Revisiting Katrina

nine-livesI recently finished Dan Baum’s wonderful nonfiction book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. The book follows the lives of nine diverse residents of New Orleans from the events of 1965’s Hurricane Betsy up through 2005’s Katrina. The book was less a detailed account of Katrina than I expected (although that terrible storm does figure prominently) and more a variegated look at New Orleans, a city where many different lifestyles blend to create something completely original, a place that Baum understands can only begin to be understood by looking through a many-prismed lens. This book explores so many interesting aspects of this troubled but vibrant city that I recommend it highly to book groups. This is nonfiction that not only reads like fiction, but like nine well-written novels blended into one neat little package.1-dead-in-attic

With another hurricane season beginning, and the fifth anniversary of Katrina approaching at the end of next month, Baum’s book got me thinking about other books that groups might use to explore the impact and aftermath of that terrible hurricane. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina is a collection of columns by Times-Picayune writer Chris Rose, who quickly returned to the cityand began covering the devastation and the recovery. His fixation on the storm’s dark events led Rose into mental illness. His descent and subsequent rise mirror that of his beloved hometown.

zeitounDave Eggers’ Zeitoun  captures the many aspects of the failure of government response to Katrina in a microcosm. It’s the tale of a Syrian-born contractor who stayed in New Orleans to protect his property during Katrina. He used a canoe to help save people after the storm, but was subsequently arrested by an armed squad who were more interested in interrogating Zeitoun because of his nationality than in providing real help to a beleaguered city.

Tom Piazza has two great selections for readers interested in Katrina and New Orleans. On the nonfiction side, there is Why New Orleans Matters, a brief powerful manifesto about all the reasons why we should care about inefficient, chaotically-governed, play-obsessed New Orleans. Piazza’s warts-and-allcity-of-refuge love for his city shines here. In fiction, try his City of Refuge, which follows one black and one white family through very different experiences during the storm.

A list of great books about New Orleans and Katrina is easy to assemble. In fiction, consider Amanda Boyden’s Babylon Rolling, an entry in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux mystery series Tin Roof Blowdown, Paul Volponi’s young adult novel Hurricane Song, or Skip Horack’s collection of stories about the Gulf Coast, The Southern Cross.

In nonfiction, also consider Josh Neufeld’s graphic work A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge, Jed Horne’s Breach of Faith, David Rutledge’s Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?, or Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge.

Don’t shy away from the topic of Katrina because it will make for a depressing meeting. Yes, there’s plenty to mourn, plenty to be angry about when it comes to those disastrous August events of 5 years ago. But perhaps the greatest thing about New Orleans is that it manages to retain a beleaguered sense of joy during the worst of times, and that spirit comes through in all of these books.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

5 Comments on "Revisiting Katrina"

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  1.' Betty Kirby says:

    Missing from your list of books is and excellent book, “Overcoming Katrina” that tells the stories of 27 New Orleanians as they fought to survive Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.” The oral histories presented in the book chronicle life in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina. I felt these stories get to the heart of what matters and capture the essence of New Orleans. Overcoming Katrina is by D’Ann R. Penner and Keith C. Ferdinand.

  2.' Shelley says:

    Best wishes to Chris Rose! I’ve just been putting up some pretty dark episodes, and sometimes it is hard to keep your center when that’s what’s in your mind. I’m so glad he recovered.

  3.' Paul Harris says:

    I met Chris Rose at the American Library Association meeting and bought 7 copies of “1 Dead in Attic” to give to friends. It’s amazing how much humor and love comes through in his book. My next read is Zeitoun which has been getting rave reviews.

    As a Southern California tourist who was trapped in the Superdome during Katrina, I’m headed back there on the 5th Anniversary to commemorate this event. I hope others will visit NOLA as well, and never forget the lessons learned.

    Paul Harris
    Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina”

  4.' Gary Dauphin says:

    You missed a great one: Bert Bartlett’s “A Tale of Two Seasons; Katrina and a Superbowl.”

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