Reading: Very New Orleans

I held a hovering stack of guidebooks about New Orleans, Louisiana. It was the usual selection of suspects: Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Dummies Guide. I’d just about cleared the shelf of New Orleans-related travel guides when one more book caught my eye.

Very New Orleans: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Cajun Country Charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler is thin, small and unassuming, but I grabbed it anyway and placed it with my other books. When I got home and opened the cover, I knew I’d found a goldmine encased in words and pictures.

In this book, author and illustrator Hollingsworth has depicted the people, culture, cuisine and personality of New Orleans through watercolors. There are six chapters in the book: French Quarter, The CBD & Warehouse District, Garden District & Uptown, Lagniappe, River Road Plantations and Cajun Country. Within each chapter is a colorful map, fun sketches with little factual tidbits and just enough information about what to do and see to pique your interest in New Orleans.

Though New Orlean’s classic sites are highlighted—Preservation Hall, Audubon Zoo, the Louisiana Superdome, Pat O’Brien’s and several nearby plantations are given page time—it’s the little-known details added by Hollingsworth that make this book a must-read for New Orleans virgins and veterans alike. Through the book’s pictures and notations, readers are invited to meet the mimes of the city, learn how to make pralines, introduced to jazz greats and the city’s Catholic saints, get insider tips on how to properly wear a hat and pick up notes on how to identify the city’s flowers. These notes are minor and insignificant, yet they give the city a life, which most typical guidebooks are unable to do.

Very New Orleans: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Cajun Country Charm was on its way to press when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so you can’t rely on it as a cover-to-cover guide to tourism in the Big Easy. But even if portions of this book are out-of-date, it’s worth spending the time flipping through the pages, enjoying the pictures and learning a little something you never knew about Louisiana’s most famous city.

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