of weight to carry, and the ease of downloading new books on the go make it worth it.
jeremy tends to prefer listening to e-books rather than reading them; for fans of electronic books, audible is a fantastic option. If you’ve never used it before, consider getting a free trial before you head to New Orleans!
new orleans reading list: the best books about new orleans
Before heading to new orleans, I compiled a giant list of the best books about new orleans with the intention of reading several of them before and during the trip.
I was quite successful… but clearly, I couldn’t read that many books.
So while some of these I’ve finished myself, others are still on my to-read list, but I’d have no hesitation in recommending any of them to people who want to see New Orleans. All of these books are famous or remembered for a reason, and in a place like New Orleans, multiple perspectives are a necessary precursor to any kind of understanding.
best books about new orleans: history, culture & other nonfiction
nine lives: mystery, magic, death and life in new orleans by dan baum
this book immediately made me feel the spirit of new orleans, because it has everything: interwoven stories, very diverse characters that draw you in their own way, a history that spans decades… and the kicker? it’s all true.
I would recommend starting your new orleans reading list with this book!
five days at the memorial: life and death in a storm-ravaged hospital by sheri fink
When it comes to large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the sheer enormity of the horror can often cause us to forget to focus and listen to the small-scale stories that make up the much larger picture.
that’s what five days at the memorial is trying to do.
For the five days following Hurricane Katrina, the remaining employees, patients, family members, and pets who had taken shelter at the Memorial Hospital battled being stranded in the city, and decisions were eventually made horrible.
This is ultimately the story of how some doctors ended up sacrificing their patients, why they did it, and what happened next.
couldn’t put it down.
the world that made new orleans: from spanish silver to squared congo by ned sublette
the spanish, the french, the native americans, the caribbeans: it was a complex web of influences that led to the city of new orleans as we know it today, and all of them are still very visible in the composition of the city – if you know where to look.
bottomless city: an atlas of new orleans by rebecca solnit & rebecca snedecker
why is new orleans unfathomable?
according to the authors, because “no two people live in the same city.”
Told in a series of intimate essays, this is New Orleans up close and personal, as it should be.
kim marie vaz’s ‘dolls’
new orleans baby dolls aren’t exactly the image that comes to mind when imagining children’s toys.
These baby dolls were sex workers, specifically black sex workers, who participated in mardi gras by dressing up and performing in one of the only ways they could in a time when their options were extremely limited.
yes, since 1912, they dressed up as baby dolls.
no, not everyone was happy about this (or that women, especially women of color, participated in dressing up for mardi gras).
no, that didn’t stop them.
and indeed, in post katrina new orleans, they are being revitalized.
tales of gumbo: finding my place at the table in new orleans by sara roahen
this is new orleans through food: through kidney beans, rice, po’boys and much, much more.
It’s about a city adoptee who finds a home there through his kitchen, and like so many books about New Orleans, it’s about Katrina, the things that changed afterward and the things that didn’t.
new orleans, mon amour by andrei codrescu
The older I get, the more I appreciate books designed in the form of essays: they’re beautiful, often poetic, and have a directness that novels often can’t quite achieve.
A twenty-year veteran of New Orleans (and an immigrant from Transylvania, incidentally, the same place my great-grandfather and a few other relatives came from), Andrei Codrescu uses his essays to take us right into the heart of New Orleans.
rising tide by john barry
long before katrina hit, there was the great mississippi flood of 1927, another example of how water reshaped new orleans.
politics, science, civil engineering, social justice: due to a flood, they all came together and, combined with the times, caused a ripple effect that was felt far beyond new orleans.
douglas brinkley’s great flood
if you’re looking for a bird’s eye view of hurricane katrina (and a long read), one of the first published after the disaster, and published by a new orleanian, this is the book.
the good pirates of the forgotten swampsby ken wells
outside new orleans, there is the bayou, and in the bayou, there are the people who live there.
