This fall, Maryland author Gary Krist will take readers into a little-known chapter of New Orleans history with his new book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Krist brings to light the social and political struggles that New Orleans faced at the turn of the 20th century. Focusing on events from 1890 through 1920, Krist tells a tale of vice, politics, economic development, crime, jazz, racism and murder. The most shocking thing about this story is that it’s all true! This engrossing book is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.
Krist recently answered some questions about Empire of Sin for Between the Covers. Read on to learn more about the city’s politics, its remarkable residents and the Axman, a serial murderer who terrorized New Orleans for 18 months.
Between the Covers: Why New Orleans? Was it the story or the city that first captured your interest?
Gary Krist: It’s hard to separate story from city, but I’d say it was a desire to write about New Orleans that first attracted me. For an urban historian, New Orleans is a particularly attractive subject, primarily because of its unique history. As a place with French and Catholic roots, it has a culture very different from that of other American cities. (My favorite observation about New Orleans is that it was the first major American metropolis to build an opera house but the last to install a sewer system.) So it was fascinating for me to see how this unique place weathered the great transition to modernity in this era.
BTC: I suspect that many of our readers don’t know a lot about this chapter in New Orleans history. Will you describe the social and political climate of the city at the turn of the 20th century?
GK: The last decades of the 19th century were difficult for New Orleans. The city’s prosperous antebellum days were long past; years of civil war and reconstruction had been hard on the local economy, and the city had become hopelessly backward in terms of urban development (hence that much-delayed sewer system). Northern capital investment was desperately needed to modernize the city’s infrastructure, but Northern capitalists were reluctant to invest in a place with such a bad reputation for vice and crime. So the city’s “better half” decided that it was time to clean up New Orleans, which meant doing battle with the city’s long-entrenched underworlds of vice and crime. Basically, they wanted to make New Orleans “respectable”—and that was going to be quite a job.
BTC: During this time, a red-light district called Storyville was created in New Orleans. Tell us a little bit about its development.
GK: Interestingly, Storyville began as part of this clean-up campaign. Reformers knew that abolishing prostitution entirely would not be feasible in a city like New Orleans, so they tried instead to isolate and regulate the trade. An alderman named Sidney Story identified a particular 18-block neighborhood and wrote an ordinance making prostitution illegal everywhere EXCEPT in this one, out-of-the-way area. Reformers figured that this would be a good way of lowering the profile of vice in the city. But the plan backfired, and Storyville (as the district came to be called, much to Alderman Story’s annoyance) soon was making New Orleans world-famous as a virtual supermarket of sin. And when reformers decided that they needed to close the district after all, it turned out that Storyville was a lot harder to kill than it had been to create.
BTC: Another notable thread of the story is the Axman murders, a series of grisly murders that took place from 1918-1919 and remain unsolved. What impact did these events have on the city?
GK: The Axman appeared at a critical time, just when the champions of respectability thought they had won their battle for New Orleans. Storyville had finally been closed in 1917, and the city’s crime problem seemed to be under control at last. But then an anonymous murderer dramatically upended this sense of victory with a series of bloody nighttime ax attacks that terrorized the city for 18 months. With each succeeding murder, panicked New Orleanians became increasingly paranoid and irrational. Then an open letter—purportedly from the Axman himself—appeared in The Times-Picayune, claiming that the murderer was a devil from hell with a liking for the new jazz music. He threatened to kill again on St. Joseph’s Night, promising only to spare any household in which jazz was being played. And, well, I don’t want to reveal too much, but you can just imagine what a night of music and dancing took place in New Orleans that night.
BTC: Empire of Sin is filled with unbelievable characters, and the most amazing thing is that they were all real people. Do you have a favorite? Which person in this book will stick with the reader the longest?
