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Celebrating New Orleans and Mardi Gras

I have limited experience actually visiting New Orleans, Louisiana. My college buddies and I took a road trip during exam week that was very short and very memorable.  Eventually, my husband and I visited the New Orleans Aquarium. Not exactly full of the Mardi Gras spirit! However, in my reading, I've explored Bourbon Street and the street cafes, along with the unique shops and delicious beignets.  I've walked the streets with Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces.  And I've explored New Orleans through the eyes of Evelyn and her daughter, Jackie, in A Kind of Freedom.

Mardi Gras 2021 must be an alien experience for residents and celebrants.  Streets are bare of visitors and the parades are postponed until after the pandemic.  I do know they are refocused on "house floats" or YARD-i Gras.  There is King cake to be had all over the South, along with Cajun cooking and, of course, Jazz music.  It may be an unusual celebration but it's hard to keep a good celebration down!

Way back in 1899, Kate Chopin penned The Awakening which was one of the earliest American novels to address women's issues without disdain and scorn.  The book explores the unorthodox views on feminity and motherhood in the turn-of-the-century American South. So, much less about the topsy-turvy world of Mardi Gras today!  Unfortunately, Chopin did not write another novel after The Awakening.  Some say it was because she pushed the limit on what the male gatekeepers wanted in a female author.

Back to my favorite novel, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - another strange story surrounds the unique Pulitzer Prize winning author.  After his death by suicide, his mother waged a decades-long campaign to get his book published and finally it found its way into the hands of Walker Percy, who knew a hit when he read it.  Thank goodness Mrs Toole was a champion of the work or I wouldn't see New Orleans through Ignatius' eyes.  Find your favorite representation of the Crescent City or N'awlins and enjoy the last days of Mardi Gras!

The Awakening and selected short stories / Kate Chopin.  The story of Edna Pontellier, an attractive twenty-eight year old woman who is a wife and mother of two sons living in the Creole south in the late 19th century. Edna finds herself trapped in her life as a wife and a mother and feels unable to express her passionate sensuality within the confines of her marriage. She seeks a spiritual and sexual awakening through an affair with a younger man during one summer while her husband is away.

A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole ; with a foreword by Walker Percy ; and a new introduction by Andrei Codrescu. Introducing one of the most memorable characters in American literature, Ignatius Reilly, whom Percy dubs "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fate Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one--who is in violet revolt against the entire modern age." Ignatius' ire explodes when his mother backs her car into another automobile. The owner of the damaged vehicle insists on payment; Mrs. Reilly demands that her son cease watching television and writign in his Big Chief tablet and get a job.

The Gilda stories / Jewelle Gomez ; afterword by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who "shares the blood" by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. 

Interview with the Vampire / Anne Rice.  We are in a small room with the vampire, face to face, as he speaks--as he pours out the hypnotic, shocking, moving, and erotically charged confessions of his first two hundred years as one of the living dead. . .

A kind of freedom : a novel / Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. In 1982, Evelyn's daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband's drug addiction. Jackie's son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn't survive the storm. For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's critically acclaimed debut is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.

Mardi Gras Murder / Ellen Byron. It's Mardi Gras season on the bayou, which means parades, pageantry, and gumbo galore. But when a flood upends life in the tiny town of Pelican, Louisiana--and deposits a body of a stranger behind the Crozat Plantation B&B--the celebration takes a decidedly dark turn. The citizens of Pelican are ready to Laissez les bon temps rouler--but there's beaucoup bad blood on hand this Mardi Gras.

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