Saturday, March 27, 2010



An email to me from Dan Baum, the author of Nine Lives:

You were kind to write to me years ago about my daily New Orleans blog on the New Yorker website. I wanted to let you know that my book, "Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans" is being released today in paperback. It got blushingly good reviews when it was published in hardcover last year; you can read them here. If you liked "New Orleans Journal," I think you'll enjoy "Nine Lives."

Indeed, the reviews of the book are blushingly good. Here's a sampling:

The New York Times, February 18, 2009: “Nine Lives may be this young year’s most artful and emotionally resonating nonfiction book so far, and for that, to Mr. Baum, a belated New Year’s toast.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 11, 2009. “One of the most moving -- and riveting -- books ever written about the rich and complicated life we live here.”
People Magazine, February 13, 2009: “Brilliantly reported. . . . Compassionate and clear-eyed. . . “

Time, February 19, 2009: “With all that has been written about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, few writers have been able to capture the essence of New Orleans as skillfully as Baum.”

The Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2009: Dan Baum's extraordinary book . . . resembles a vast Victorian novel in its many-sided evocation of an entire world -- worlds, actually. . . .

The New York Times Book Review, February 22, 2009: “A splendid book. . . . Crowded with memorable characters. Baum continually serves up wonderful detail and phrasing.” (A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.”)

The Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana), February 15, 2009: “One of the finest books to be written about Hurricane Katrina and its effect on New Orleans waited the longest to come out, most likely because of the immense research involved. But it's worth the wait.”

The Washington Post, March 1, 2009: “(Baum’s) technique brings to mind Robert Altman's film ‘Nashville’ . . . . He adroitly moves his subjects through parades, prison, divorces, sex changes, fancy balls and gun brawls.”

Surely enough to cause Dan's face to turn fiery red.

I purchased the hardcover version of Nine Lives some time ago, and I am now about three quarters through reading the book. As I told Dan in email:

I love the book, and I am quite willing to give it publicity....I didn't want to write a post until I had got at least part way through the book. I would have bought "Nine Lives" just for the introduction, because you "get" New Orleans and New Orleanians.

Not everyone "gets" New Orleans, not even folks born and bred in the city. I have friends who moved after Katrina and the federal flood and never looked back. Not that I blame them for moving, because having your house flood more than once is enough to cause one to wish never to have the experience again. I left New Orleans over 50 years ago, and I still look back with longing to the city of my birth, childhood, teen years, and college years. I will never get over moving away. But enough about me! I'm supposed to be selling Dan's book.

From the introduction to Nine Lives:

That New Orleans is like no place else in America goes way beyond the food, music, and architecture. New Orleanians don't even understand such fundamentals as time and money the way other the way other Americans do. The future, for example: while the rest of Americans famously dream and scheme and chase the horizon, New Orleanians are masters at the lost art of living in the moment. If we're doing okay this minute, goes the logic - enjoying one another's company, keeping cool, and maybe having something good to eat - of what earthly importance is tomorrow or next week? Given the fragility of life, why even count on getting there? New Orleanians are notoriously late showing up, if they show up at all, because by and large they don't keep calendars. Calendars are tools for managing the future, and in New Orleans the future doesn't exist.

And ain't that the truth? Grandpère and I have been at odds over money and time for nearly 49 years. We settle for truces, but we have never signed a peace treaty.

From Rebecca Wright, originally from Thibodaux, a character in the book:

Cousins showed up often from Thibodaux, looking for a better life in the city. Ronald [Rebecca's adopted son] knew times when five or ten might be packed into the house, covering the living room floor like dead soldiers, standing around the table at mealtimes, spooning up Mama's rice and gravy, and talking in plantation accents that struck his ear like music. They'd tell of hog killings, alligators as long as Cadillacs, and hot pones sticky with molasses. Everybody would be shouting and laughing until Rebecca, standing over the stove with her spatula, hushed them all by snapping, "When I die, do not bring me back to that place."

Like Rebecca, I want my ashes in New Orleans. I haven't decided where yet. Perhaps my ashes could join my sister Gayle's ashes in City Park, where we spent so much time as kids. But once again, this is about Dan's book. See how easily I drift into telling stories?

Nine Lives tells the stories of ordinary and not so ordinary people from New Orleans before Katrina and after. In Dan's words:

These stories come to the reader through two filters. The sensibilities, emotions, and memories of the nine principal characters color them most of all. They all sat for many hours of interviews, unpacking their innermost moments for a stranger, with nothing to gain but the very New Orleanian pleasure of storytelling. Although I supplemented those interviews by talking to many of my characters' friends, relatives, and associates, I chose to recount these nine people's lives from their own points of view. They invited me into their heads and hearts, so that seemed the best place from which to tell their stories.

So. If you're looking for something good to read and think you might like to read about other quirky and wonderful (blushing) people like me, consider buying Dan Baum's Nine Lives.


  1. Thanks for the great review. You've just made one future sale for the author! I'll be sure to pick up a copy at Maple Street or Octavia Books when I'm in the neighborhood. I see it's also on e-books, but for better or worse, I'm not that kind of woman.

  2. Ginny, I thank you. Dan thanks you.

    For what it's worth, I'm not that kind of woman either. ;-)

  3. I am about to put the published edition into my Amazon Wish List.

    I'm glad that you tell stories, even when you're supposed to be selling books. Telling stories is what connects us and makes us human. You as a real life person relating to people in the book is that much more of a seller for me. Telling people we know -- and people we don't know -- our stories allows them to get to know us for who and what we are, "risking the hostile stare, should our lives attract or scare" as it were.

    Thanks for the review and for telling your stories in your blow.

  4. This sounds like a really nice book! Is it on Amazon?

  5. All right! I thank you all. Joseph, the stories help, then? That's good. You'll enjoy the stories in the book. Word of mouth is a wonderful sales tactic.

  6. This is a wonderful tribute to the inhabitants of New Orléans!

    A tapestry, a glorification of Life.

    I read it last week on the péniche in France and so did my friend Annalena, who didn't care for other books after this one...


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