GK: Oh, I could probably name a dozen—like Josie Arlington, the wealthy brothel madam who for decades kept her sinful life a secret from her beloved niece; or Buddy Bolden, the almost-legendary cornetist who is credited with being the inventor of jazz music; or Tom Anderson, the poor kid from the rough Irish Channel neighborhood who rose to become one of the most powerful (and strangely likeable) vice lords in the country. But my favorite character is probably Louis Armstrong, who grew up in the hardest and most degrading circumstances imaginable, but whose unfailing good-heartedness and matchless musical gift allowed him to rise above his harsh childhood to become one of the great artists of the century.
BTC: What is the most shocking thing that you learned in your research?
GK: Some of the beliefs of the so-called reformers shocked me. For instance, one of the leaders of the anti-Storyville campaign was a woman named Jean Gordon. She was firmly convinced that she was on the side of virtue, but as with many self-styled moral champions, her idea of “virtue” was often distorted by class and racial prejudice. So while she fought hard for female suffrage and child labor regulation, she also lent her support to the rise of Jim Crow discrimination and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Even worse, she held some astounding beliefs about eugenics, advocating for the forced sterilization of children who showed signs of a future in crime, prostitution or alcoholism. “Took Lucille Decoux to the Women’s Dispensary July 17 [for an appendectomy],” Jean once wrote in her diary. “This was an excellent opportunity to have her sterilized…and thus end any feeble-minded progeny coming from Lucille.”
BTC: What are you working on next?
GK: My fascination with cities in the early 20th century hasn’t gone away, so I’m working on a book about Los Angeles in roughly this same time period. The book will center on the Hollywood of the silent-film era and weave in a few other elements. But the idea is still taking shape in my mind, so it’s probably too early to talk about it.
When he was a child, Bryan Stevenson’s grandmother would tell him, “You can’t understand the most important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.” That’s exactly what Stevenson does for all of us with his new book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. The book focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, a man who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row.
McMillian was arrested for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, the 18-year-old daughter of a well-respected family in Monroeville, Alabama. Despite a lack of physical evidence and the existence of several witnesses who could place him miles away at the time of the crime, McMillian was convicted of capital murder. Stevenson took on his appeal while working for the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta. After a lengthy appeals process, McMillian was exonerated and released in 1993 after spending six years on death row.
Readers will be astonished that these events actually took place as the book reads like a legal thriller that would do John Grisham proud. The story has a unique literary connection as well. McMillian lived in Monroe County, Alabama, home of To Kill a Mockingbird-author Harper Lee. Just Mercy is a gripping and thought-provoking read that would also be a great choice for book clubs.
Stevenson is now a law professor and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to those who have been denied fair treatment in the legal system. His TED Talk on race and justice has been viewed over 1.25 million times, and it was named one of five essential TED Talks by The New Yorker. You can view it on BCPL’s Tumblr.
As the temperatures cool down and the days become shorter, a new season has arrived. With leaves falling and warm sweaters unpacked comes the desire for foods that exemplify warmth and coziness. Three recently published cookbooks express strong autumnal flavors that will surely bring pleasant aromas to your kitchen.
One style that always warms the heart and belly is Indian cuisine. Aarti Sequeira, winner of season six of Food Network Star, brings her winning personality and complex-tasting but simple-to-create spice blends to Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. After a short introduction discussing her background, she explains the many spices in the Indian pantry as well as a quick guide to lentils and the mystery of curry powder. Vegetarian dishes are well-represented, as well as Sequeira’s fondness for sweets and desserts. Her recipes incorporate exotic flavors into American favorites, creating intriguing concepts such as South Indian Tomato Soup, Bombay Sloppy Joes and Masala Shrimp ‘n’ Grits.
Averie Sunshine, the popular food blogger at AverieCooks.com, has her finger on the pulse of one of this decade’s hottest food trends in Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes that Go beyond the Pie. She brings 50 of her favorite savory and sweet recipes together to create a group of mouthwatering fall dishes. From Parmesan and Cream Cheese Pumpkin Puff appetizers to Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, this is a book for the pumpkin lover. She also has suggestions for perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds and a number of pumpkin beverages that surpass the tired spiced latte.
