Monday, October 02, 2006

A literary guide to Louisiana

Rebecca Wells, author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere, wrote Salon's literary guide to Louisiana.

There is no mention of Robert Penn Warren or Walker Percy in her essay, but it is well worth reading anyway.

Here is Wells' case for some fine Louisiana fiction:

First, A Gathering of Old Men (1983) by Ernest Gaines. Set on a sugar cane plantation near where I was raised, this story of the bravery of the elderly black men who come together to protect their own against whites who seek vengeance for the death of a Cajun farmer is one of the books that set me on the road to confronting the racism I grew up under. I can see those old men sitting on the porch, waiting, waiting in the heat, racial tension as thick as the Louisiana humidity.

Ernest Gaines left Louisiana when his relatives, who saw his promise, predicted that his potential would be squelched under a segregated and hard-ceilinged social system. He left as a teenager and was gone for more than 40 years, returning to within a few miles of his birthplace after gaining acclaim for his work.

If A Gathering of Old Men had me in tears over the racism that permeates not just Louisiana, but this whole nation, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole, a novel set in New Orleans, will make you laugh your head off.

Hands down, this is the funniest book I have ever read, and it is no small tragedy that Toole killed himself before he saw it in print. After his death at the age of 31, the manuscript was brought to the great writer Walker Percy's attention, who helped get it published. Phrases from this book abound among my Louisiana friends and me. I only wish Mr. Toole were still with us.

This hilarious novel is beloved by New Orleanians who revel in its Pulitzer Prize-winning portrayal of the absurdities of daily life in the crazy Crescent City.

Click here to read what cookbook, photography collection, and flood book--no, not that flood--round out Wells' recommendations.

Other items in Salon's literary guide series include:
A literary guide to Australia
A literary guide to Norway
A literary guide to Turkey
A literary guide to Japan
A literary guide to Martha's Vineyard
A literary guide to West Texas
A literary guide to Togo
A literary guide to Brooklyn
A literary guide to Miami

--Marshal Zeringue