What’s on your bookshelf?

by jlevetjr


Much can be learned about a person by merely looking at his books, and I am no exception. They dominate my living room, overstuffing shelves and spilling into stacks on the floor.  With a quick glance, one sees: Engineering Biomaterials, Creole Houses, Fractal Mathematics, and Photographer to Architects.  My bookcase and its seemingly unrelated contents are evidence to my perspective on design and how I position myself in the world.  They also represent the various interests I have developed which directed my educational path to first obtaining a degree in biomedical engineering, continuing on to medical school, and finally working towards a degree in classical architecture.

Other bibliophiles understand why I cherish my books so much.  Nonetheless, amongst all of them, there are three books I always keep within reach, not because of the useful information they contain, but because of the sentimental value I have for them.  I encountered these books at a young age, and they caused me to fall completely in love with Louisiana’s architecture and culture.

  • Along the River Road – Mary Ann Sternburg
  • The Louisiana Houses of A. Hays Town – Cyril E. Vetter and Philip Gould
  • Ghosts along the Mississippi – Clarence Laughlin

This post will be written in three parts, one per book.

Along the River Road

Shortly after my middle-school graduation, I was randomly given this book as a congratulatory gift by an older neighbor whom I barely knew.  It was a strange surprise, but I appreciated it.  The book, by Mary Ann Sternburg, takes you along a historical driving tour of the Great River Road from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

In her introduction, she pointed out meeting two individuals. One was a visitor, who was unable to identify what she saw along the River Road, and thus lost interest.  The other was an aficionado, who was still able to identify and understood the history regardless of the small number of sites remaining.  With this, she recognized the need to identify the missing link and work towards connecting the two individuals’ interest and knowledge.

She completed a book that was to serve as a portable reference guide.  Covering both banks of the Mississippi River, she provided historical information at hundreds of sites along the way.  Organizing and labeling the sites by a car’s mileage, she pointed out ditches, trees, and other seemingly unimportant markers to find (“A dark treeline of cypresses and willows at the far end of the open field denotes the upriver line of Manchac Plantation”).  With each of these, she explained what once existed at the location, and constantly connects the site’s history to other information in the area.  By doing so, she demonstrated the richness and density of history found on the Great River Road that is unknown even by most locals.  Much like modern iPhone apps and websites (such as www.HistoryPin.com), she gave the reader a look back in time in a format he or she can carry around and use at the specific, historic location.  I would constantly drag friends of mine around to hold the book as I drove, so they could point out each and every marker she identified.  I own two copies of the book: the one I was originally given, which is now worn, banged up, and covered in notes, dirt, and mold stains, and another, more pristine copy that I keep on a shelf for reference.

For me, and I hope for many others, she provided a cherished resource that connected me to my region’s history.   Her book literally got me driving on the River Road and exploring the sugarcane fields of Louisiana to see what I could find.

And gosh, I found a lot. And I’m still searching for more!

(Find it on Amazon here!)