Story of Up Stairs Lounge killing an emotional read

“The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar June 24, 1973” by Clayton Delery-Edwards. Mc Farland & Company Inc., 2014. $40.

On June 24, 1973, the fire at the Up Stairs Lounge was the deadliest fire in the history of New Orleans. Twenty-nine people were killed and a few more died later from their injuries. Although the fire received local and national attention, the story died quickly in the news. Arson was suspected, but no one was ever arrested.

The reason was simple, the Up Stairs Lounge was a gay bar, and many believed that city leaders and journalists didn’t know how to or want to deal with a story in the gay community.

Delery-Edwards’ research includes reviews of newspaper, personal interviews and information from the investigation. While the response of city leaders will sadden some readers, there are positive stories in the book as well. The fire inspectors, for example, who took an avid interest in identifying the responsible party and learning what happened in an effort to prevent such a disaster from happening again in other bars in the city.

The Up Stairs Lounge Arson is an amazing and emotional read for anyone wanting to learn more about New Orleans history.

— Anna Guerra, Denham Springs

“The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, & Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat” by Meg Lukens Noonan. Spiegel & Grau, 2013. $27.

“The Coat Route” is a quick and interesting read on the making of a $50,000 coat. No, that’s not a typo. Journalist Noonan set out to discover the story behind this unfathomably expensive overcoat crafted entirely by hand and to determine the role, if any, that bespoke (custom-made) clothes play in our fast-paced era of instant gratification.

Noonan journeys across the globe to trace the making of each element of the coat, from Peru (home of the vicuña, a camelid whose fleece is the finest in the world) to Florence and Paris (the lining) and finally to England (the buttons) and Australia (the thread). She also gives a brief history of bespoke tailoring, noting that the word itself has been hijacked — there are even “bespoke” ice cream shops — which diminishes the significance of this centuries-old tradition.

Noonan presents the story in such a way that reading about the attention and care behind this and similar garments makes you think about the production methods of the cheaply made clothes with the all-too-familiar “Made in China” labels that we so often put on our backs. In the end, “The Coat Route” is not only a commentary on the consumer society in which we live, with its “disposable” clothes and products, but a compelling ode to artisanal industries.

— Louise Hilton, Baton Rouge