Enjoy A Dr. Nut and a Hot Dog From Paradise
January 21, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Let's discover New Orleans of fictional favorite son Ignatius J. Reilly through the kind help of the blog "Ignatius' Ghost".

I know there is a lot of love for John Kennedy Toole's novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" (amazon and google books) here on the blue and green, and I just had to share this link.
Ignatius' Ghost is a blog that sets out to find all the New Orleans landmarks that are directly or indirectly named in the novel.

A digital camera, google maps, Toole's own wonderful descriptions and a little detective work go a long way.
A great way to supplement the pictures in your head without having to board a Greyhound bus into the heart of darkness.
posted by willmize (49 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'll end up misquoting it, but my favorite part in that book is when Reilly is making book recommendations to somebody, and of course the predictable Boethius is the first thing he says. and then he follows with, "also Batman."

love the SHIT out of that book.
posted by shmegegge at 11:55 AM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Very cool effort.

Quick question -- am I the only person here who just didn't understand A Confederacy of Dunces? It was enthusiastically recommended to me, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.
posted by lumensimus at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2010

@lumensimus: I find it to be a very lightning rod sort of book. Folks either get it and love it, or are very meh about it. Books, like music and art, are funny like that :)
I still recommend it here every chance it get.
This gets very awkward when it's an anonymous post asking for relationship advice, but I try to make it work.
posted by willmize at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Lumen, I didn't get it either.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2010

I'll go back to it, then -- if a somewhat acclaimed work of art upsets or confuses me, I feel I owe it to myself to figure out why.
posted by lumensimus at 12:03 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

It took a few re-reads before it really clicked with me, but that book is definitely a favorite of mine.

This means, of course, someone is going to end up making a shitty movie version.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2010

@bitter-girl.com - Well at least we have a Mefite working on the script.
posted by willmize at 12:10 PM on January 21, 2010

Some people don't get Confederacy of Dunces. They are bad people.

OK maybe that's a bit of hyperbole. My mom handed it to me in high school and I devoured it. To this day when I am feeling icky about a situation a voice in my head says, "Oooh, my valve!" My mom, being the cool type awesome lady that she is, made sure I didn't know that Toole killed himself until after I finished the book. That knowledge adds a very bittersweet layer to the humor in Ignatius' inability to mesh with society.
posted by Babblesort at 12:11 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

After a glowing write up of it I grabbed a copy and slogged through the first couple of chapters sort of irritated by everyone in the book. Then I had the realization that this was the entire point, you aren't really supposed to be able to identify with anyone.

Not only did it make more sense after that, it became much more enjoyable.

(I just walked over to my bookshelf at work to verify that I had my copy of it here, and I realized that among all the cheesy sci-fi, fantasy and humor, and through absolutely no attempt at appearing well read, I unintentionally have included two Pulitzer winners, COD and The Road. And if there are two more opposite reads, I can't think of them.)
posted by quin at 12:11 PM on January 21, 2010

Crap. Here's the correct link. It's Cold Chef!
posted by willmize at 12:14 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Heart of what?
posted by rush at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2010

This means, of course, someone is going to end up making a shitty movie version.

Oh, they've tried.

The first time, they were going to cast John Belushi. He died. Later they tried again with John Candy. He died. Then Chris Farley... Yeah.

So in 2005 they get Will Ferrel everything seems more or less ready to go and suddenly Hurricane Katrina comes along and wipes New Orleans from the map.

I don't believe in curses, but that shit is cursed.
posted by quin at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Afroblanco at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hah! I was all, "Really? Someone's working on a screenplay of it? Oh, fuck. Ten years ago I was." Yeah, that's one of many, many projects that was boxed away when I moved home to undertake.
posted by ColdChef at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2010

It's one of my favorite books in the whole world and here's why: We all have a little Ignatius inside of us. Or maybe I just do, I don't know, My valve just slammed shut. Oh Fortuna you have spun your wheel again.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:22 PM on January 21, 2010

If you don't crack up at the part of the book where Ignatius leads the indifferent workers' revolt with a banner made from his piss-stained bedsheets, then you have no soul.

This blog is very cool (though just a little bit literalist).

Also worth reading: Managing Ignatius. A true life history of Lucky Dogs that is just as fantastic as Ignatius's story. (Also, the first book I ever bought on Amazon.com)
posted by ColdChef at 12:30 PM on January 21, 2010

It's the greatest comic novel set in New Orleans ever written. It's among the greatest comic novels ever written. And it's terrific even if you haven't lived in New Orleans, but if you've lived there, oh man, it just nails the town.

