Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book season

The Katrinaversary always brings us a new set of books either about the flood itself or New Orleans in general. But obviously the tenth year is going to produce a heavier crop.  Here's Gambit's Kevin Allman with a few brief reviews to help sort through some of them.

One of these, in particular, I've been waiting in line for this one for a few months. Looks like I'll finally get my hands on it soon.  Anyway Allman sells it well.
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.
Meanwhile, this Sunday's New York Times has collected and reviewed another slate of Katrinaversary material.  This one looks like the winner in that batch.
Hurricane Katrina and the Story of Two New Orleans Neighborhoods
By Steve Kroll-Smith, Vern Baxter and Pam Jenkins
210 pp. University of Texas. Cloth, $75; paper, $24.95.

How to analyze the role of social class in the Katrina catastrophe? Taking on this important question, the University of New Orleans sociologists Baxter and Jenkins and their former colleague Kroll-Smith, now of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, came up with a fine plan: to compare the ordeals of two black neighborhoods, working-class Hollygrove and middle-class Pontchartrain Park.

Down-at-the-heels Hollygrove sprang up after World War I. Crisscrossed by highways, train tracks and canals, it was simply what was left after the urban planners finished drawing their maps. In contrast, Pontchartrain Park, a cynical product of the late Jim Crow-era “separate but equal” doctrine, was built as a planned community of 1,000 single-family homes arrayed around a blacks-only golf course. Socioeconomically disparate but similarly below sea level, both Hollygrove and Pontchartrain Park took on several feet of water when the levees broke.

The authors conducted 68 lengthy interviews with survivors from the two neighborhoods, running through their experiences from disaster preparation to rebuilding. But eventually Kroll-Smith, Baxter and Jenkins found themselves at a loss. So many aspects of the Katrina ordeal — where outside New Orleans one happened to have family and friends; which FEMA official answered the phone; whether a particular local bureaucrat was better swayed by a calm request or an emotional outburst — seemed, as their title puts it, left to chance. Moreover, levels of hardship couldn’t always be predicted by socioeconomic status: “Joseph Pratt, a lifelong resident of Hollygrove and jack-of-all-trades . . . hot-wired a truck, siphoned gas and drove himself and others to Baton Rouge and out of harm’s way. These are working-class skills.” In an emergency, handyman training may prove more useful than a college degree, but when a hurricane is approaching isn’t it even better to have the middle-class prerogative of owning a reliable car? “We don’t have a theory about their stories,” the authors confess. “Our goal in this book is to create a little disorder of our own.”
As it happens, you can see the authors of each of these books at Rising Tide this year.

Pam Jenkins, one of the authors of Left To Chance will be participating in a discussion at Rising Tide this year on domestic violence issues. Here's a sketch of that panel.
After Hurricane Katrina, the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault changed.  The issues of safety and vulnerability for women increased as the city emerged first from the immediate crisis and then, the long term recovery.  At the same time, activists and providers began to think how to provide services in this changed landscape.  This panel discusses the challenges and success of increasing women’s safety.

Pamela Jenkins, Professor emeritus, Sociology, University of New Orleans and president of the Family Justice Center Board of Directors

Mary Claire Landry, Executive Director, Family Justice Center of New Orleans
Meanwhile Gary Rivlin, whose book is also reviewed at length by NYT,  is a featured speaker... or morning keynote.. or whatever we decided to call it when we do multiple keynotes at RT. 
Gary Rivlin, an investigative reporting fellow at The Nation Institute, is a former New York Times reporter and the author of five books, including most recently Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, GQ, and Wired, among other publications
Rising Tide X is August 29 at Xavier University. Check out the rest of the website for details about the extensive program. You can go for free this year but please register here. If you'd like to help defray the cost of production or order swag, there's a separate GoFundMe page here.

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