Sunday, February 23, 2014

Carnival Coping: Books to Help with Homesickness

It's my favorite time of year: Carnival. It's a magical season of parties and costumes and satire and food and community. And parades. Lots and lots and lots of parades.

Or, rather, it's usually my favorite time of year. This year, it's not. Because instead of cavorting through the streets of New Orleans--where it's sunny and 65 degrees--I'm here in Illinois trying to keep from crying homesick tears out of fear that they will literally freeze as they run down my cheeks.

Basically, all of my friends and family are going out in public looking like this:

C & D getting ready for Krewe Delusion

And I'm not leaving my house because my front yard looks like this:

My front yard: a colorless landscape of frozen horror

My Mardi Gras-heightened homesickness has led me to reread a lot of my favorite books from and about Southern Louisiana. I've fallen in a whole new type of love with books from my childhood like Mike Artell's Petit Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood (which you can read--and hear read--on YouTube) as well as Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk Tales by Robert Tallant and Lyle Saxon. I've reread some of my favorite histories of the city (The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette and Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children: ... and Other Streets of New Orleans! by John Chase) and of the Carnival season (Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans by James Gill). I've also gained a new appreciation for classics like The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life by George Washington Cable (available as a free Ebook thanks to Project Gutenberg!) and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire as well as all things Kate Chopin.

Mona Lisa Saloy's Red Beans and Ricely Yours. Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. These are the books and writers keeping my New Orleanian heart warm through Illinois' winter.

So, I'm wondering: are there any books or authors that mean home for you? Are you a child of the prairie who reads Willa Cather when you find yourself missing Nebraska? Does reading Jamaica Kincaid help when you yearn for your Caribbean childhood? Does Sherman Alexie sate your hunger for Washington State (or, as my Washingtonian peers call it, God's Country)?

What do you read when you're missing Home?


  1. Along with Sherman Alexie, I read some John Krakauer and Ken Kesey when I'm feeling a little homesick for God's Country. And then I put on some Death Cab for Cutie, turn off the lights, and cry colorless tears of "frozen horror."

    Great piece, TC.

    1. Sean, I am sending you an e-hug right now.

      I heart Sherman Alexie.

  2. I love this. You pretty much name the books I like (need?) to read away from home, too.

    Here's a little Carnival tidbit for you:

    "A Company Man" is the recently published journal of a feisty young Frenchman, of a middling but well-connected family, who moved to muddy, remote New Orleans in 1729, 11 years after its foundation. As they say, "Plus ça change, plus la Nouvelle-Orléans est la même chose."

    I haven't read the whole book yet, but I intend to.

  3. There's not a lot famous writing about my home state of Iowa, unfortunately. But Iowans can claim Aldo Leopold, the ecologist and author of A Sand County Almanac, which is one of my favorite books.

    And then there's the classic album by Greg Brown: Iowa Waltz.

    In some cases, these lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie might be appropriate:
    And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born,
    Then it's time to go
    And define your destination.
    There's so many different places to call home
    Because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written,
    It's plain to see
    That sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions.

  4. Hmm...I'm fairly close to home (Chicago). Is there any distinctly writing the reminds of Chicago, its landscape, its people? I suppose Hansberry and Madhubuti. They are Chicago writers who perfected their craft in Chicago, so I suppose something by way of that there is possibly something Chicagoesque about their writing. I need to think about this? When I miss home, I listen to Motown and country music, compositions that are story backed with sound. Are there any Chicago writers that do this on the page especially well?

  5. Poet Patricia Smith (who'll be at EIU in Doudna at 5:30 on Monday 3/3) is a Chicagoan. One of the things I like about her is how she captures and makes places. Her 2008 book Blood Dazzler is all about Katrina. After the storm, a lot of non-native writers were writing about New Orleans and its people, but they would butcher us. I don't know how to explain it, but what they wrote felt wrong--they just couldn't see us. But Smith, she didn't do that. She wrote our place like it was her place. And a lot of her ability to do that seemed--to me at least--to be rooted in the way she was able to capture sound and music and voices on the page.

    Have you read her? I wonder if you might hear Chicago in her words.