A few years back, after I returned from my first post-Katrina visit to New Orleans, I picked up a slim book called Letters from New Orleans, by New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker. The book is a collection of e-mails that Walker wrote to friends after he relocated to New Orleans for several years prior to the great deluge.
I found it such a remarkable and succinct document for explaining such a bizarre and misunderstood place to the rest of America. Enough so, that when teaching about New Orleans, I have students read it right away; first week, first paper. It provides the uninitiated with the pegs of understanding upon which they can hang whatever content or concepts I throw at them afterwards.