by Jeanie Riess
There's a magic, says Susan Larson, when a person reaches for a book in a bookstore. "The answers are there," she says. "It's just a matter of how we go about finding them."
The former Times-Picayune book editor and current host of WWNO-FM's The Reading Life admits that although she's still a discerning critic (she's judged the Pulitzer Prizes twice now), she's more a champion of good books than a basher of bad.
"I am a critic, but I don't give a lot of thought to books I don't like," she says. "Books are so rich, why not showcase the best?"
Larson's own book, The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans, reissued by LSU Press last week, highlights the vibrant literary culture that's alive and well in the city, even in a post-Hurricane Katrina, e-book imbued world. Larson's book is all at once a history and a celebration of our local literary community, with an updated list of happening bookstores and literary events, bookish destinations and dozens of her own favorite local reads. ("I could stand on the street corner and recommend books and be happy," she says with a laugh.)
The Booklover's Guide has been updated from the 1999 version to reflect a vastly changed New Orleans and a very different book world, But Larson's subjects aren't the only ones who have experienced a kind of renaissance. Larson also found herself changed when she sat down with the revised edition.
"I was feeling dreamy the first time around," she says. "This time I feel more confident and determined."
The book's cover has been updated to reflect a more modern New Orleans, with a tattooed young woman riding a streetcar in the rain, clutching a copy of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. The updated cover also reflects Larson's love of tattoos, an obsession ridiculed by her son, Dash: "He says, 'you're going to be one of those ladies who dresses inappropriately.'"
Larson's confidence extends to the future of real, bound books, which she says readers need both for the aesthetic pleasure of holding a thumbed-through family cookbook and for the comfort of reading long sentences. "I can read faster (on an e-reader), but I'm also completely unable to read some things," she says. "I can't read Dickens on an e-reader. The sentences are too long!"
Octavia Books (513 Octavia St., 504-899-7323), which helps underwrite Larson's radio program, will host the author tonight at 6 p.m. Stop by to hear her read and grab a signed book, or just to ask her about an entire room of her house dedicated to poetry and pop-up books.