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Tricentennial Reading List With Nancy Dixon: 20th Century Fiction (part 2)

  • A Walk on the Wild Side, by Nelson Algren
  • Almost Innocent and Slow Poison, by Sheila Bosworth
  • Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, by John Gregory Brown
  • The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton Lafleur, by John Gregory Brown
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler
  • Messiah, by Andrei Codrescu
  • Ritual Murder, by Tom Dent
  • N: A Romantic Mystery, by Louis Edwards
  • Mosquitoes and Soldiers Pay and Pylon, by William Faulkner
  • In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, by Ellen Gilchrist
  • The House on Coliseum Street and Nine Women, by Shirley Ann Grau
  • Dinner at Antoine's, Frances Parkinson Keyes
  • Lives of the Saints, by Nancy Lemann
  • A Recent Martyr and The Consolation of Nature, by Valerie Martin
  • Coming through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
  • City of Night, by John Rechy
  • Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
  • Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins
  • Yellow Jack, Josh Russell
  • Mayor of New Orleans: Just Talking Jazz, Fatima Shaik
  • Hall of Mirrors, by Robert Stone
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
  • Secessia, by Kent Wascom
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
  • Glass House, Christine Wiltz
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams


[music: Walk on the Wild Side by Elmer Berstein from the film adaptation of Walk on the Wild Side]

Susan Larson: I'm really interested in talking about the books for this list that fixed the idea of New Orleans in the national consciousness. So many of these books gave New Orleans a certain reputation, I think, you look at A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren. That was really a major, major work for us, also City of Night by John Rechy.
Nancy Dixon: So similar too.
Susan: They made New Orleans a controversial, intriguing city with problems, I think [laughs] is a nice way to put it. The other book that set New Orleans for me was The Moviegoer which I read right after I moved here. When I first moved here I would read a New Orleans book and then I'd get in my car and I'd drive around and look for it. [laughs]
Nancy: Go over in Gentilly, did you?
Susan: I did. I drove around Gentilly and I drove to the Robert E. Lee movie theatre.
[music: What Do You Know About Music, You're Not A Lawyer, by John Lurie from the film, Down by Law]
Susan: I think Walker Percy still has real staying power.
Nancy: I do too. It's arguably one of the most New Orleans books of all, and it's one of the most noted.
Susan: Award-winning.
Nancy: Award-winning. Aside from Tennessee Williams and Anne Rice, it also takes us into the
neighborhoods and we really see New Orleans neighborhoods. You used to drive around, you saw the difference between Uptown and Gentilly. You saw why he wanted to go from Uptown to Gentilly when he was figuring out his life. Those neighborhoods are still vitally important to this city. We're proud and we're provincial.
Susan: He gave us some catch terms for life in New Orleans, the search. People still think of the search as something they undertake here particularly. People come here to search now because of The Moviegoer, I think.
Nancy: I think I did. I think I did and my search wasn't always pleasant.
Susan: No. [laughs] I'm sorry. I'm sorry about that.|
Nancy: We'd search back to some of the titles that you mentioned earlier.
[music: Marie Laveau by Albert "Papa" French and His New Orleans Band]
Susan: Another one I think is Interview with the Vampire which became an industry, made us a destination for Halloween. You still can 't drive by First and Chestnut without seeing tourist there just staring at the house. For better or for worse, for witches or for vampires, [laughs] Anne Rice made a big mark.
Nancy: Well, I'll never forget seeing her in a coffin at her own book signing.
Susan: Right, that was pretty amazing.
[music: Four Deuces by Ray Heindorf from the film adaptation of A Streetcar named Desire]
Susan: But I think A Streetcar Named Desire maybe has, I don't know, the greatest worldwide penetration, do you think?
Nancy: Well, when I was in a Tennessee Williams course with Kenneth Holditch, a resident Tennessee Williams expert, he told me that it was performed every day on a stage somewhere in the world, every single day. "I always depend on the kindness of strangers." I think that that also sets sort of the tone of New Orleans. There's always this, "Are you from here?" I'm not sure what that means sometimes. Do you mean it's native or have I lived here longer than you've been alive. Blanche DuBois sort of typifies, you're still going to be accepted into this city as crazy as you might be.
Susan: Yes, aren't we lucky? [laughs]

The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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