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Why New Orleans Matters

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  663 ratings  ·  81 reviews
In the aftermath of Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. Now what will become of New Orleans in the years ahead? What do this proud, battered city and its people mean to America and the world?

Award-winning author and longtime New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and
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Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 19th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published November 22nd 2005)
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Bob Redmond
Music critic and novelist Piazza has written a sensitive, deeply sympathetic portrait of New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. The first part of the short book tells of the character of the city, particularly through its festivals and events as experienced by Piazza (N.O. is his adopted home). The second, blistering, part tells of the emotional destruction of that character, again through a first-person eyewitness account.

Piazza makes his case well: New Orleans, which has contributed t
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Vickie
For New Orleans residents, both past and present, the first third of Piazza's book is filled with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells (for better or for worse) of the city we love so much. It is rich and emotional, but at times repetitive. He waxes poetic about New Orleans, and it's like a free trip to all the wonderful places you see in your dreams.

Piazza then spends the second third of the book explaining how the true spirit of New Orleans was born from the efforts, struggles and mere daily
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Alexandra
Having lived in New Orleans for two years, I learned very quickly that there's a certain je ne sais quoi about the place. Certain aspects of the Crescent City are beyond description. Despite the crime, the corruption, and the inconvenient (to say the least) location, something about New Orleans makes you fall deeply in love with it. To miss New Orleans is like missing an absent lover. It's like voodoo magic floats through the streets, working its way under your skin and inhabiting your soul. Thi ...more
Marlène
Je suis monomaniaque. Tout ce qui touche à la Nouvelle Orléans... J'ai lu et vu pas mal de fiction sur la ville, dans la ville, pas loin de la ville... Pas mal de non-fiction aussi, en majorité sur la musique... Ah, la musique. Ou plutôt LES musiques. Je ne parle même pas de la cuisine, de ses mélanges, couleurs, sauces...

Mais jamais je n'avais lu une telle déclaration d'amour, inconditionnelle, entière, sans concession. À la Nouvelle Orléans, à son Âme, que nous ne pouvons que deviner à traver
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Mark
This is an interesting book, in two parts. The first is an attempt by Piazza to capture the spirit, the soul of New Orleans in words. The second is about the aftereffects of Katrina. Both are interesting. And I have to say it is odd, perhaps, that I am not more enamored of New Orleans than I am. In a lot of ways, I am pursuing the mysticism that makes America what it is. There is a lot of that in New Orleans, I have to admit. Perhaps I need to make a road trip. Perhaps. Anyway, what drew me to t ...more
Tara
I loved this book immensely. The author paints a beautiful, sad, and poignant portrait of life in New Orleans, pre and post-Katrina, and makes the reader understand the value of the city of New Orleans. At one point, I had to take a break from reading because it was so heartbreaking to think of the turmoil that so many people lived through, (and are still going through in some cases) losing their homes and culture, possessions, pets and friends. My heart aches at the losses but still I smiled at ...more
John Brissette
The book I've been looking for for years....

I rarely give a book 5 stars. 4, often, but 5 is for those life changing/affirming pieces that are rare. I wish I could give this book 6. As a "Creole" (a term of some ambiguity) who wasn't born or raised in NOLA but had family in Louisiana, NOLA has always been a cultural touchstone. A "Mecca or Jerusalem" for me, living in a place where no one understood (in fact berated) my culture. I first went as an adult in 2000 & discovered that there was in
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Brad McKenna
Written by a NOLA native in the months immediately follow Katrina, this book has renewed my love for New Orleans.

I'll admit that I was one of the people that said, it would be stupid to rebuild New Orleans. I love the culture but in the battle between man and nature, the latter has a way of coming out on top. Mr. Piazza pointed out that ALL cities are hard at work keeping nature at bay. Think of trees and grass, without lawn care they too would overrun a city. It's not New Orleans fault that th
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Ashley Bergman
This ended up being a wonderful book. First written as a love letter to the city post-Katrina as well as a plea for the world to step up and take care of the ailing and devastated city back when no one had decided what was to be done with New Orleans but many had ideas. Piazza was primarily concerned that the city would be rebranded and rebuilt as a Las Vegas of the South. Of course, this was a more effective plea back in 2005 when no one knew what was going to happen.

