As New Orleans and Baton Rouge reflect on two anniversaries this year, residents of both cities are turning to literature to promote the celebrations. That’s a welcome way to promote this state’s colorful literary heritage — a part of our culture as distinct as our food and music.
In New Orleans, the Preservation Resource Center has started a monthly Tricentennial Library Book Club in conjunction with the city’s 300th anniversary, which will be observed next year. Participants will discuss books that touch on New Orleans history – a fitting mission for the PRC, which helps renew and preserve local architecture.
“Those participating will be asked to present compelling accounts of about their favorite books that tell us so much about our great city, ranging from the ‘New Orleans Architecture’ series to ‘Frenchmen Desire Good Children’ to ‘Along the Banquette’ to works by Lafcadio Hearn,” PHC director Patricia H. Gay said earlier this year. For more information on how to get involved, phone 504-581-7032 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Baton Rouge’s One Book One Community program, in which residents are urged to read and discuss the same book, has selected an ideal title for 2017, which the city is observing as its bicentennial. (Although the community traces its origins to the 17th century, Baton Rouge wasn’t officially incorporated until 1817.)
What better way to promote a rollicking discussion of Baton Rouge’s historical landscape than Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi,” which includes his puckish takedown of the Old State Capitol?
Twain famously found the capitol overdone, suggesting that a fire started in the building during Union occupation might have improved the looks of the place. “It is pathetic enough that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things — materials all ungenuine within and without, pretending to be what they are not – should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place,” Twain declared.
Despite his drollery – or perhaps because of it – we hope that Twain can spark a public discussion about Baton Rouge’s broader literary history, which included Robert Penn Warren and Katharine Anne Porter, among others.
Twain could be equally hard on New Orleans, asserting that “there is no architecture in New Orleans, except in the cemeteries.” His comments about Mardi Gras, too lengthy to repeat here, are worth the cost of the book.
It makes especially good reading this year, along with the many other works of literature that touch on Louisiana. In a season of anniversaries, books are among the best anniversary gifts we can give each other.