Keys to understanding and appeciating the book: You will never like Ignatius. You may develop an affection for him, but he is thoroughly unlikable. Every single thing he does is designed by John Kennedy Toole to make him unsympathetic. He is a mountain of ugly biological processes, grotesque appetites, pomposity, sloth, and general ill-will. But he's a fascinating disaster. He can't go about any bit of business without a catastrophe happening, and the catastrophies are always directly because of misbehavior on his part.

The book is epic, and we are spared having to spend every second by the dazzling array of secondary characters, who just seem to bump into each other again and again, as happens in NOLA. So when Ignatius starts a catastrophe rolling, it will continue to roll throughout the book, catching more and more characters up in its path, and eventually connecting to other catastrophes that Ignatius created elsewhere. It's really awesome once the comic structure of the novel starts revealing itself and you see how everything is building and building and building, and all of Toole's secondary characters are terrific.

But perhaps the greatest thing about the book is Toole's taste for little comic grace notes -- just eccentric bits of characterization that don't seem to offer much but color. Ignatius's love of Dr. Nut is an example of this. It's not around any more, but Dr. Nut was New Orleans soft drink that had, if you can believe it, an almond flavor. It's not made anymore, but from the people I have met who drank it, it was apparently absurdly sweet. And we're talking by New Orleans standards, and they love sweet drinks down there -- stuff that will peel the enamel right off your teeth. So it's not that Ignatius drinks pop, which would show him to be a man of juvenile and underdevleoped taste -- he drinks the sweetest goddamn thing you can imagine.

It's a book that rewards patience, close reading, and rereading, which are in short supply now. And it rewards them in the best way possible: with hilarity.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2010 [18 favorites]

spared having to spend every second with Ignatius, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:34 PM on January 21, 2010

am I the only person here who just didn't understand A Confederacy of Dunces? It was enthusiastically recommended to me, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

From a technical perspective -- Toole was absolutely fantastic at character study. Every character in that book is wrong in the head -- but they are all wrong in the head in distinctly different ways, and Toole is equally good at depicting each and every one of them. You know people like this. And not only that -- he makes them funny. That's hard.

However -- it's possible for a book to be technically brilliant, but something in your own personal background just keeps it from clicking with you for some reason. That's not good or bad, it just...is. (Personally, I was also sort of "meh" for a long time on Confederacy as well, but that was because one of my exes is the 21st Century New York incarnation of Ignatius J. Reilly down to the very last detail and it was hard to read the book without shuddering and throwing it across the room every few pages.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a chance to spend a couple of days in New Orleans a couple of months after I read A Confederacy of Dunces, and I spent most of my time wandering around thinking, "Huh, so this is where it happened." I was a little disappointed when I couldn't find any hotdog vendors.

I'd read CoD before I found out it'd been canonized, so I'm always a little surprised to find it elicits such a reaction from people. I enjoyed it well enough, but I'm pretty sure I didn't "get" it. I guess I'll have to read it again.
posted by lekvar at 12:35 PM on January 21, 2010

A great way to supplement the pictures in your head without having to board a Greyhound bus into the heart of darkness.

I shall not ride on one again. Those Scenicruisers are an affront to taste and decency not to mention geometry. I vomited several times.
posted by nola at 12:40 PM on January 21, 2010 [10 favorites]

I think part of the appeal for Dunces, and part of why it's difficult for some people to understand, is that the character of Reilly was entirely original at the time - though crafted from real and common traits - but since then has been bitten off for countless other characters. Not least among them the comic book guy in The Simpsons. he's a type, now, whereas once he was just that character.

From a literature standpoint, the book is also marvelously well written. If you go to amazon, and click the Look Inside graphic, you can read the first paragraph and encounter several things about Toole's prose:

1. his incredibly economy with words. That first paragraph lays out precisely who reilly is by coupling several of his most dominant character traits into densely packed little judgments and descriptions of his own style and physique. That this serves to set the scene, introduce the character, describe him physically and immediately give a sense of his disposition in a few short sentences is a remarkable achievement. Ideally, all prose should open this well. Practically, few really accomplish it with this level of skill.