Not from New Orleans, and with a culture of their own, these folks saw their own set of challenges during and after Katrina – this is the story of how one family handled the disaster and what happened after.
looking at this list, something becomes very obvious: it is very katrina heavy.
there are many reasons for this, i think: firstly, katrina put new orleans in the national spotlight, which meant those books were likely to win awards and press, which meant they were easier to find when i started researching the best books about new orleans.
Secondly, I personally find the storm interesting, so those books tended to get my attention.
and third, new orleanians lived, and in many ways still live, katrina, day after day. even the books here that apparently aren’t about katrina at all, if they were published after 2005, they will pretty much always include her, why not?
the storm transformed too many lives to ignore: any story about new orleans after 2005 is, in some way, a katrina story.
best books about new orleans: fiction & novels set in new orleans
john kennedy toole’s confederation of fools
I still don’t know if I like this pulitzer prize winner and I finished it weeks ago.
It’s hilarious. he is good looking. It’s pure New Orleans, from the colorful characters to the references to fun New Orleans places like Pirate Alley (currently home to Faulkner House books, among other things!).
But, the main character is also an obnoxious would-be rim lord, and several of the characters are quite unlikable.
I’ll say this: I don’t think you’ll regret reading it.
a streetcar named desire by tennessee williams (play)
I’m a big believer in preferring watching plays rather than reading them, so this one is on the back burner for now, but tennessee williams famous play about blanche dubois remaking her life in new orleans is definitely on my list.
Coincidentally, when we were in New Orleans, one of my best friends was busy playing Blanche in her community theater production of the play Half a Country Away!
city of refuge by tom piazza
This is a fictional book… telling a very real story.
This novel follows two New Orleans families (one black and one white) through the aftermath of the storm: about where they end up, how things change, and how deep and vibrant New Orleans culture is.
a hall of mirrors by robert stone
colorful characters, glimpses into various subcultures, and time spent in the 1960s, new orleans style: that’s what rheinhardt, the main character of the hall of mirrors , he finds waiting for him when he reaches the big easy.
save the bones by jesmyn ward
Winner of the National Book Award in 2011, Salvage the Bones is nothing but brutal: Set in the 12 days before Hurricane Katrina, the story is told from the perspective of the children living in abject poverty, without decent parents to care for them.
Honestly, I really want to read this book (it’s been downloaded to my phone for a month), but I feel like I need to be in the right frame of mind to read it – it’s nothing like a happy story.
Hold on until it hurts for you. geronimo johnson
Two black brothers return home from a tour of duty, only to be handed the keys by their white mother to find their birth parents, and so they begin to wait until it hurts.
war, adoption, racial identity, family: the themes of hold it until it hurts are modern (the war in question is modern warfare in afghanistan) and absolutely timeless.
interview with the vampire by anne rice
Departing a bit from the admittedly heavy books before it, Interview with a Vampire is a classic New Orleans: It begins in (a clearly fictional one, since most of the characters are vampires) the New Orleans of the century. 18th century, time-jumping to the modern era, the city itself comes to life as a backdrop to the blood-drinking, night-walking exploits of louis, lestat, and claudia.
other voices, other rooms of truman capote
truman capote’s first novel is classic southern gothic literature, and what better place for that than new orleans?
The book opens with 13-year-old Joel Harrison Knox arriving in New Orleans with plans to live with his absent father following the death of his mother, but because we’re in New Orleans, the cast of colorful characters he meets ends up reshaping his life in unexpected ways.
this list of some of the best books about new orleans is clearly not exhaustive (we’d need a lot more than a blog post for that), but in all my research before and during the trip, and all our trips to various bookstores in new orleans while i was in town, this list became my personal new orleans reading list, and i’m willing to bet there are at least a few books here that will appeal to you as well.
nerdy new orleans bookstores to add to your itinerary
our self-led walking tour of independent bookstores in and around the french quarter ended up being one of our favorite things to do in new orleans.
