Joan Juliet Buck Leaves Paris And New York For…Rhinebeck
By Dan Shaw
Like many other “expats” in our region who’ve traded urban glamour and turmoil for rural simplicity and quietude, Joan Juliet Buck once had power, influence and an expense account. She was formidable, as they say in France, where she was editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris from 1994 to 2001.
For the last few years, Buck has been living in a modest rental apartment in Rhinebeck and writing in the basement of Rhinecliff’s Morton Memorial Library, where she completed her just published memoir, The Price of Illusion. She will be speaking and signing books at Oblong in Rhinebeck on April 1, and at the Chatham Public Library on April 8. Kirkus Reviews describes The Price of Illusion as a “relentlessly candid and often absorbing account of a complex life spent in and out of the fashion spotlight.”
The book chronicles her privileged childhood in Paris and London as the daughter of Jules Buck, the producer of every film made by the actor Peter O’Toole in the 1960s including Lawrence of Arabia and Goodbye, Mr. Chips; her brief college stint at Sarah Lawrence and various interludes in Manhattan; and her eventual return to France and the Vogue job and the concomitant fabulousness, fickleness and backbiting of the high-fashion world.
And then there’s the inevitable downfall: Her parents lost all their money and moved to Los Angeles, where her beautiful mother, Joyce (a former actress who counted Lauren Bacall as one of her best friends), took a job as a saleswoman at Pratesi, the fancy linens boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, to stay solvent. After her mother’s death, she brought her down-and-out, manic-depressive father to live with her in Paris, and then she was fired by Conde Nast (and pushed to enter rehab though she was not an addict). She regrouped by maniacally writing freelance pieces for Vanity Fair and American Vogue (which ended devastatingly as Penelope Greene reported in her recent cover story for The New York Times Style section.).
Nevertheless, Buck is buoyant, not bitter. Like most expats, she stays with friends when she craves the cosmopolitanism of New York, and she suggests we meet at one of her go-to city spots, the venerable Three Guys Greek coffee shop on Madison Avenue near the Met Breuer. “New York without a local diner does not make any sense,” she says, settling into a booth and ordering a double espresso and a Corfu Salad without looking at the menu. Dressed in all black like a chic French intellectual, she is eager to talk about the contentment she’s found living in the Hudson Valley.
“I discovered that the slowness and quiet is my real pace. In New York there are so many distractions,” says Buck, who has been a film critic, a novelist and currently contributes essays to Harper’s Bazaar. Living in the city and riding the subway is antithetical to her writing process. “I get too absorbed in other people.”
She has made new friends in the Hudson Valley, like Carolyn Marks Blackwood, the movie producer and photographer, and Gideon Lester, director of the Theater & Performance Department at Bard College. She enjoys taking walks and scenic drives. “I love going to Saugerties, which has two really good junk stores,” she says. One of the places she treasures in Rhinebeck is Oblong Books & Music. “I wanted a copy of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, and they had two editions! They are on it!”
Of course, country living has its frustrations. Since her “college flat” apartment has no washer and dryer, she longed for the convenience of a “wash-and-fold” laundromat and was elated when she discovered Classic Cleaners on the road to Tivoli. “God bless them!” says Buck. And because she can get lost in her writing until after dark, she wishes there were restaurants that delivered. One night, after trying to get takeout from Gigi when the kitchen was swamped, she ended up having popcorn for dinner at Upstate Films. When she has the time, she cooks and likes to buy fresh chickens at North Wind Farm. “Discovering their chicken was life-changing for me,” she says.
Besides writing, Buck, who appeared in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, has been acting again. She did a graduate student’s play at the Frick Collection and a play with Irina Brook in Hudson and at La MaMa in New York.
As much as Buck seems to be made for Manhattan, she calls living there “an illusion, a trap — it takes all your money and keeps taking from you.” She doesn’t miss her old life when “all I had to do was sustain an aura of importance with good clothes and a cheerful attitude,” she writes in the book. “I resented being taken at face value, but that was all I was offering.”
Buck likes the Hudson Valley because she doesn’t feel self-conscious and does not compare and despair. “There are no ‘mirrors’ in the country,” says Buck as she bundles up to go to her friend’s nearby apartment to freshen up before a promotional event at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble. As she hits the sidewalk and lights up an American Spirit, she bumps into the friend with whom she is staying, Allegra Huston, the sister of her best childhood friend, the Academy Award-winning actress Angelica Huston. Although Buck has flourished and found her “authentic self” living upstate, it seems clear that she could own Manhattan (or London or Paris) if she ever decides to return full time to city life.
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The RuraList: Bestselling Winter Reads Of The RI Region
We thought it would be interesting to canvas some of our region’s booksellers to see what books are among the most popular buys right now. Would a theme emerge?
Sort of. Not surprisingly, books that are overtly political are selling well, as are nonfiction titles that help us live more peacefully during turbulent times. The biggest surprise (although maybe it shouldn’t be): copies of the U.S. Constitution. “We’ve had the booklet on our front counter since last summer,” said Pam Pescosolido, owner of The Bookloft in Great Barrington. “But we’ve had to reorder more in the past couple of weeks.”
