After being hounded for weeks by lobbyists from all sides vying for our literary-political clout in the race to determine which book will be selected as the coveted “One Book” of the 2015 One Book One New Orleans campaign, Room 220 has made a decision. By any measure imaginable, of the three finalists being considered, there can be only one: New Orleans Boom and Blackout: 100 Days in America’s Coolest Hotspot by Brian Boyles.
While the selection process is normally a private affair, this year the Young Leadership Council’s OBONO team has opted to conduct a survey to see what the public might want to read (click here to see the survey and vote). New Orleans Boom and Blackout already has a commanding lead over its competitors—French Quarter Fiction edited by Josh Clark and Glass House by Christine Wiltz—but I encourage you to join us in sending a resounding message to the final selection committee that the people want their Boom and Blackout.
In a way, Boyles’ book should almost win by default. OBONO is a series of events centered around a single book meant to raise awareness about adult literacy in the city. These events also are designed to engage people who are improving their reading skills. (Room 220 reported on last year’s event.) The selected book, then, should be of broad interest to the general New Orleans public, it should be accessible, and it should not alienate would-be readers by presenting an overly esoteric or privileged perspective. Only Boom and Blackout fulfills these criteria.
Boom and Blackout is a nonfiction account of the 100 days preceding the 2013 Super Bowl hosted in the New Orleans Superdome. Many will likely recall the (partial) blackout referenced in the title. Through original research and interviews, conveyed from a casual first-person perspective, Boyles unpacks the complex tangle of events that took place as the local government, tourism apparatus, and city at large prepared to showcase the New New Orleans for millions of Americans who had their eyes trained on the game. From the Streetcar Line To Nowhere to VIP celebrity events to cab drivers, bartenders, and street performers hustling like made to capitalize on the influx of visitors, New Orleans was rife with happenings those 100 days that, through Boyles’ interpretation, speak volumes about the present state of our city.
Meanwhile, French Quarter Fiction is a collection of short stories that deal almost exclusively with that exclusive section of town. It can be entertaining at times—one story, by Joe Longo, features a man urinating into a daiquiri machine—but it is usually not. We at Room 220 remember picking up the book a few years ago and getting through only a few stories before putting it back down, our minds wearied by such banalities as an Andrei Codrescu character being upset by his loud neighbor. Or something like that. We at Room 220 are really, really good at reading—Lord only knows the yawns and feelings of tedium this book would invoke in the hands of people who have yet to reach a master level of literacy.
We really have nothing against Christine Wiltz—she’s a fine writer, as far as we can tell, and Glass House sounds like it could be an interesting novel. But the fact that it’s told from the perspective of a rich woman in a Garden District mansion with a housekeeper makes one question whether One Book One New Orleans’ audience will relate to it much. It’s hard to say. Certainly, one can enjoy and learn much from stories told from perspectives vastly different from one’s own. And maybe OBONO’s audience includes more of the One Percent than I assume. But in this case, why chance it? Everyone in New Orleans is familiar with the city’s relationship with football; everyone in New Orleans is affected by the questions of tourism, culture, and economy Boom and Blackout discusses; and because the book includes such a wide and varied cast, most readers will likely find it filled with easily relatable characters. It’s also smart and often funny.
We at Room 220 applaud the Young Leadership Council’s OBONO team for including a public survey in their book selection process. Although the survey results are not law—the selection committee has final say, regardless of what voters tell them—it is encouraging to see the council implement this democratic tactic. Illiteracy and low literacy in New Orleans is not an issue for those who can’t read, but for all of us. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure we live in a literate community, so any edge toward increased public participation in a campaign such as OBONO is welcomed.
That said, cast your vote for New Orleans Boom and Blackout!