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May 27, 201511:18 AM
Bon Vivant

Design, entertaining and good living with New Orleans Bride and Homes & Lifestyles editor Melanie Warner Spencer

Reading is FUNdamental

A list of New Orleans and Louisiana books for lazy, hot weather entertainment.

Blue Cypress Books is one of many local bookstores where you can find New Orleans and Louisiana books and authors. Also be sure to visit Octavia Books, Maple Street Books and Faulkner House Books.

Melanie Warner Spencer

Lazy summer days spent lounging on the beach with book in hand are just weeks away, so I’ve been compiling a list of books I’d like to focus on until fall. As the writer of the monthly Read + Spin feature in New Orleans Magazine, I spend a portion of each month finding, reading and writing about new books by New Orleans and other Louisiana authors or books about or set in the city or state. Having already read each of the books for work, they are already checked off of my list, but I thought I’d cull a few picks from the past few months to share with you in one handy spot. Last year I created a list of must-read Southern authors, so click here if that’s more your speed. Otherwise, let’s look at some local-ish tomes, including works of fiction, memoir, non-fiction, art and a few handy cookbooks.



New Orleanian and Tulane University adjunct professor Katy Simpson Smith’s debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, is gaining widespread recognition on a national scale. The story chronicles the lives and loves of three generations in a North Carolina costal town at the winding down of the American Revolution.

Who Buries the Dead, by New Orleans author C.S. Harris, follows the chilling investigation of Sebastian St. Cyr and his wife Hero as they delve into the gruesome murder of a West Indies slave owner. Set in London in 1813, this is the 10th installment in the author’s Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery series. Harris is just one of the nom de plumes of Candice Proctor (the other is C.S. Graham), historian, former academic, former archaeologist, former partner in a business consulting firm and, of course, former and current prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction.

My Sunshine Away is the debut novel by M.O. Walsh, director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans. “I grew up in a nice neighborhood in Baton Rouge and have really fond memories of my youth,” Walsh says. “However, I’ve also always remembered overhearing a story about a girl on our block being raped when we were kids. I was too young at the time to know what that word truly meant, but as I’ve gotten older it always haunted me to think that a place I thought of so idyllically could be a sort of nightmare for someone else.” Suspense and mystery are at the forefront of the novel, but Walsh says, “It is really a book about people and their various heartaches and triumphs.” He also says he set out to honor Louisiana. With a wife, two young children and a full time job, Walsh typically writes 4 to 6 a.m., while everyone is sleeping. “It’s just me and the story then,” he says. “It’s quiet in the house, and it’s a strange pleasure.”

When Charley Bordelon inherits an 800-acre Louisiana sugarcane farm from her late father, the widowed mother of an 11-year-old relocates from Los Angeles for a fresh start in her hometown. In, Queen Sugar, writer Natalie Baszile delves into the world of the region’s sugarcane farming and the challenges faced not only by a woman, but also a woman of color, in a male-dominated business in the rural South.

With 11 simple words, Amy Conner sucks the reader in: “I am thirty-five years old and running out of time,” so begins The Right Thing, the debut novel by the New Orleans-based author which was Shortlisted in the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, the page-turning story follows two friends from different backgrounds as they navigate divergent paths and life in a small town. 



Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by historian Gary Krist offers a peek into the scandalous history of the local elite’s fight to reform the Crescent City. This page-turner traipses through the rise and fall of the Storyville red light district, tackles Mafia tales and recounts the murderous path of a violent serial killer, the Axeman of New Orleans. During a reading at Octavia Books last year, Krist discussed the serious history and research that went into the book, citing his close work with the Historic New Orleans Collection. “The city’s elite tried to normalize New Orleans,” Krist said during his talk. “They tried to make it respectable, and we all know how that turned out.”

For anyone who has ever wondered about the story behind New Orleans’ often historically, sometimes colorfully and occasionally whimsically-named streets, Hope & New Orleans: A History of Crescent City Street Names is your new best resource. Author, historian and photographer Sally Asher weaves together the tall tales, seedy underbelly, political battles, art and culture of the Crescent City, along with explanations of the head-scratching spellings and pronunciations of the city’s street names in this comprehensive and accessible history. The book also features Asher’s photography, which has appeared in Newsweek, U.S. World News and New Orleans Magazine.




Creole World by renowned New Orleans author and fine art and editorial photographer Richard Sexton is a lush and colorful journey through New Orleans and Latin Caribbean cities, exploring their Creole connections and heritage. The 200 photos explore the people and places; interiors and exteriors; history and architecture of this rich and storied culture. “If I were merely remarking that New Orleans is actually a Caribbean city, a multiethnic, multiracial gumbo, I wouldn’t be adding much to the already lengthy discourse,” the author says in his preface. “My perspective isn’t new, but is part of a long tradition. The newness is in the medium of expression.”



