Every Katrina anniversary arrives with a fresh flood of books — and this 10th anniversary is no exception. Weary New Orleanians may choose not to read them, having moved on in their personal narratives; some may read them obsessively. This year’s Katrina bookshelf is full to the brim. Here are some of the best so far.
‘We’re Still Here Ya Bastards’
Hands down, the winner for best title is “We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City,” by Roberta Brandes Gratz (Nation Books, $27.99). (Admit it, you smiled when you read that title.) Gratz, a distinguished urbanist and the author of “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs,” came to New Orleans to cover the storm, and ended up moving here part time. So she has a stake in the New Orleans story. Her book covers the grass-roots efforts, including a fine chapter on Women of the Storm, that have helped restore the city’s vitality, and the challenges that still lie ahead — violence and crime, health care for everyone, the changing education system and gentrification.
‘Katrina: After the Flood’
“Katrina: After the Flood,” by Gary Rivlin (Simon and Schuster, $27) is one of the must-reads of this season. Rivlin, who came to cover New Orleans for the New York Times after the flood, here takes the long view of recovery and rebuilding, with a special emphasis on New Orleans East. Some amazing New Orleanians populate these pages, including Alden McDonald. of Liberty Bank; the Wall sisters — Cassandra, Petey, Robyn, Tangee — of New Orleans East; Mack McLendon, of the Lower 9th Ward Village; Pam Dashiell, of Holy Cross; developer Joe Canizaro; Boysie Bollinger, of Bollinger Shipyards; Sally Forman, then of the Nagin administration; and Ron Forman, the Audubon Institute, and most of the politicians of the past 10 years, including former Mayor C. Ray Nagin and present Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Rivlin offers a good report of what happened during the storm, the bureaucratic snarls and blockages that followed and, most of all, the human cost to all New Orleanians.
“Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina,” by Cynthia Joyce (University of New Orleans Press, $19.95 paperback) collects the postings of New Orleanians who were quick to spring online and begin sharing information. Joyce collects blog entries from 2005-2007, from voices as diverse as Ashley Morris, Bill Loehfelm and Andrea Boll writing for the NOLAFugees, Deborah Cotton, Dedra Johnson, Jordan Flaherty, Harry Shearer, Karen Gadbois, Bart Everson, Jeanne Nathan, Chef Chris DeBarr. One of my favorites comes from Clifton Harris: “My dad always said New Orleans should have been its own country. If you were born, raised and have been living in New Orleans more than 20 years, that will stick with you forever. There can be no closure because the lifestyle and the attitude of the city is who you are. You can’t get closure from yourself.”
‘Standing in the Need’
“Standing in the Need: Culture Comfort, and Coming Home After Katrina,” by Katherine E. Browne (The Katrina Bookshelf/University of Texas Press, $29.95 paperback) is a University of Colorado anthropologist’s observations of a large Afro-Creole family from St. Bernard Parish and their travails during and after the flood. Browne illustrates the conflicts between the “wounded” and the “recovery” cultures, and examined how meeting human needs for comfort can make post-disaster recovery better for everyone.
‘Children of Katrina’
Also in the Katrina Bookshelf series is “Children of Katrina,” by Alice Fothergill, of the University of Vermont, and Lori Peek, of Colorado State University, (University of Texas Press, $24.95, paperback). This fascinating book draws from interviews with several hundred children and their families and focuses on seven children in detail in depicting their Katrina experiences. Over seven years, these sociologists track how the children fared — whether they declined, whether they regained equilibrium or whether they went up and down in the quests to regain their lives. As parents, the authors tell us, we often tend to overestimate the resilience of children, but they make clear that is not the best approach in a disaster for such magnitude, that we need to put more thought into strategies for children.
‘Is this America?’
Another volume in the series is “Is This America?: Katrina as Cultural Trauma” by Ron Eyerman (University of Texas Press, $24.95, paperback). Eyerman, a professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University, here applies cultural trauma theory to the experiences of New Orleanians in 2005. How did government failure and the lack of response speak to our idea of ourselves as a people and a nation? Eyerman explores that as well as the cultural response — including art and music and literature — though the section on the latter is a little thin.
‘Left to Chance’
Finally, the fourth volume in The Katrina Bookshelf Series for this year is “Left to Chance: Hurricane Katrina and the Story of Two New Orleans Neighborhoods,” by Steve Kroll-Smith, of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and Vern Baxter and Pam Jenkins, of the University of New Orleans (University of Texas Press, $24.95). These three sociologists focus on Hollygrove and Pontchartain Park, two African-American neighborhoods wiped out by the flood. As they remind us, our daily life is “geographically ordered,” and they chronicle the disorientation people faced during evacuation, exile and return. “If there is one thing common to all the stories we recorded,” they write, “it is the way Hurricane Katrina opened a lingering moment in which each life was lived on a scheme of uncertified possibilities.”
“The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City,” by David Spielman (Historic New Orleans Collection, $39.95), is simply astonishing. Spielman, an astute and affectionate chronicler of our city, is also the photographer of The Katrinaville Chronicles, Here, he documents post-storm images of the city, and viewers will be shocked at the blight and desolation that remain as recently as 2014. Don’t forget to check the dates on the photos. Illuminating essays by Jack Davis and John Lawrence round out the volume.
‘Flood of Images‘
“Flood of Images: Media, Memory, and Hurricane Katrina,” by Bernie Cook (University of Texas Press, $29.95) is a study of news coverage and documentary film about the storm and flood by the founder of the Film and Media Studies Program at Georgetown University. Many readers will find this painful to read, especially as they remember seeing that coverage — with all its flaws — as it happened, but it is a penetrating look at how the Katrina narrative has been shaped, by everyone from large news organizations to individual filmmakers.
‘After: The Silence’
“After: The Silence of the Lower Ninth Ward,” photographs by John Rosenthal with a preface by Lolis Eric Elie and an afterword by John Pope (Safe Harbor Books, $40), is an eerily beautiful study of the devastation of the Lower 9th Ward. Churches, homes, streets, schools — Rosenthal respectfully captures what he calls “our vanishing common ground.” Rosenthal celebrates and honors the “many-layered human geography” he found there.
‘Wind in the Reeds’
“The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and The City that Would Not Be Broken,” by Wendell Pierce (Riverhead Books, $27.95, on sale Sept. 8) is a moving memoir by the well-known actor, familiar to many from his stellar performances in “The Wire” and “Treme.” Written with Rod Dreher, this is a loving tribute to growing up in New Orleans as part of a strong family, and Pierce’s ongoing efforts to bring back Pontchartrain Park. The book opens with Pierce’s memories of playing Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot in the Ninth Ward”; it takes its title from a line in that play.
‘Cooking Up a Storm’
Lagniappe: For those of you who’ve worn out your paperback copy, “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans,” edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, with a new foreword by Ann Maloney (Chronicle Books, $30) is being issued in a special hardcover anniversary edition. This beloved cookbook includes 225 recipes that were submitted to the paper or culled from the newspaper’s archives in response to readers’ requests as part of the Times-Picayune Recipe Recovery Project. Rebuilding cookbook collections was a priority for those who had lost family recipes in the flood, as treasured as family photographs.
Susan Larson hosts WWNO’s weekly radio program, The Reading Life, and is the author of The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.