Piazza adds an afterword t
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Ray Lang
A treacly, maudlin travelogue, and in some parts insulting to native New Orleanians (this one, anyway).
Steven
Although it reads as if Tom has ADD, this is a phenomenal book. I was fortunate enough to have travelled there in 2012 and help the Mardi Gras Indians preserve some of their culture. The places and some of the people I was also able to meet whom he mentions in the book. Recollecting the city, the music, the people, the architecture, the shopping, the cuisine, the art, and many other things I experienced there came all rushing back. Wake up America, New Orleans still needs our help. Looking forwa ...more
Stop
Read the STOP SMILING interview with author Tom Piazza

Setting the Tempo: TOM PIAZZA
By JC Gabel

(This interview originally appeared in the STOP SMILING Ode to the South Issue)

Tom Piazza grew up on Long Island, New York, but has lived in New Orleans for the last 14 years. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, as well as an ardent jazz fan and historian, Piazza fell in love with the Crescent City, which spawned not only jazz itself, but also some of the most unforgettable works of American liter
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Monica
I picked up Tom Piazza's book "Why New Orleans Matters" a few weeks ago, but couldn't read it until now. I can't read anything about Hurricane Katrina without feeling it in the pit of my stomach and, well, I've been depressed enough lately. However, I brought the book to court the other day for the time spent waiting in line, and there I was, standing in line at the clerk's office, overwhelmed again at the beauty and the sadness and the joy of life that is New Orleans, and remembering why that c ...more
Phillip Welshans
A very quick read, if for no other reason than the entire book, including introduction, is fewer than 200 pages long. I saw this book in a great bookshop while on vacation in New Orleans and tracked it down when we got back to Baltimore. I took it with me this weekend when I flew up to Boston and back and easily got through it thanks in no small part to a 3 hour delay coming back to Baltimore.

The book is well-written and is generally a meditation on New Orleans culture. It's broken up into two
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Katie
Naturally, I picked this book up to read while being swallowed whole on my first trip to "The River Region," which clearly no one calls it, but is written inexplicably on the airport sign. The Crescent City, The Big Easy, The City That Will Never Drown. Not if the people of New Orleans, Tom Piazza included, have anything to say about it. Piazza's passionate, knee-jerk reaction of a book, written just weeks after Katrina, is split into two halves: first, snapshots of what makes NOLA unique and ir ...more
Jen
Before going to Jamaica, I read two books that greatly amplified my experience there: Catch a Fire; the Life of Bob Marley and The History of the Jamaican People. (Yeah, I know, there’s something obliquely offensive about the title, but the content was good.) This travel time, before going to New Orleans, I’m reading Why New Orleans Matters and one other book that I will only admit to in person, but not in writing on the Internet. Piazza’s book, which is really just a travel memoir, (even though ...more
Chris Stanford
I came to this book via a recommendation on the New Orleans Times-Picayune's excellent blog about the HBO series "Treme." I suspect one's appreciation of the book will be directly proportional to one's appreciation of the city. The author's passion for his adopted hometown is clearly evident, although Piazza's lists of the restaurants and musicians he loves is unlikely to inspire the uninitiated. To his credit, Piazza doesn't romanticize New Orleans, exploring, if briefly, the complicated city's ...more
Stephen
As an outsider but one who has visited New Orleans seven or eight times, including three trips since Katrina, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the perspective of one who was experienced many of New Orleans charms but had no real insight as to the people and culture of the city. Of course, I knew the history book version of New Orleans, but Mr. Piazza takes you on a behind-the-scenes look at what makes up the fiber of the city. I appreciate Mr. Piazza's passion for his city; I love New Orleans ...more
Adam
...Because it's awesome!

Tom Piazaa could have just settled on the above statement but I'm not gonna complain about his elaboration!

Written shortly after Hurricane Katrina, 'Why New Orleans Matters' is one of those super nostalgic glimpses into this little world in which New Orleanians are lucky enough to reside.

Piazza spends the first part of the book giving a beginners explanation to everything that is New Orleans, from hole in the wall gourmet restaurants to impromptu second-lines.

The second
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Diann Blakely
As a writer of both books and music criticism—perhaps most impressively for the OXFORD AMERICAN during its genuinely Oxford years—Tom Piazza has amassed an imposing body of work, and his new novel promises to be his strongest. Piazza's best-known nonfiction volume, WHY NEW ORLEANS MATTERS, is a heartwrenching cry for the restoration of his adopted hometown, but CITY OF REFUGE, having had more time to settle and fester, is a must-read for anyone with who has ever passed through the Big Easy and e ...more
Lucy
The best paragraph by far of the book:
"At one point, early on, some public figures even asked whether it 'made sense' to rebuild New Orleans. Would you let your own mother die because it didn't make financial sense to spend the money to treat her, or because you were too busy to spend the time to heal her sick spirit? Among people who are able to think only in terms of dollars and cents, for whom everything is reckoned in terms of winner and loser, profit or more profit, of course it doesn't 'ma
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Blake
I really liked Tom Piazza's novel, My Cold War, and this non-fiction book was good, too. Why does New Orleans matter? According to Piazza, it's not anything obviously economic or practical--rather, it's the spirit of the place, the way it offers a way of life and an attitude you can't find elsewhere in the country.