A well-known British chef and international culinary superstar is back with Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, a compendium of hearty-but-healthy recipes perfect for the home cook. Each recipe includes the preparation time and the caloric intake per serving, in addition to attractive photographs of the foods. Oliver states in the introduction that these recipes are intended for a leisurely experience, to celebrate and savor, and not simply for the everyday routine. Respected for his charge to improve school lunch menus worldwide, the chef returns to his roots with this cookbook to pore over and plan cold-weather weekend meals around.
Fabio Viviani, chef, restauranter and charismatic entertainer is a familiar face from Top Chef where he was voted Fan Favorite. He is also becoming a major player in the world of American restaurants, owning spots in California, Chicago and, soon, Miami. In his newest cookbook Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, Fabio offers over 100 recipes for American classic dishes, from Chicago-style deep dish pizza to spaghetti carbonara all with his own Italian flair. The recipes include basic ingredients that can be found in any well-stocked supermarket and are accompanied by stunning photographs and a taste of Fabio’s charm. Between the Covers was lucky enough to ask Fabio a few questions in the midst of his hectic schedule which includes opening a new restaurant and embarking on a book tour. Buon Appetito!
Between the Covers: Readers will relish your newest cookbook, Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, which is a feast for the eyes. What prompted you to put your Italian spin on American recipes?
Fabio Viviani: I’ve been in America for many years now, and I love it and wanted to put my Italian spin on American food. In my new cookbook, I try to keep my Italian heritage by keeping dishes lighter but also incorporating the deliciousness of American food with approachable recipes.
BTC: Your suggested menus are so helpful, as are your ideas for entertaining and make-ahead dishes. What are the five ingredients you think a home pantry should never be without? What is your best tip for saving time in the kitchen?
FV: Five ingredients a home pantry should never be without: olive oil, cold cuts, fresh pasta, eggs, herbs/spices. You can make anything with these ingredients in your pantry! My motto for saving time in the kitchen is always, ‘Keep it simple stupid, keep it stupid simple.’ If a recipe feels very complicated then it’s a problem! Simple recipes will always come out the best.
BTC: Thank you so much for making your recipes incredibly accessible to the home cook and your style so easy and encouraging. Who gave you your love for food and cooking? When did you realize you wanted to be a chef? Did you have any tough teachers or bad experiences that made you want to throw in the apron?
FV: For me it always comes back to my family. When I was eleven, my mom developed a problem with her hands and had to quit her job, so I decided to find a job since there was no money. I ended up working a night job unloading 50-pound bags of flour and baking pies from one in the morning until seven and did that job for two and a half years, which was how I was introduced to the kitchen for the first time. From a very young age I was surrounded by cooking with my family so I knew I loved it, but it wasn’t until I had my first kitchen job that I realized I wanted to be a chef. My grandma was my toughest teacher, probably because I wasn’t always the best student!
BTC: You grew up in Italy - was there much culture shock when you moved to the United States? What do you miss most about living in Italy? Do you get a chance to go return often?
FV: I go back to Italy about twice a year. What I miss most about Italy is the smell. Italy smells different; it smells of fresh cut grass. There are no traffic noises or people screaming, and very little trash around. If you ever find the smell of paradise, you will know you’re in Italy.
BTC: We know all about your hatred of cilantro and your love of Nutella. Any other food favorites or dislikes? What is your number one comfort food? What is your go-to dish for a romantic dinner?
FV: My number one comfort food is pasta, and, of course, a jar of Nutella if it’s available. My go-to dish for a romantic dinner is wine. If you have lots of good wine, the rest will take care of itself.
BTC: As a former contestant on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, what’s your take on reality television? Would you do it again?
FV: Reality TV is great exposure and it’s good for your business. However, there are many situations where reality TV does not make you look good and that can be bad for your business. Reality TV should be taken with caution, but I would definitely do it again if the opportunity came up.
BTC: Sienna Tavern Miami is about to open. As you build your restaurant empire, can those of us living in Baltimore hope to see a Fabio restaurant close by in the near future?
FV: Baltimore is a beautiful city and I would love to have a restaurant there one day!