2. His ability to switch voices in narration seemingly effortlessly. That the first sentences of the paragraph open with an outside, slightly more objective though possibly antagonistic, perspective of Reilly's head and then almost immediately switch to a Free Indirect Discourse voice without skipping a beat is a subtle, but impressive trick and the impact on a reader who doesn't even realize it has happened is significant. you get the comical visual impact off the bat, and as though a camera had turned around his head to shoot over his shoulder you are smoothly put in his perspective - witnessing him in judgment of people.

3. Toole's use of Free Indirect Discourse is also pretty stellar. It's funny without being openly satirical or parodic. It's low key enough that you can read it as a serious sentiment from a character who is serious, but the inescapable conclusion is that you're getting a muddied view of the inner psyche of someone who isn't really in touch with society very well. Where someone like Douglas Adams or Woody Alan (in his prose days) might use some clever wordplay to enhance the comedic effect of the character's ridiculous worldview, Toole chose to let the character expose himself more directly, without too much meta-commentary. "Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubt's upon one's soul." This is pretty much what he thinks, yet we know it's been presented to us as evidence of his absurdity. It's a beautiful opening.

Much of the book is like that, and it's hysterically funny because of it. This is not my way of trying to be all inside baseball or anything, though. You don't need to recognize these things to appreciate it. At the end of the day, the book - on its face - is just very clever, very funny, and very very honest. I love it like crazy, which is funny because I don't own it (I borrowed it from a friend) and have only read it once. I suppose once was enough to leave an impression.
posted by shmegegge at 12:40 PM on January 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

also, anyone interested in a perspective from Sodherberg on what it was like trying to write Dunces may want to pick up "Getting Away With It." It's part interview with Richard Lester, part notes on making Schizopolis, part dictated neurosis, and part about writing the potential treatment for a version of Dunces he was working on. great book, all round.
posted by shmegegge at 12:43 PM on January 21, 2010

I seem to myself to be the sort of person that should love this book, but it didn't click with me at all. I have discerned that there's a good chance it was because I consumed it in audiobook form. While oftentimes a great reader can add to a work for me, I'm wondering if maybe the delivery and timing of the CoD reader was ruining the funny for me.

Also I can't write CoD without thinking I'm speaking of Call of Duty.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, well if ColdChef is writing it, I take back my previous comment. Everyone else? They can eat it. (Last I heard, Gwyneth Paltrow owned the rights to one of my other favorite books...bah).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2010

I loved this book for many reasons but on reason was a roomate from years ago who was Ignatius. He looked like him, spoke like him and had the same "world view" almost word for word. He would concoct elaborate moral and philosophic reasons for why he wouldn't clean up anything in the house or why he couldn't, on principle, pay for his share of the phone bill that involved taxes. Years after rooming with him I picked up A Confederacy of Dunces and started howling with mirth. It was funny well writen and at last for me at least (not to be reductive) vindication.
posted by nola at 1:00 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Last fall marked the third time I tried to read "A Confederacy of Dunces" and while it was the most successful attempt, I didn't get more than 100 pages in. It isn't that I have like characters in order to enjoy a book. In fact it isn't the characters at all that bother me in that book - it is the real people I know who are just like Ignatius.

As I read it, I start to feel like Ms. White in "Clue."

Flames... on the sides of my face... breathing... heavy... HEAVING breaths...
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:56 PM on January 21, 2010

Personally, I loved the book. It's the only book I've ever read that made me laugh out loud, and the ending is probably my all time favorite literary ending.
posted by champthom at 2:26 PM on January 21, 2010

It has been a long time since I read it. I remember his valve and I remember the book held my interest. It was not a big enough reading experience that I felt any urgency to re-read it and I may not ever re-read it.

One thing that many people will find hard to grok is the New Orleans mother thing. People in New Orleans are very often exactly like that with their mothers. They will talk to their mother on the telephone six times daily. One time I was dating a New Orleans woman and we finished up sex relations and five minutes later the phone rang. Mom's telepathy enabled her to know when her daughter would be available to talk on the telephone again.

Those people in that askme the other day about how much they hate talking on the telephone? Those were not New Orleanians.
posted by bukvich at 2:37 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Quick question -- am I the only person here who just didn't understand A Confederacy of Dunces?

I, for one, am continuing the campaign for Moorish dignity. And I'm still looking for 12" of paradise.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

They will talk to their mother on the telephone six times daily ... Mom's telepathy enabled her to know when her daughter would be available to talk on the telephone again.

