Fat Tuesday is three weeks away. That didn't stop the Westport Public Library from getting an early start on the pre-Lenten celebration Friday, with a "Party, New Orleans Style," featuring Cajun cuisine and official Mardi Gras beads.

"We were sent a big box of beads from the public library in New Orleans," said library Director Maxine Bleiweiss. The strings of colorful beads were distributed to everyone at the celebration of the culture and spirit of New Orleans. The fund-raising event was staged in conjunction with the 8th annual WestportREADS, which this year had residents collectively reading and discussing David Eggers book, "Zeitoun," which chronicles the experiences of a Muslim man in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Even the bust of Morris Jesup, the Westport library's original benefactor, was adorned with beads.

Mood lighting, decorations and the music of Chris Coogan and Co. set the tone for the party. Some people danced, others sat quietly at tables listening to the jazz quintet, and others just enjoyed a night out.

"It's so nice to have something to do other than shoveling snow and watching icicles form on my house," said Sonia Stoloff of Westport. Stoloff said she was also there to support the library.

"It's a fabulous resource for the town." Roger and Lisa Krakoff of Westport said they attended the event to show support for the library. "We're big fans of the service and mission of this institution," said Roger Krakoff, who wore a string of black beads with large gold fleur de lis, the symbol of New Orleans.

"The general consensus is that this event should be done again," said Joe Coogan of Weston, the father of the musician Chris Coogan. Joe Coogan said he appreciated the concept of the library, not just as a learning and resource center but as community gathering space.

"The library is magical at night," Bleiweiss said.

As patrons danced and mingled, a wait staff that included local high school students served hors d'oeuvres and desserts.

James Ludy, a student at Staples High School, who gave his age as "18-ish," helped serve traditional King's Cake. "There's supposed to be something hidden inside," Ludy said.

King's Cake is a New Orleans favorite. It is tied to the three wise men, or Kings, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Three Kings' Day is held in early January and it kicks off the 47-day Mardi Gras period, which ends on Fat Tuesday. The Christian period of Lent begins the next day and leads up to Easter.

In addition to their beads from the Big Easy, many people wore buttons featuring the name of the WestportREADS selection. "Zeitoun" is a true story about Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born American whose efforts to rescue people in boats and feed animals left behind after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city resulted in arrest and imprisonment.

"It was surprisingly good. It was disturbing in that he was definitely discriminated against after all the good he did. This guy was a real humanitarian," said Sandy Nathan of Westport, a member of the library's board of trustees.

The book also underscores the devastation experienced by the city in the wake of the historic hurricane. "It talks about FEMA and what happened in the hospitals and the animals that don't have anything to eat," said Janet Nevas of Westport.

"I don't think anyone could possibly put themselves into the situation in New Orleans and understand the extent of the damage," Nathan said.

"It's an amazing book," said Suzy Hooper, development assistant at the library.

A portion of the fundraiser proceeds will also benefit the Zeitoun Foundation, which promotes respect for human rights in the U.S. and around the world.