Rob Walker is a wonderful writer with a gentle yet comprehensive inquisitiveness, the rigorous, observant eye of a journalist, and the light, poetic touch of an artist. He has managed to make New Orleans-a city that has been documented and written about for centuries-seem completely fresh and unfamilar and wholly compelling. Letters from New Orleans is a lovely book, and so much more.
This three-year meditation on life and death in New Orleans is as wistful as absinthe, as funky as a muffuletta at a joint off Tchoupitoulas.
This book is far more than a poetic testament to a strange and wonderful town. It's a story about a city boy who recognizes the need to slow down and observe carefully - a story of a couple who learns to let our world's odd richness really sink in. I recommend it to anyone who feels life is going by too fast.
...a captivating tale.
Fresh and poignant
It recalls writers such as V.S. Naipaul, who approach cities and countries with a hungry interest in demolishing false expectations...
...Pointed, witty insights....
[When Walker] delves into New Orleans' culture and character, you're reminded why the city is such a treasure.
Its insider-outsider perspective and street-level historical explorations make it essential for anyone interested in New Orleans.
We strongly recommend this enlightening, eccentric, and most importantly highly entertaining book.
...Streetwise, conversational in tone, unimpressed by cant, and willing to grapple with the city's weird, compelling racial heritage.
I've read very few essays, articles, books...that really captures a city, a town, or a "place" so vividly...
A series of e-mails that turned into a book with soul.
Walker's musings reveal him to be an astute observer of human nature...
… these stories now function as 21 silent little jazz funerals: exuberant, celebratory and tragic. Take, for instance, the lovely, knowing piece on Yvonne's, a beyond-grungy neighborhood bar that died in "another little outbreak of gentrification." Walker writes: "Possibly because New Orleans resists change so ferociously, often to the city's own detriment, it seems extra sad when it happens anyway. In a lot of ways, the past is all New Orleans has." Amen to that.
The New York Times
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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Walker, a columnist for the New York Times Magazine and a contributor to such publications as Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and the New Republic, has published a compilation of the letters he wrote while living in New Orleans from 2000 to 2003. Originally sent via email to friends, and later as a newsletter to anyone interested, these pieces contain observations on all manner of happenings in New Orleans: the celebration of Carnival and Mardi Gras, the jazz funeral, eating, drinking, parades, religion, and housing. Interspersed throughout are Walker's comments on the city's race relations, which he confesses to find somewhat mystifying (especially in a city where African Americans are the majority). With the exception of one long chapter on the origins of the words and music to the song "St. James Infirmary," which seems out of place, the author has provided an informal, entertaining, and insightful guide to New Orleans for both the traveler and those considering relocating there. A similar title is Roy Blount Jr.'s Feet on the Street. Recommended for public libraries.-John McCormick, Plymouth State Univ., NH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.