By Lolis Eric Elie
Let’s start with the surrender shall we?
There’s no way I could create a complete list of books you should read in order to understand New Orleans and, by extension, 'Treme.' Such a bibliography would have been long even before the failure of the levees and the leaking of BP oil turned us into an international laboratory for an ever-widening array of novelists, historians, ecologists, planners, politicos, poets and dilettantes. You could fill the shelves of a not-so-small library with books chronicling the food, fauna, music and mayhem of this place.
I’ll blog about other books in the future. But for now, let’s start with a list of books (mostly) published since Hurricane Katrina.
- 'Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America,' by John Barry. Though published before the 2005 levee failures, many of the environmental, political, racial and class concerns that surfaced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina find their antecedents in this book.
- 'Zeitoun,' by Dave Eggers. The story of Abdulrahman Zeitouin, the Syrian-American house painter who went from rescuing people stranded in the floodwaters to being arrested and accused of being a member of Al-Quaeda.
- 'Floodlines,' by Jordan Flaherty. Soft spoken, self-effacing and every bit as sharp as Peter Tosh’s Steppin Razor, this is something of a people’s history of the rebuilding of New Orleans. Meet people fighting for their city against the corporations and their politicians who worked so hard to remake New Orleans into a more profitable, less community-centered enterprise.
- 'Breach of Faith,' by Jed Horne. My former editor at The Times-Picayune wrote the most balanced, eloquent blow-by-blow of what happened after the failure of the federal levees allowed all hell to break lose. It is as much about breaches of citizen trust as it is about breaches of levees.
- 'Overcoming Katrina: African American Voices From the Crescent City and Beyond,' by D’Ann R. Penner and Keith C. Ferdinand. Almost from the beginning, news reports on the impact of Hurricane Katrina focused on race in ways both subtle and obvious. How could they not? The largest most graphic gatherings of flood victims were to be found among teeming, mostly African-American masses at the Louisiana Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Here are 27 first-hand stories of victims seeking refuge that offer other perspectives.
- 'Why New Orleans Matters,' by Tom Piazza. Written by one of the 'Treme' family of writers shortly after the flood of 2005, when some questioned whether our city should be helped, this book on New Orleans culture and his novel, 'City of Refuge,' eloquently answer the question.
- 'Down in New Orleans,' by Billy Sothern. One of the books we consulted in researching the options for what might have happened to Daymo, LaDonna’s missing brother in Season 1, this is far more than a missing person’s story. It’s about Billy Sothern’s fight for a city he has come to love.
- 'Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms,' by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein. When I was working at The Times-Picayune, I came to respect these two reporters for their insights and analyses that were always supported by a bedrock of fact. They outline the lessons of the great flood of 2005 and its implications for the future. We ignore their points at our peril.
- 'Not Just The Levees Broke,' by Phyllis Montana Leblanc (Desiree on 'Treme'). Leblanc stayed during the flood and saw many of the post-disaster horrors and betrayals first hand. She first told her story in Spike Lee’s documentary, 'When the Levees Broke.' Her book is a personal history of those times and the terrible toll they exacted.
- 'One Dead in Attic,' by Chris Rose. This former columnist for The Times-Picayune became a local hero for the powerful ways in which he channeled the city’s frustration in the thrice-weekly columns. In these pages, which include many of those columns as well as some post-Katrina writing, you witness Rose’s transition from chronicler of these events to victim of them.
- 'The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina--the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist,' by Ivor van Heerden. While others speculated about why New Orleans flooded, van Hardeen brought scientific analysis to the question. The former deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center had warned of the city’s vulnerability to flooding for years. His predictions came true, and this book chronicles how, with scientific analysis of the design and construction of the levee system. What van Heerden found will shock and anger you.