I don't usually read fiction. In fact I never do. I normally read books by scientists like A Brief History of Time, Surely You Must Be Joking Mr. Feynman!, or Uranium. Shortly after moving into our townhouse I met our neighbor, Jeptha Boone, who lives across the street. I told him that I was originally from New Orleans. He had spent a brief moment in time in New Orleans and enjoyed the food and the people. He asked if I had ever read A Confederacy of Dunces. He felt that book captured the spirit of the people of New Orleans.
I was intrigued. Since we had last week off, I read the book. The story chronicles the misadventures of one Ignacius J. Reilly - an overweight, underachieving, and overeducated adult who still lives with his mother. The book takes its title from a Jonathan Swift quotation:
When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
The book has many colorful characters but what really held my interest were the authentic references to New Orleans. Street names like Constantinople, Elysian Fields, St. Charles Avenue, and Canal Street bring back sweet memories. Places like D.H. Holmes, the Prytania Theater, and Maison Blanche are places I have been. To this day, although I grew up eating red beans and rice flavored with "pickle meat," I cannot find anyone in Phoenix or the Bay Area that sells it. I had to laugh when "pickle meat" came up in the book not once but twice.
A Confederacy of Dunceswas written by John Kennedy Toole. Among other things he taught at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which is my alma mater. Sadly Toole took his own life in 1969 despondent over his inability to get his manuscript published. His mother picked up the cause and brought her son's work to print. A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.