I loaned one of our newest reporters a copy of "Confederacy of Dunces" to read since he is from Louisiana. And as soon as he is through I plan to bring in one of my dog-eared copies of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men."
Greg, I said, you can't be a man of letters from Louisiana without reading those two novels. After he is through and completes the thousands of thank yous that will follow, I may nudge him over to the Louisiana detective writer James Lee Burke (who has a new book out now) or Julie Smith, whose tall, female N.O.P.D. detective Skip Langdon solves murder after murder in a string of New Orleans books set at events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
President Nixon's silly Vietnamazation plan to make the Vietnamese more Vietnamese and in charge of their own defense failed miserably. But my Louisianazation plan will work, I promise.
When you fall in love with a region like I did Louisiana, with its steamy French, liquor-soaked political intrigue, Big River, jazz and food, Voodoo and Anne Rice Vampires, you want everyone to know everything about it. Especially a true Louisianan.
While all of Warren's works are great, his classic is the story of Huey Long's rise to fame and eventual assassination. One of my best friends, Ann Green, and I set out for Mardi Gras one year and ended up staying with friends of hers in Baton Rouge. We toured the capitol and I got to put my fingers in the bullet holes in the marble in the hallway where Huey Long was gunned down. Because of the narrow hallway, it is easy to see why some speculate that Long died from bullets from his own bodyguards' guns because bullets were flying everywhere. Long has always fascinated me, and Warren captures his political life perfectly. His friends knew Warren affectionately as "Red" because I gather he was bright redheaded. I have a deep affection for redheads. My cousin was redheaded and had a wicked sense of humor. My friend Toby Moore is typical of most redheads I know. He is very smart, but at the same time never lets too much bother him. He also has a wicked sense of humor, can be great fun to be around and often gets by on charm and just enough hard work. He once decided he wanted to see the world. We wrote him "to whom it might concern" letters of reference and he traveled everywhere, charming invitations to sleep on couches or in train stations, worked here and there and came back with a lifetime of experiences and friends.
One of Warren's lesser known novels starts out at a funeral and all the country folk are pointing and snickering behind their hands as the young boy watches his father buried. It turns out he was relieving himself beside a mule and it kicked him in the head and killed him. Now his "friends" can't keep a straight face, even at the funeral. Who but a redhead could write such an opening.
John Kennedy Toole in "Confederacy of Dunces" captures humor emanating from the wonderful oddness of New Orleans. The story of how it came to be published is a fascinating story in itself. At age 32 in 1969, Toole, who had some small teaching assignments and lived with his mother in New Orleans, drove his car to a deserted area, ran a hose from the exhaust and died from the fumes. His mother was cleaning up his room after the funeral and found a hard to read, smeared carbon copy of the novel. Through shear determination she talked the novelist Walker Percy into reading it and he loved it. Besides a doctorate thesis that is all Toole wrote.
The main character, Ignatius Reilly is a rotund character in the likeness of Shakespeare's Falstaff.
This is how Percy describes him in his forward to the book:
"Here at any rate is Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of n slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Acquinas rolled into one n who is in violent revolt against he entire modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom on Constantinople Street in New Orleans, who between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective. His mother thinks he need to go to work. He does, in a succession of jobs. Each job rapidly escalates into a lunatic adventure, a full-flown disaster; yet each has, like Don Quixote, its own eerie logic."
So I stop to allow you to go to the library and start your wonderful journey of discovery. Get back to me and thank me later. And if you have other great books on Louisiana pass them along in our ongoing Louisianaization Campaign.
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.