We all have that friend who doesn’t have a filter and says whatever she thinks. Blogger Jen Mann’s new book People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots and Other Suburban Scourges is just like sitting down next to that friend and listening (and laughing) as she tells it like it is. Mann, whose writing style has been called “Erma Bombeck with F Bombs,” takes on modern inconveniences, marriage and motherhood with humor and sarcasm. Mann explains why she covets a minivan (a.k.a. mobile command center), the danger of wearing pajamas in the school pickup line, the complexities of enrolling your kids in summer camp and the challenges of navigating playgroup politics.
Mann’s blog was a small project that she worked on for herself and a few followers until a post called “Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies” went viral in 2011. This book will bring Mann’s witty and, yes, often profanity-filled observations on life in the suburbs to an even wider audience. Her irreverent, brutally honest essays are a perfect match for readers who enjoy Jenny Lawson and Jen Lancaster’s humorous memoirs. Mann has also edited two humor anthologies called I Just Want to Pee Alone: A Collection of Hilarious Essays about Motherhood and I Just Want to Be Alone: A Collection of Humorous Essays, both of which will be treats for her always-growing fan base.
Brilliant, eccentric, odd, flamboyant and influential are all words that have been used to describe Thomas Dent Mütter, a trailblazing plastic surgeon from Philadelphia. In Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz details the fascinating story of this unique man who made so many critical contributions to modern medicine and whose legacy lives on today.
Dr. Mütter began his career as a surgeon and teacher at Jefferson College of Medicine in the middle of the 19th century at a time when anesthesia was not used during surgery and sterilization was haphazard at best. Mütter was determined to remedy those situations while focusing on using his talents to aid the physically deformed. As an innovator of plastic surgery techniques, he was also an expert on burns and cleft palates. Detailed accounts of actual surgeries performed by Mütter are peppered throughout the book and add to the compelling narrative. A character outside the operating room, Mütter wore colorful silk suits and cavalierly added an umlaut to his name. He was bitterly disliked by rivals who eschewed his ideas, but beloved by students who welcomed his interactive approach to lectures.
Sadly, the charismatic and talented Mütter died at 48, but through his speeches and lectures Aptowicz is able to reveal the complexity of Mütter’s character, his compassion and the lasting impact he had on the medical profession. In his lifetime, Mütter amassed a personal collection of almost 2,000 unique medical items, including models, illustrations and preserved anomalies. Among the objects he collected were skulls from around the world. Mütter donated his entire collection of medical curiosities to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and The Mütter Museum opened in 1863. The Museum now boasts a collection of more than 25,000 items which includes sections of Albert Einstein’s brain and the tumor from Grover Cleveland’s jaw.
Caitlin Doughty grew up in Hawai’i, and early on became “functionally morbid” with death. As a girl, she witnessed a shocking accident at a shopping mall, which cemented her desire to better understand the afterlife, which she parlayed into her college study of medieval death rituals. In her book debut Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Doughty brings this difficult but universal subject to light. Despite the dark and sometimes gory content, she conversationally illuminates her year at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland, California, and what she has accomplished since. If you never before knew the methods (and secrets) of “dignified” body disposal, you will after reading this exceptional book.
Doughty sprinkles her text with plenty of food for thought, whether it be historical and cultural tidbits about death, body disposal and mourning in cultures throughout time and worldwide, or when she gives her strong opinions about what we in America are doing right and wrong when it comes to handling our mortality. She daydreamed that one day she would open a funeral practice called “La Belle Mort,” which would take the unnatural aspects out of the process, but instead make for an open discussion about death and the hereafter. A chapter focusing on women’s roles in mortality culture includes a passage reminding the reader that “every time a woman gives birth, she is creating not only a life, but also a death.”
The author discusses corpses of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the stillborn to the elderly, the suicides and the drug overdoses, those who died surrounded by loved ones and those who died alone. Host of her own YouTube series, Ask a Mortician, Doughty also discusses how unfortunate it is that so few people know the law with regard to their loved ones’ corpses, nor do they have a plan of action. A timeless memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is both eye-opening and could start important topical discussions that too few of us are having.