I cried reading about the things about New Orleans that I could identify with--his description of his girlfriend's apartment when they returned after Katrina, his description of his f
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Faith
Tom Piazza should win an award for description. Not only does he show you what it's like to be in a second line or experiencing Mardi Gras, he also has a fantastic way of illustrating the thoughts and emotions of the moment.

Why New Orleans Matters was written five weeks after Katrina, and though it's been over six years now, his voice reminds us of the very real fear at that time that New Orleans might not come back. It's a passionate book and Piazza makes you feel the desperation of being a lo
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Jennifer Sherwood
This is a collection from an author that had a long-standing love affair with the city of New Orleans and choose to relocate there. It tells of his experiences and observations during the aftermath of Katrina and in the process, he shares more about the city, its culture, its inhabitants, and its history. I thought that book was amazing because of the impassioned case that that author makes as to why New Orleans matters. You can't help but walk away impressed by his love for his adopted city. Th ...more
seth
Heading to New Orleans soon and having only been there pre-Katrina I wanted some post-Katrina perspective. While this book is short it packs quite a punch. Clearly Mr. Piazza has a strong emotional bond with New Orleans and it comes alive on these pages. The reader is brought through neighborhoods and experiences that would probably be difficult for the average outsider/tourist to have. There are the requisite chapters on Mardi Gras, New Orleans cuisine, music, etc.. but its the passion of the a ...more
Ronn
This book was written in 2005 when the wounds of Katrina were still fresh. Unfortunately, too much that is in this book is still accurate for too many people.

Even more unfortunately, all the people who will pick up and read this book without force are not the ones who NEED to read it. The ones who do need to read it are the ones who still think Brownie did a heckuva job.

Now that I've finished reading it, I think I'll send it to one of the members of congress from my state that NEED to read it.
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Stephanie
Read this book if you love New Orleans; if you're curious about New Orleans; if you wonder why anyone at all cares about New Orleans. Read it if you care about the United States and wonder what we will do next with ourselves and our cities. Read it and weep (if you love New Orleans, you will be brought to tears rueful, sweet, sorrowful). Read it and rejoice. Read it and give thanks. Read it and make some changes in the way you look at the world.

The book was written in 2005; the edition I have co
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J
wonderful for an individual history and a bunch of anecdotes, notes on lovely places in the city past and present, but not so in-depth on the actual history of the city or the subcultures he mentions, nor on the hurricane or the immediate response before the book was published.

i know piazza wrote this very soon after katrina, but that's just how it reads, too, like a hastily put together ode to a place he loves. and while that's something it feels harsh to criticise, the book seemed like it sho
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Debbie
Touching and beautifully written. A heartfelt ballad for New Orleans.
Mari
It was great to read this in New Orleans. It was like a really good travel guide, without the squrimy dates & facts & street names, just the things that make NOLA NOLA--a lot of great nostalgia, a poetic approach to everything, but a hits-the-nail-on-the-head-ness about the contradictions of the city (broken-down-but-beautiful, but, uh, really broken-down, laissez les bon temps rouler but brutally violent, etc.) I recommend it. Of course, it gets tooo nostalgic, but...if you love New Orl ...more
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“At one point, early on, some public figures even asked whether it 'made sense' to rebuild New Orleans. Would you let your own mother die because it didn't make financial sense to spend the money to treat her, or because you were too busy to spend the time to heal her sick spirit?” 16 likes
“Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, once told me that when a brass band plays at a small club back up in one of the neighborhoods, it's as if the audience--dancing, singing to the refrains, laughing--is part of the band. They are two parts of the same thing. The dancers interpret, or it might be better to say literally embody, the sounds of the band, answering the instruments. Since everyone is listening to different parts of the music--she to the trumpet melody, he to the bass drum, she to the trombone--the audience is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials. And of course the band is also watching the dancers, and getting ideas from the dancers' gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name; one is literally getting down, as in particle physics, to some root stratum where one is freed from the lockstop of time itself, where time might even run backward, or sideways, and something eternal and transcendent is accessed.” 10 likes
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