And now, let us pledge allegiance to our local booksellers.
Litchfield County’s Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn.
Fran Kielty, the store’s owner, was the first to mention Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, which is selling well at all the shops included on our list. As for fiction, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is popular, as is A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman.
As for more nonfiction picks, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, and books about hygge, the concept of Scandinavian coziness, speak to “people trying to figure out how to organize their lives right now,” said Kielty.
Columbia County’s Chatham Bookstore in, Chatham, New York
Wendy Conway, Chatham Bookstore’s manager, echoed Kielty’s supposition that people are seeking out coping mechanisms. “People are definitely looking for some solace in the nonfiction books they’re buying,” she said. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks and The Book of Joy are longtime bestsellers. Dark Money by Jane Mayer and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates address current issues, and for fiction, readers are turning to the acclaimed short-story writer George Saunder’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.
Dutchess County’s Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, New York
Proprietor Kira Wizner introduced us to A Child’s First Book of Trump by written by author-comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Berkshire County’s own Marc Rosenthal. It begins:
Now, where does it live? On flat-screen TVs!
It rushes toward every camera it sees.
It thrives in the most contentious conditions
And excretes the most appalling emissions.
Fiction titles selling well include A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron and The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty.
Berkshire County’s The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass.
Along with copies of the U.S. Constitution, readers are buying We Should All Be Feminists, essays by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and The Hidden Life of Trees by by Peter Wohlleben and Tim Flannery. In fiction, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a strong seller.
It seems the one to read, if you haven’t already, is Hillbilly Elegy, which the Washington Post said is “a beautiful memoir but it is equally a work of cultural criticism about white working-class America.”
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Seedy Stories: Peter C. Vermilyea’s “Witches Of Litchfield County”
By Amy Krzanik
Horror movies and haunted houses are all well and good for a Halloween fright-night, but sometimes the scariest thing of all is the disclaimer “based on a true story.” Yikes.
In keeping with the spirit(s) of the season, local historian Peter C. Vermilyea will explore a spooky chapter from his most recent book, Wicked Litchfield County. In the illustrated lecture “Witches of Litchfield County,” he’ll discuss the real lives of four 18th century residents who were accused of witchcraft, their alleged activities, and the possible motivations behind the name-calling. He’ll appear at Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. and at The Litchfield Historical Society the following day at 3 p.m.
While researching Wicked, his second book, Vermilyea says he couldn’t believe what he was finding: counterfeiting, bank robberies and scams, capital punishment, slavery, speakeasies, ministers gone bad. And witches.
Litchfield was settled decades after the Salem witch trials, and by then Vermilyea says, “people realized they probably went a little too far,” so there wasn’t the hysteria often associated with witches. The women around these parts were thought to be not so much evil as simply nuisances. “They didn’t really harm anyone, they’d just cause little impediments in peoples’ lives – suddenly looms stop working, people can’t get their butter to churn,” he says.
Since witchcraft was considered a crime, old county histories from the 1830s to the 1880s include it in their official documents. Vermilyea found that Litchfield’s historical data fit perfectly with the national pattern of witch history, which is that it was a manifestation of gender in the mid-18th century. “They were calling them witches, but really they were just not acting the way that women were supposed to act,” he says. A telltale sign is that two of the four witches were named Molly – Moll Cramer of Woodbury and Molly Fisher from Kent – because Molly is the old English term for prostitute. “Some of the women were face healing – using alternative medicine and spirituality to heal – in a male-dominated church and medical world. Women were trying to help their neighbors and they got termed witches.”
This was definitely a class thing, too, Vermilyea says. Fisher was a transient – no one knew where she lived, or perhaps she was homeless. Cramer was the wife of a struggling blacksmith.
Bizarre stories abound, he says. “People put stock in stories that today we’d think were ludicrous.” He posits that the cause was a tremendous fear of isolation, as the early settlements had terrible roads and were cut off from each other by wilderness, and the population suffered from epidemics in which two-thirds of a town’s inhabitants would die. “There was fear,” he says, “and an inability to explain how these things were happening.”
To learn more about Litchfield’s witchy history, attend a lecture this weekend and pick up Vermilyea’s book, where witches are only one chapter in the seedier side of the northwest corner’s past.
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Ladies First: Grace Bonney Is In Great Company
Author photo by Christopher Sturman
By Amy Krzanik
Writer Grace Bonney, founder of the immensely popular long-running website Design*Sponge, gets right to the point in her new book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs. In the very first sentence of the book’s introduction she offers us activist Marian Wright Edelman’s famous quote “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The statement has possibly never rung more true than in this election year. No matter what their politics are, women of all ages can’t help but feel a tiny thrill when they hear a female voice say “I hope to be your next president.”