This book will make you a better writer. It will also make you a better collaborator. It will probably make you better at just about any endeavor that involves getting people excited about an idea. Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels is a book about becoming a comics industry professional by one of the comics industry’s biggest names. Brian Michael Bendis has written the most popular characters at Marvel in many of their most epic appearances, alongside many touted professionals in the industry.
That last point is the most important. This may be Bendis' project, but it's rarely Bendis' voice alone. The first chapter may be Writing 101 advice, but that stops quickly. Most of the book consists of Bendis interviewing other writers he's worked with on how to put books together, generate ideas and then act on them. From there, he launches into working with artists, from how he tries to bring out their best work to how to get the best collaborative results. What really sells this is that Bendis got 14 artists from the industry to give their side of the collaboration. What gets an artist excited? What's the right level of direction? When does the writer need to back off and let the artist do their job?
The end result is that it becomes clear that there are any number of ways to successfully work together. A springboard is set up for aspiring artists and writers to find their own methods. Bendis pulls a hat trick twice. He doesn't stop with artists. There's an entire section devoted to working with editors. The most valuable section may be Bendis' interview of his wife, who handles the business side of his art. This book could make a successful artist out of a starving one and that's priceless.
Most home cooks are now acquainted with at least one family member or friend who is vegetarian, or may be vegetarian themselves. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of over 20 cookbooks, have now published Vegetarian Dinner Parties: 150 Meatless Meals Good Enough to Serve to Company. In an extensive, chatty and humor-filled introduction, the pair discuss the value of dinner parties and the fallacy that these gatherings are in the midst of a comeback — it is their assertion that they’ve never gone away. They also admit to being “lapsed vegetarians,” but encourage the use of vegetables and fruits as the stars of any meal course. As they learned upon putting together this book, many of the recipes could easily be turned vegan, and over 40 percent of the dishes are fully vegan. The men also give suggestions for easy tablescapes and music to enhance any dinner party.
The authors describe the importance of prep work, and divide the book into seven courses that “follow the arc of a dinner party:” cocktails and nibbles, small plates, soups and salads, pastas, large plates and desserts. But they caution that there is no need to have all or even most of these courses depending on the guests, the hosts, the kitchen and time. Among the recipes themselves, there are helpful hints that indicate what part of the process can be done ahead of time, what can be skipped if time and/or ability is limited and what potential garnish and beverage would go best with each dish. Additionally, a suggestion is made as to how, within a full dinner party, the recipe would best complement other recipes in the book.
Weinstein and Scarbrough’s take on vegetarian cooking is very 21st century in its outlook. As they worked to perfect the recipes, they quickly realized that there is no need to hide fruits and vegetables with heavy creamy sauces or cheese, or to relegate these ingredients to sidekicks for a historic protein. Instead, the fresh, bright elements shine through as the brilliant features of the party.
Award-winning photographer Traer Scott brings nocturnal wildlife to vivid life in Nocturne: Creatures of the Night, her fascinating book of animal portraiture. A detailed introduction explains the processes that Scott went through to compose and best feature the animals, including how her husband constructed black foam core boxes to provide fully black backgrounds for the smaller creatures. She also describes in detail the experiences of corralling a little brown bat on to its “stage”; the short, vivid life of a luna moth and how she felt obligated to photograph and release it humanely; and the first defense porcupines use when feeling threatened – a pungent odor she found herself covered in when going for the perfect shot leaving her barely able to breathe.
The bulk of the lovely book, of course, is the stunning photographs themselves. Each portrait of the featured beings comes with a short explanation of some of the animal’s more captivating nocturnal behaviors. The author also conveys that the habitats of too many of the animals presented are being destroyed as humans encroach on their environment. From the well-known, such as species of owls, bats and raccoons, to the various felines, snakes and amphibians that stalk the darkness, Scott’s photographic subjects glow with life. The fur, scales and feathers of the studies catch the light against the black, becoming brilliant and almost tangible. An easy-to-hold size makes Nocturne a beautiful package to pore over with amazement at the photographs and the animals contained within.