If you have room on your New Orleans itinerary, be sure to screenshot this list and find these bookstores for yourself; they’re all worth taking a look at.
faulkner house books
Located in a house where William Faulkner once lived, this is a bookstore that brings elegance to mind: the store is beautiful, the books are beautiful, the original Tennessee Williams writing on the wall is beautiful. .. and is (perhaps? ) haunted.
because why not, right?
this is new orleans we’re talking about, after all, so despite the fact that william faulkner died far away in mississippi, new orleans still claim he hangs out there.
…although, for what it’s worth, I did get a chance to chat with garner robinson, the store owner, via email, and he’s adamant the store isn’t haunted!
arcadian books & art prints
if faulkner house books is elegant and refined, arcadian books & art prints are… just the opposite.
Located just a five-minute walk from Faulkner House Books, Arcadian Books is the kind of place where you feel like you’ve just walked into Weasley House – after all, nothing but magic could possibly it will keep that 15 foot tall stack of books from falling on top of you, right?
This is the kind of place where nothing is in order, everything smells like old books, and you want to stay for treasure hunting. just make sure you maneuver carefully while looking around!
crescent city books
Among the best known of all these bookstores, Crescent City Books is located just steps from the French Quarter and is well worth crossing Canal Street to experience.
The interior is beautiful, complete with a chandelier and multiple rooms to browse through, and this is hands down the largest New Orleans bookstore we visited.
the beckham bookstore
the beckham bookstore made our list the moment we saw it was dog friendly – what could be better than a nice looking bookstore? a cute bookstore with puppies!
Although the freezing weather on the day we were exploring meant there weren’t any doggos to play with, the shop itself was worth a look – we headed straight to the travel section, of course.
garden district bookstore
Although separated geographically from the rest of these New Orleans bookstores, the Garden District Bookstore is worth a visit while visiting Lafayette Cemetery or touring the Garden District, especially for vampire fans.
this is the bookcase that anne rice used to do all her book signings when she lived in the garden district, which is actually a bit hard to imagine: this is probably the lightest, brightest and most modern bookstore of everyone we visited!
However, it’s a beautiful store and we loved having the opportunity to browse.
Of all the new orleans bookstores on this list, this is the only one we didn’t get to experience personally: the librairie bookstore was closed the day we visited, but it looked beautiful through the window!
They are said to specialize in locally oriented books, which makes it a great place to shop for souvenirs. We will definitely try to visit them again on our next trip to new orleans!
authors with ties to new orleans
Many familiar names and faces have passed through New Orleans over the years, and the city is happy to claim writers (and artists of all kinds) as its own.
here are some of the more familiar ones!
although william faulkner didn’t stay in new orleans for long (he spent less than a year living there in the mid-1920s), his professional writing career began while he was in town, and new orleans loves to claim him as such. on your own.
tennessee williams himself called new orleans his “spiritual home,” and after first moving to the city at age 28, he continued to return to new orleans on and off throughout his life.
Fans can follow their movements to their former homes, as well as their favorite places to stay and play, throughout the city.
More recent than most of the names on this list, Anne Rice and her large body of fantasy and vampire-related fiction have called New Orleans home.
the author was born in new orleans, spent most of her childhood and adolescence there, and then returned for considerable periods of her adulthood as well, once owning a magnificent house in the garden district that looks absolutely appropriate for an author who writes about vampires.
many of his books are set in new orleans, including his first and possibly most famous, interview with a vampire.
kate chopin lived in new orleans for nearly a decade, during a busy time in her life: while she was in new orleans, her six children were born, and her family’s financial status eventually took a turn for the worse, causing the family to move out of city.
one of kate’s novels (blame) is also set in new orleans.
although he moved at a young age after his parents’ divorce, truman capote was born in new orleans and later returned as an adult to work on his first novel, other voices, other rooms, which is set in new orleans.
Is there a known city in the world where Ernest Hemingway didn’t get drunk?
new orleans is no exception: the carousel revolving bar at hotel monteleone was once haunted by the likes of ernest (and tennessee williams, and william faulkner, and truman capote, and… the list goes on).