Katrina: After the Flood
By Gary Rivlin (Simon & Schuster, $27)
Rivlin covered the aftermath of Katrina for The New York Times and pieces together a tapestry of portraits and tales that should place this as one of the definitive books on the subject. He was a fly on the wall at meetings of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (which was, of course, about bringing back some neighborhoods and not others), and examines the 2006 mayoral race, which brought 21 challengers against Mayor Ray Nagin, who had made headlines with his "chocolate city" comment. Along the way, Rivlin tells personal stories of New Orleanians just trying to get by, like that of Cassandra Wall, who believes the stress of the storm contributed to her mother's death from cancer, and the late Mack McClendon, who worked on his destroyed house all day and slept in a formaldehyde-poisoned FEMA trailer at night.
There are fascinating quotes on nearly every page, from real estate developer Pres Kabacoff ("It took a Katrina to finally turn things around") to Nagin, who allowed talk show host Oprah Winfrey to enter the Superdome only after swearing aloud, "I, Oprah Winfrey, promise not to hold the city liable financially or otherwise as a result of me going into this doggone stinky-ass Superdome."
Rivlin also resurrects a 2006 story by The New York Times' Adam Nossiter, who described boosters imagining a New Orleans that has become "an arts-infused mecca for youthful risk-takers, a boomtown where entrepreneurs can repair to cool French Quarter bars in ancient buildings after a hard day of deal making." You be the judge.
Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina
Edited by Cynthia Joyce (UNO Press, $19.95 paperback)
When Hurricane Katrina made landfall and the federal levees collapsed, Twitter hadn't been invented yet, and Facebook was still a year away from being offered to the general public and coming into wide usage. Blogging and message boards were the way displaced New Orleanians communicated online — venting, joking, blowing their stacks, exposing their fears. At a time when some in the national media were clueless at best (and tactless at worst) about New Orleans and its culture, a displaced resident could go online and find fellowship; these were recognizable voices, even if you'd never meet the writer.
Cynthia Joyce's compilation of post-Katrina online writing is taken from the days, weeks and months after the tragedy, stopping at the two-year point. Much of it is taken from 2006, the year that began with many in the rest of the world asking how New Orleans possibly could celebrate Mardi Gras (the answer: how could we not?), moving on to Bruce Springsteen at the 2006 Jazz & Heritage Festival and the New Orleans Saints' triumphal return to the Superdome later that year.
Among the writers are two passionate advocates and strident voices gone too soon — teacher and essayist Ashley Morris and Greg Peters, whose "Suspect Device" cartoon appeared for years in Gambit. "We are not going away," Peters warned in April 2006. "And if we go down, we're taking you with us." But the most memorable character may be Joshua Cousin, who is forced to leave his beagle Cheddar on the side of the road during an evacuation — and who spends weeks trying to locate Cheddar again.
Some of the writings are long and thoughtful; others are as dashed off as a grocery note, but Please Forward is a fascinating collection of immediate reactions to the storm and the first days of recovery. As Allen Boudreaux wrote on the first anniversary of the storm's landfall, "New Orleans is not even okay yet, but it is surviving. New Orleans is still gut-shot, hemorrhaged, disfigured, torn and anemic ... and yet very alive."
Flood of Images:
Media, Memory and Hurricane Katrina
By Bernie Cook (University of Texas Press, $29.95, paperback)
Of interest primarily to academics and media professors, Flood of Images examines how TV news covered the flood and its aftermath, sometimes nearly frame by frame. It also examines how the storm was presented in documentaries like When the Levees Broke and Trouble the Water. Bernie Cook is the founder of the film and media studies program at Washington D.C.'s Georgetown University.
How We Came Back:
Voices From Post-Katrina New Orleans
By Nona Martin Storr, Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr (Mercatus Center at George Mason University, $15.95, paperback)
The authors introduce and tell the stories of more than a dozen personal stories from four heavily African-American neighborhoods: the 9th Ward, Central City, Gentilly/Pontchartrain Park and Village de l'Est.
Much of it is told in first person (and most could use some editing), but there are some less frequently told stories in here — like that of Joyce, a Central City mail carrier and homeowner who was dubious about her hometown before the storm and became even more so afterward. Joyce stays in New Orleans because her family can't bear to leave, but she's not happy: "I always thought it was a raggedy city," she says. "I mean, people come and liked it, but I didn't see it."
We're Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City
By Roberta Brandes Gratz (Nation Books, $27.99)
In 400 pages, Roberta Brandes Gratz attempts an overarching look at the city, taking on a number of topics that could be books on their own: the death of Charity Hospital; "crime, the jail and police"; public housing; poverty; urban development; the Make It Right Foundation housing; the attempted remake of the New Orleans educational system; and more. For such a sprawling series of topics, Gratz does a decent job of tying them together and explaining them. Though many of the stories have been told before and will be familiar to New Orleanians, it's a good explainer for out-of-town people who only know the tale of our city in its broadest strokes.
Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
Written & illustrated by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99)
This slim graphic novel tells the story of the few days after the levee collapses using drawings to illustrate familiar images — the chaos at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Superdome, the rescues of people from roofs and the despair and desolation of the days after, as people wondered when organized help would arrive. Brown's book is suitable and informative for all ages.