Bonney, along with five other New York-based businesswomen, will discuss this idea of visibility, along with other topics raised in the book, on Saturday, Oct. 22 at Morton Memorial Library in Rhinecliff. Joining her will be Sheila Bridges, who was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time Magazine; ceramicist Paula Grief who has had a successful career in graphic design, fashion art direction and music videos, and now has a shop on Hudson’s Warren Street; Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus, the co-owners of Take Root, a contemporary American restaurant in Brooklyn; and Tracy Kennard, the founder of Kennard & Daughters consultancy firm, and the co-owner and operator of Brunette wine bar in Kingston, NY.
Ceramic artist Paula Greif
The impetus for her second book (Bonney’s first was 2011’s Design*Sponge at Home) was the disconnect between the successful female entrepreneurs Bonney knew in real life and the predominantly young, white, thin and straight women she (and therefore everyone else) was seeing represented in the mainstream media. “I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see,” she says. “There are so many woman that I look up to, and I wanted to give visibility to a wider range of ages, races and abilities.”
Bonney, who lives in Accord, NY with her wife, the prolific cookbook author Julia Turshen who is featured in the book, had two months to put the project together. Because of time constraints and other factors, there were some people who couldn’t be included, like Rachel Maddow, who Bonney says is a personal hero of hers. But she is incredibly happy with how many people she did get to interview, like musician Kathleen Hanna who she calls a personal idol and poet Nikki Giovanni who, like Bonney, grew up in Virginia. “I love how opinionated she is,” says Bonney. “She’s not afraid to speak up and be loud, to take up space.”
Another real standout is Laura Jane Grace, the transgender lead singer and songwriter of the band Against Me! “I was very excited to get to interview her about her life,” says Bonney. Other names you may recognize in the pages of the book are Tavi Gevinson, who founded what became Rookie Magazine at the age of 12; author and activist Janet Mock; writer Roxane Gay; model and activist Christy Turlington Burns; comedian Cameron Esposito; potter Rebecca Wood; Carla Hall, chef and co-host of The Chew; fashion designer Eileen Fisher; illustrator Maira Kalman; journalist Melissa Harris-Perry; Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney and the TV show Portlandia; and actor-comedian Abbi Jacobson of the Comedy Central show Broad City.
Along with a full-page photo of them in their creative spaces, all of the book’s participants have answered meaty questions such as “What does success mean to you?”, “What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career?”, and “In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?”
This is all material Bonney hopes to cover candidly with her participants during the book tour events. “We’ll have a panel discussion on transparency, vulnerability and what happens when things don’t work out, and not just about running a business,” Bonney says. “The guests are coming from very different perspectives, and I’m planning to delve into the nitty-gritty stuff.”
In The Company of Women Panel Discussion
Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.
Morton Memorial Library
82 Kelly Street, Rhinecliff, NY
Tickets: $35 - includes a copy of the book and an exclusive tote bag made for the tour
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‘Come Hungry And Ready To Read’ At Basilica’s Read and Feed
By Jamie Larson
It’s practically a given that every event at Basilica Hudson, the adventurous art and culture venue in a former factory down by the river in Hudson, New York, will be unique, original, and feel like it could exist nowhere else. Read & Feed, on Saturday, July 30, is a perfect example.
The one-day “mini-festival” will bring together the best in contemporary literature and the best in modern eating and drinking. Hosted by the Basilica and the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), Read & Feed will feature authors, chefs, poets and farmers who will discuss their work and passions. Both professions can, at times, be isolating and all consuming, and the organizers are curious to find out what their creative convergence might spark.
“We love celebrating all great things and this is such an interesting hybrid,” says Basilica co-founder Melissa Auf der Maur, who happily had the event pitched to her by CLMP Executive Director Jeffrey Lependorf. “It’s what we try to do here. It’s a subtle, slightly unpredictable but obvious overlap.”
Photo by Bill Stone
In further keeping with Basilica’s style, visitors will be able to curate their own experience as events pop up in different areas throughout the expansive industrial hall. There will be panel discussions and demonstrations including “Food, Farming and Spirituality,” where local celebrity chef Zak Pelaccio, author Marie Mutsuki Mockett, organic farmer Sarah Chase and renowned cookbook author Rozanne Gold discuss how spirituality manifests itself in the culinary arts.
At “Reading, Drinking, Eating, Writing,” New York Times “Drinking” columnist Rosie Schaap; president of the Poetry Society of America, Kimiko Hahn; and other authors will explore food as a language. There will also be a marathon (kind of Basilica’s thing) reading of John Cage and a room where you can have a poet read to you, one on one.
There’s even more on the schedule, including food demonstrations, and there will, of course, be plenty of local food and drink from Chaseholm Farms, Raven & Boar, Hudson Standard, Moto and others.
“Who doesn’t want to have a glass of wine and cheese and listen to smart people?” says Auf der Maur. “It’s a creative event that I think will really be a pleasant surprise.”
Read & Feed
Saturday, July 30 from 5—11 p.m.
110 South Front St., Hudson, NY
$20 in advance; $25 at the door, based on availability