’Tis the season to be reading! OK, ‘tis the season to be cooking and caroling and visiting too, but books are always welcome under the tree. And this year’s gift book offerings from Louisiana writers and photographers are particularly rich and varied and inspiring. Seize a few quiet moments and treat yourself or your friends to one of these gorgeous volumes.
“New Orleans: Life and Death in the Big Easy,” by Cheryl Gerber (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, $24.95, paperback) is a vibrant collection of photos by the New Orleans native, an award-winning documentary photographer. It traces the ways joy and tragedy coexist in our complicated city. Artful, often hilarious juxtapositions and a visual story line make this book one to view again and again. Photos are accompanied by wonderful essays by Lolis Eric Elie and Chris Rose.
“The Good Times Rolled: Black Life in New Orleans,” 1979-1982, by Bernard Hermann, introduction by Jason Berry (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, $49.95). This collection of the French photographer’s work is simply one of the most beautiful books ever published about the city. Hermann’s photos, taken over four years, capture the energy and despair and vitality of African-American culture.
“Henry Howard: Louisiana’s Architect,” by Robert Brantley with Victor McGill, photographs by Robert Brantley and Jan White Brantley (Princeton Architectural Press, $60). This gorgeous volume pays tribute to one of Louisiana’s finest architects in the grand era of building here. The Pontalba Buildings? Belle Grove? Madewood? Those are Howard’s legacies, which also are being celebrated in an exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection, “Henry Howard’s New Orleans: An Architect and His City, 1837-1884,” on view until April 3.
“Longue Vue House and Gardens: The Architecture, Interiors, and Gardens of New Orleans’ Most Celebrated Estate,” by Charles Davey and Carol McMichael Reese (SKIRA Rizzoli, $65). This fantastic house history takes us through the past and present of one of New Orleans’ greatest architectural treasures, with vintage illustrations and photos as well as contemporary work by Tina Freeman. The book includes illuminating essays by Walter C. Stern and garden historian Thaisa Way.
“The Photojournalism of Del Hall: New Orleans and Beyond, 1950-2000s,” by Richard Campanella (LSU Press, $39.95) Tulane University professor Campanella turns his formidable talents to chronicling the life and times of one of New Orleans’ most celebrated photojournalists. Del Hall made a lasting impact with his work chronicling the civil rights movement, the Vatican (for a WWL-TV documentary), the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, the Vietnam War, and so much more, all the while adapting to technical changes in the news business. Great for the photography fan or the news junkie on your list.
“Louisiana Wild: The Protected and Restored Lands of the Nature Conservancy,” by C.C. Lockwood (Louisiana State University Press, $48). Lockwood, one of the state’s great nature photographers, turns his attention to the 60 properties managed by the Nature Conservancy, whose director, Keith Ouchley, contributes a foreword. This fascinating survey of Louisiana’s environmental diversity will make you want to hit the road and see it for yourself.
“New Orleans at Night: The Magic of the Crescent City After Dark,” by Kerri McCaffety (Pelican Publishing, $29.95) is the latest thematic collection by the photographer who has given us the classic “Obituary Cocktail” and so many others. By moonlight and neon and lamplight, here is the Crescent City in all its nocturnal and romantic glory.
“Home,” by Ellen DeGeneres (Grand Central Life and Style, $35) is a handsome portrayal of the comedienne’s passion for architecture and design. There are generous photo spreads of homes she and wife Portia de Rossi have shared as well as those of their friends. Also, such bits of sage advice as “You can hoist anything over a balcony if you just believe.”
“Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from The New Orleans Times-Picayune,” by John Pope (Louisiana State University Press, $30), celebrates life in the way only New Orleanians can live it — and then there are stories of four memorable funerals as well. “We put the fun in funeral” indeed.
“Stories from the St. Louis Cemeteries of New Orleans,” by Sally Asher (The History Press, $22.99, paperback), is a perfect guide to these three cemeteries and tells the fascinating stories of their famous inhabitants, from Marie Laveau to Bernard de Marigny, along with the exact locations of their resting places. And then there’s the future resting place of actor Nicolas Cage.
“My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South,” by Rick Bragg (Oxmoor House, $27.99) includes a lot of fine writing by this former New Orleanianan — everything from his favorite restaurants, to developing a taste for oysters, to traveling down the bayou with a broken heart.
“Catahoula,” by John Slaughter (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, $24.95, paperback) is a charming gift for any Louisiana dog lover. See these amazing creatures in action, look at their spooky eyes, and you’ll be sure to agree with Slaughter’s description: “It’s as if aliens came to earth, took the form of dogs, and are trying to figure out how to be typically ‘doglike.’ ”
“New Orleans Looking Up/New Orleans Looking Down,” by Tom Varisco, with John Biguenet and Erik Winkowski (Tom Varisco Designs, $13) is really two books in one. Look up for vibrant images of murals, signs and Mardi Gras floats passing on the overpass; then flip the book and look down for oyster shells, Carnival detritus and people sleeping on the streets.
“New Orleans Mardi Gras Moments,” by photographer Judi Bottoni and Peggy Scott Laborde (Pelican Publishing, $21.95), is a collection of images and text that examine the fleeting moments of connection that make Carnival season so special. It’s the perfect reminder that after the New Year, more holidays are to come.
Susan Larson is the host of WWNO’s The Reading Life and the author of The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.