Sunday, December 22, 2013

Great gift idea — choose Louisiana books!

             If you’re late in buying presents for everyone on your list, let me offer a nice solution: Books make excellent gifts!
            Here’s a few I can recommend:
            Recently I mentioned Carolyn Kolb’s wonderful collection of essays on New Orleans in “New Orleans Memories: One Writer’s City,” which would make an excellent gift for the New Orleans native or resident. Another book to consider is Peter M. Wolf’s “memoir of loss and renewal” titled “My New Orleans, Gone Away.” The story stretches from his youth growing up in a Jewish New Orleans family to the present day with the colorful city as backdrop.
            New from Pelican Publishing of New Orleans is “And Still I Cook” by Leah Chase, the second cookbook from Leah Chase that’s now in paperback. Chase reflects on life, business, family and friends and offers recipes from her famous Gumbo Z’Herbs to her unique veggie jambalaya and rice pancakes with ham.
            Also from Pelican is the Cajun Night Before Christmas Ornament, a complement to their best-selling children’s book of the same name, which launched the Night Before Christmas series for the publisher. “Cajun Night Before Christmas” by “Trosclair” and illustrated by James Rice is a modern classic that has Santa arriving with eight trusty gators pulling a sleigh. This miniature edition comes ready to hang on the Christmas tree. We suggest buying the book and ornament together and reading the tale on Christmas Eve.
            Pelican’s “Christmas Stories from the South’s Best Writers” is now available as an e-book. Edited by Charline R. McCord and Judy H. Tucker, the collection’s stories are written by a host of award-winning writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler, Olympia Vernon and Guggenheim Fellow Elizabeth Spencer. Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta Mystery series, said of the book, “A wonderful addition to the collections of Christmas stories rendered in the past...” 
            For a collection of New Orleans literature, Nancy Dixon edits “N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature,” with contributions from famous writers Lafcadio Hearn, Tennessee Williams, Frances Parkinson Keyes, Truman Capote and Eudora Welty, plus writers of Les Cenelles, French Creoles of color who published the first anthology of African American literature in 1845, and Los Isleños writers, descendents of the Spanish immigrants from the Canary Islands.
            The University of Mississippi Press offers a broad overview of Creole literature in Louisiana, primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries, and including writers such as Grace King, Kate Chopin and free people of color, among many others, in “Louisiana Creole Literature: A Historical Study” by Catharine Savage Brosman.
            A coffee table book highlighting a host of fascinating products that have emerged from the Big Easy has just been published and makes for a lovely gift for the New Orleans native. “Making New Orleans: Products Past & Present,” featuring more than 200 products, is edited by Phillip Collier and includes a foreword by Julia Reed, introductions by New Orleans publishers Errol Laborde and Clancy DuBos and text by Alexandra “Riki” Collier.
            I hate to say it but I’ve lost interest in the “True Blood” series on HBO, although I’ve read every Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris, on which the series is based. Vampire lovers on your list might be interested in any of Harris’ novels, plus the new parody book “True Blood: A Field Guide to Vampires: (And Other Creatures of Satan)” by series character Steve Newlin. The book is a guide to vampires and other “supernaturals” from the town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, from the perspective of Newlin, who leds a fundamentalist anti-vampire group on the TV series before becoming a vampire himself.
            Actress Shirley MacLaine has produced a new book, a compilation of contemplations titled “What If…A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know for Sure.” I found the book to veer on the light side of her previous spiritual tomes, but it’s laced with humor and some fascinating insights.
             A couple of good educational books sure to please are “The Handy African American History Answer Book” by Jessie Carney Smith, which provides easy-to-discover information on all facets of black history, and “Mound Sites of the Ancient South: A Guide to the Mississippian Chiefdoms” by Eric E. Browne, for those fascinated with Southern Native American history and archaeology.
            The History Press’ “Haunted America” series, of which I wrote “Haunted Lafayette,” has published “Haunted Baton Rouge” by Bud Steed, with photography by Hope Steed Kennedy. The book examines many of the city’s haunts, from historic sites such as the old State Capitol and Magnolia Mound to unique places such as the USS Kidd, LSU or along Highland Road, where Confederates show up in early fall.
            Leif Pederson has just produced his first children's book, “The Missing Chord,” from a series he began titled “The Adventures of the Swamp Kids.” The book is on sale at Landry’s in Breaux Bridge, Prejean’s Gift Shop and The Blue Dog Café in Lafayette. “The Lafayette area is certainly important to me because of it being the base of Cajun culture, which is the basis of my story and its characters,” Pederson wrote to me by email. “I am pleased to have Cajun music star Doug Kershaw as the contributor to my ‘Lagniappe Lesson,’ which is an aide to the reader, teachers and/or parents at the end of the book.” He added that several more books in the series are planned, all with similar celebrities contributing.

            Kirkus has named the best non-fiction titles of 2013 and they include “Five Days at Memorial,” a recounting of what happened at Memorial Medical Center of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, written by Pulitzer Prize–winning medical journalist Sheri Fink, and “Men We Reaped: A Memoir,” by Jesmyn Ward, the author of “Salvage the Bones.”
            “Elysian Fields” by Mark Laflaur was park of Kirkus’ Indie Book list, a novel of a dysfunctional family reflecting the decay of New Orleans. Kirkus called it “a wholly involving story with Faulkner-ian characters in a fully realized setting.”

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at