This is hilarious and true and will be presented as supporting evidence over dinner tonight.
posted by gordie at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's a little too late for him, but John McConnell is the only choice for playing Ignatius. Need a Huey Long? He's your man as well.
posted by turbodog at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2010

John McConnell definitely has the looks. And he's already played Ignatius onstage.

turbodog, have you seen the stage version of CoD by any chance? How much of the book do they fit in?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 4:05 PM on January 21, 2010

Bywater was one of the hardest hit areas when Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans. The Industrial Canal suffered two major breaches and flooded parts of the neighborhood with up to ten feet of water. Here is a photo of a home near the intersection of Pauline and Dauphine at 3805 Dauphine Ave.

Depends on what you mean by "Bywater." The section closer to the river and south (or riverside, as people raised in New Orleans tend to say) of St. Claude didn't suffer anything remotely close to that kind of damage.
posted by raysmj at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2010

I saw THE stage version of CoD when I was a student at LSU. They fit in nearly all of the book. It was pretty fucking spectacular. John McConnell ("Spud" to his friends) was the star and he was a perfect fit. They incorporated three different songs with the title "Gloria" into the show. One was performed by rollerskating...was it angels? I think they were angels.
posted by ColdChef at 4:28 PM on January 21, 2010

Pity about the quality of the pictures....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:04 PM on January 21, 2010

My brother pedaled a bicycle 1000 miles to New Orleans, and then he couldn't get a job selling hot-dogs.

Great book.
posted by ovvl at 5:37 PM on January 21, 2010

oh my god, Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese, thank you so much. I had no idea you could actually read that anywhere.
posted by shmegegge at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2010

For those who are not acquainted, the first few entrancing pages.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:03 PM on January 21, 2010

Ignatius' attempt at a civil rights demonstration at the Levy pants factory has to go down as one of the best and most ridiculous things I have ever read.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2010

I love this book. It's just over-the-top hilarious and one of my faves. I like it so much because it's more like watching a movie than reading. I appreciate the effort of the Ignatius' Ghost blog, but one of my favorite things about this book was how my brain translated it visually. I've never been to New Orleans but my brain does not know that because of this book.
posted by wherever, whatever at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2010

I've never been to New Orleans but my brain does not know that because of this book.

For the love of god what are you waiting for? Go. Just go. You'll thank me later.
posted by nola at 8:26 PM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

First drink's on me.
posted by ColdChef at 8:33 PM on January 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have given away more paperbacks of Confederacy of Dunces than I care to think about and maybe I'm just picking the recipients well, but every single one of them has thanked me for it.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:52 PM on January 21, 2010

My sister handed it to me with a knowing grin as I was rushing off catch a ferry on a crowded long-weekend, many years ago. Arriving in upper deck lounge, and plopped myself in one of the last remaining empty seats. When I looked up two hours later as the ferry started to dock at Departure Bay the entire lounge was literally packed to the aisles with people, except for the three seats on either side me that were empty. I had been apparently laughing so loudly for two hours that the ship's authorities had even been alerted, but had decided not to disturb the lunatic.

Funniest book every written, and where I stole my screen name from. I too have given away numerous copies of that book. Thanks for the links willimize, and Cold Chef.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:58 PM on January 21, 2010

I read it in college, loved it, and eventually could only remember that I loved it and not why. So I recently got it as an audiobook and listened to it on my way home everyday from a temp job with a 45 minute commute. And then I remembered why I loved it when I first read it and had the funniest commute ever.
posted by smartyboots at 1:29 AM on January 22, 2010

I'm so very happy that folks are enjoying this post and discussing this marvelous book. It's nice to know that I'm not alone!
When I first joined the Air Force, I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Bilouxi, Mississippi.
Every weekend, pretty much without fail, we'd all pile into someone's car and drive to New Orleans and get in trouble, and then drive back.
By the time I read the book, the City was a distant memory.

Every time I read it now, I remind myself that I'm only about a day's drive away from New Orleans and should take a long weekend again and go exploring.
posted by willmize at 2:14 AM on January 22, 2010

I saw THE stage version of CoD when I was a student at LSU. They fit in nearly all of the book.

That was probably the production I saw as well. Swine Palace circa 1993?

All I really remember was McConnell carrying a portrait of JKT at the end of the performance with the rest of the cast parading silently behind. He's a fabulous actor. His one-man The Kingfish was awesome and he made a hilarious Cajun-ized Bottom.
posted by turbodog at 8:42 AM on January 22, 2010

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