Book Review: The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story



This was a quick read about the author’s post-Katrina experiences, bookended by housing renovations woes. If you’re not familiar with NOLA or don’t care about the city’s top chefs or restaurants, you can probably skip this book. There was a lot of “We ate XX at XX’s restaurant XXl.” Heavy on name dropping of well off or well known friends and constant reminders of the author’s own wealth and fairly easy lifestyle make it hard to feel any sympathy for her. To be fair, she doesn’t ever ASK for your sympathy to her many many housing woes and frequently points out that she knows how much worse things could’ve been for her, how lucky she really was. It serves as a good example of how wealth and race, particularly in a city as divided by both as New Orleans, determines so much of a person’s ability to cope with and survive disasters.

Thankfully the majority of the book focusses on New Orleans and Katrina than on her home renovation (because really? Who cares about the stone she chose for her yard or how many times she had to repaint the dining room?).

I’ve read a lot of books on Nola and there are far better reads than this selection if you’re looking to learn about the city or the fallout of the levees failing. Those books can be dark in their brutal honesty of the devastation that took place. This book does not do that, instead focusing more on the first ones that pulled themselves back up after the storm (coincidentally mostly white, well-off business owners). It touches on the tragedies without being depressing, so a lot of it feels glossed over. That fits with the purpose of the book though, this wasn’t a book that was written to show the true aftermath of such a tragedy. If anything it shows that life – no matter how much we may feel like it should pause for a moment – goes on.

If you want a real look at New Orleans or the effects of Katrina, pick up Tom Piazza’s Why New Orleans Matters or Chris Rose’s One Dead in Attic. Both are much better books.

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