My first trip to New Orleans was in 1970, when I was 16-year-old kid who had never been so far away from my home in Fort Worth, Texas. As most first-time visitors do, I swore I would live there someday, but that day never came, and I have contented myself with about 25 visits, most within the last 10 years.
I've visited in the heat of the summer (not recommended, unless you like to roam at night and sleep all day). I've visited during Mardi Gras, and had the honor of riding in a parade and tossing beads to a quarter of a million rowdy people lining Canal Street. Over the years, I've come to New Orleans to soothe a broken heart, to escape my troubles, to fall in love, to spend time with special friends, and just because. These days, I go during the quieter times of year, at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and enjoy the chance to see the city as its natives do, and share in their traditions.
I've read all the usual tourist books, consulted websites (here first, of course), and tried to experience everything I could first-hand. However, I have recently found some wonderful books that have enriched and deepened my experiences, and would like to share them. All are available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, unless otherwise indicated.
My favorite guidebook to the city is Ultimate Guide to New Orleans by Randolph Delehanty. There are no photos, although the drawings and maps are very good. Delehanty supplies succinct, insightful information about hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions, and fleshes out the book with concise and very readable historical information about the city and its neighborhoods. This book digs a little deeper than the usual tourist guide, and is packed with information, history, tips about local customs, and maps.
Kerri McCaffety has written several books about New Orleans, which are all excellent. My favorite is Obituary Cocktail, an incredible compilation of photographs by Ms. McCaffety with accompanying text. The book includes cocktail recipes from the best of the city's cocktail bars, beer joints, and lounges. It covers the gamut from the elegant Sazarac Bar in the Fairmont Hotel (home of the Ramos Gin Fizz and Sazarac Cocktail), to the pubs in the Irish Channel neighborhood. The photographs are beautiful, and the accompanying text is inspiring. Winner of many awards and honors, I highly recommend this book for any lover of the city.
Ms. McCaffety has also written about and photographed the French Quarter's hidden beauty. The Majesty of the French Quarter is a beautiful and fascinating look behind the walls that hide the magnificent gardens and interiors of the homes in the French Quarter. Ms. McCaffety is a gifted photographer and writer, and her glimpse into this hidden world is magical.
For the lover of local history, nothing can beat Laura Locoul Gore's Memories of the Old Plantation Home, available from the Laura Plantation website. The author was born Laura Locoul in 1861 and the plantation was renamed for her by her father when she was 13 years old. The book is a history of her family, privately written in the 1930's for the benefit of her children. Mrs. Gore died in 1963, at the age of 101, and her memoirs were only recently rediscovered. Her history of the plantation and her family is wonderfully written and filled with photographs, and brings Laura Plantation to life. I highly recommend reading it before visiting the plantation. Unlike most of the River Road plantations, Laura Plantation was French Creole, not Anglo. The women of the family ran the plantation for over 100 years, as was the custom in French Creole society. The family also had several town homes in New Orleans, which can be visited. Information on Le Monde Creole tour is available on the website.
I have dozens of New Orleans and Louisiana cookbooks, and will probably continue to acquire them each time I visit. There are three River Road cookbooks, published by the Baton Rouge Junior League. All are widely available around town, and online. Many of the local restaurants publish cookbooks, my favorite so far being the Palace Cafe. A search on Amazon or B&N will yield many choices.
The best bookstore in town for local history (and a heavy dose of Anne Rice memorabilia and autographed books) is the Garden District Book Store, in The Rink shopping center at Prytania and Washington Avenue. This is a great starting point for a Garden District walking tour, and is just a couple of blocks from Commander's Palace.
New Orleans is a treasure trove for book lovers, and a good library of books on the city eases the pain of not being there. The more you learn about the city, the more you appreciate its diversity and beauty. Read, visit, eat, drink, and talk to the locals. I still haven't given up the dream of living there, even after 34 years, and you'll see why if you add these books to your collection.