In History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory and the Brain, Emory University professor and historian Clifton Crais delves into his own traumatic childhood in New Orleans to uncover his past and make sense of his childhood amnesia. With an historian’s eye, Crais follows his family history via photo albums, medical records and other documents, as well as through interviews with family members – including his alcoholic mother, who tried to drown him in a bathtub at age 3. The journey leads him into the complex science of memory as he deftly weaves family history and lore into the fascinating history and lore of New Orleans.

For any fan of the Beatles, meeting Paul McCartney is a defining life moment. For a young musician, meeting and spending time with McCartney and his wife Linda as they visited New Orleans to record the fourth studio album for Wings was a dream come true. Earlier this year John Taylor, bass player for the Meanies, background actor in more than 40 films and now author, released his memoir Wings Over New Orleans: Unseen Photos of Paul and Linda McCartney, 1975. The 88-page volume includes more than 60 candid photos Taylor shot of the McCartneys, along with his recollections and the reminiscences of other locals who met them during their stay in the Crescent City. The meeting took place when after hearing the McCartneys were coming to New Orleans to record; Taylor decided to stake out local recording studios. He started at Sea-Saint Studio, because it was in his neighborhood. After nearly leaving due to cold feet, a car pulled in and to Taylor’s amazement, his idol was in the driver’s seat. The book details that breathless account, as well as many charming tales of the famous couple’s time in New Orleans.




In Louisiana, cultures and their foods mix and mingle to create a cuisine distinct to the region. In The Essential Louisiana Cookbook, author Stanley Dry brings together the state’s culture and history via 50 of his delectable recipes. (Disclosure note: The book is locally produced and printed by Renaissance Publishing, publisher of Louisiana Life Magazine, New Orleans Magazine and others and edited by yours truly.) Many readers are familiar with Dry from his Louisiana Life magazine “Kitchen Gourmet” column. He also is a former senior editor of Food & Wine magazine and an accomplished cook. The perfect kitchen companion for Louisiana natives and novices alike, the book offers everything from tried-and-true gumbos to modern takes on seafood, poultry and meat dishes.

With mouth-watering, full-color photos by New Orleans photographer Eugenia Uhl, this collection is created by and for food lovers – especially lovers of Louisiana food.

In the latest Savor the South cookbook series, Gumbo, Dale Curry offers up 50 recipes for Louisiana food lovers. Curry is a monthly contributor to New Orleans Magazine, the former food editor at The Times-Picayune and author of New Orleans Home Cooking. This simply designed volume is petite, but packed with every gumbo imaginable, a heavy dose of jambalayas and myriad soups and other New Orleans staples, including, of course, red beans and rice and shrimp and grits. History and tips abound, making this a fitting starter cookbook for novices and an easy reference book for those with considerable expertise.

In Fun, Funky & Fabulous: New Orleans’ Casual Restaurant Recipes, by Jyl Benson, get the recipes for favorite dishes from some of the city’s tastiest and most affordable neighborhood haunts. Benson is a journalist, community affairs curator for the Southern Food and Beverage Institute, food and dining editor for St. Charles Avenue magazine and food columnist for Acadiana Profile (both published by New Orleans Magazine publisher, Renaissance Publishing LLC).

Well, that should be enough to get you through the next few months. Happy reading!


What’s on your summer reading list? Share in the comments or email me at Melanie@MyNewOrleans.Com.



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Bon Vivant

Design, entertaining and good living with New Orleans Bride and Homes & Lifestyles editor Melanie Warner Spencer


Melanie Warner Spencer is a native Kentuckian, but says she got to New Orleans as fast as she could. For more than 16 years, Melanie has covered lifestyle, design and entertainment at various publications, serving as the design columnist at The Austin American-Statesman, a senior staff reporter at the Houston Chronicle and most recently as the editor-in-chief of Houston Brides magazine. Her work also has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post and Reuters in the United States and across the globe. In her spare time, Melanie is an award-winning fine art photographer and has been honored by the Texas Press Association for her editorial photography. She also has been honored by the Press Club of New Orleans for its Excellence in Journalism Awards and is currently serving as a media member of the board of directors. Cooking and eating fabulous food and taking road trips with her spouse of 16 years, fellow writer and filmmaker Mark Patrick Spencer however, is at the top of her list of favorite pastimes. Click here to like Spencer's Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @MelanieSpencer. 


You can reach her at melanie@myneworleans.com.




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