Film, Television, Books, Dancing: David Black Does It All
By Amy Krzanik
Calling him prolific doesn’t do him justice; David Black is truly a man for all seasons. The Ghent, N.Y. resident (where he’s lived for the past 40 years with his wife, Barbara Weisberg, an author and the creator of the TV show Charles In Charge) began acting on stage at age six, and started writing and sending out manuscripts at the ripe old age of seven. He’s published nine critically acclaimed books and over 150 magazine articles in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Rolling Stone; is the producer and writer of award-winning episodes of the television shows CSI-Miami, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Monk, Law & Order and its spinoffs, and others; has penned plays, TV movies and feature films; has lectured and taught writing, and is a scholar-in-residence at Harvard.
Not content to conquer only the worlds of the page and screen, for his 60th birthday Black participated in the Columbia County Fair’s demolition derby and came in 7th against, he says, “forty-nine 19-year-olds.” When he turned 70, he bought himself tap-dancing lessons.
But lest you think the author has now set his sights solely on accumulating eclectic hobbies, he assures me that he continues to write five hours a day, has just finished the third draft of a 1200-page novel about the Baby Boomer generation, and is working on three new TV pilots. “Half the time I think there’s no way I can write today, I have no ideas,” he says. “But if you sit down, and write even one page a day, you’ll have 365 pages at the end of the year.”
His newest book, the mystery novel Fast Shuffle, was recently released in paperback, and Black will read from it, sign copies and participate in a Q&A at The Chatham Bookstore on Saturday, June 4 from 5-7 p.m. If you go, be sure to ask him about how he almost broke his back riding a bucking bronco, what it’s like to attend the Emmys, and about the time Rita Hayworth proposed marriage.
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Volume Reading Series Amps Up The Author Reading Experience
By Jamie Larson
Author readings give you a chance to get your nose out of your book, hear it read in the voice that wrote it, and then meet the mind behind it. The format for readings hasn’t changed much over the years, until now. But two Hudson writers seem to have found a new formula, turning the traditional reading into a party celebrating the best in new lit.
The Volume Reading Series (which is holding its next event on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m.) has turned the dusty reading into a raucous happening that both enraptures its large audience and celebrates an impressive slate of authors. On the second Saturday of each month at Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, New York, you’ll find a warm atmosphere that’s a product of its organizers’ dedication, a tight hour-long set, the Spotty Dog’s convivial setting, a DJ afterwards to lubricate conversation and, of course, access to beer and wine at the bookstore’s fabulous bar to help further the conversation.
Cara Benson and Andrea Kleine
“I think people feel that we’re passionate about it,” says co-organizer Hallie Goodman. “The vibe here is perfect. People say we’ve changed their mind about readings. We don’t want to make people feel like this is school.”
Volume gets the crowds because they get the authors people want to hear. And increasingly, although they only started in October of last year, Volume is booking more and more great authors because they get great crowds.
French and Goodman
This Saturday, Volume welcomes four notable authors, all with published work just out or coming out soon. The lineup includes Publisher’s Weekly “Writer to Watch” Andrea Kleine reading from her debut novel Calf, a fictionalized account about the murder of a young girl by her socialite mother. Also reading are writer, performer and poet Cara Benson; Portland, Oregon litigation attorney Jim McDermott reading from his debut novel Bitter is the Wind; and multi-disciplined, multi-talented Rebecca Keith. And the event will be followed with a set by DJ Julian Nagy (a.k.a. DJ Salinger), and the chance for audience members to work up the courage to schmooze with the presenters.
“We have a DJ because otherwise, when it’s over, we all awkwardly stand in silence and immediately leave,” Goodman says. “Because this is a serious nerd batch. And so the music elevates that, it warms it up. It’s been working so well.”
Jim McDermott and Rebecca Keith
Friends and writers Goodman and Dani Grammerstorf French had been mulling the idea of starting a series for years. When they finally pulled the trigger and got the enthusiastic okay from Spotty Dog, Volume took off immediately.
“We were just smart enough to say yes,” says the bookstore’s owner Kelly Drahushuk. “It’s great for everyone involved: the writers, the audience and us. Beer always helps, too.”
Goodman’s writing has appeared in Paper Magazine, Redbook, The Knot and Chronogram, on Glamour.com and in many other places. French has an MFA in Creative Fiction from The New School and has been published in Playgirl and Broken Pencil. She is the co-founder of the long-running Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in NYC. So these two know what they’re doing.
“We’re inviting people we really admire,” Goodman says. “If you really think about it, you’re drinking a beer and people are reading to you. How chill is that?”
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Rodgers Book Barn: A Community Shop With A Long Shelf Life
Owner Maureen Rodgers poses next to the woodstove.
By Amy Krzanik
“Old books and CDs” read the bookmarks and business cards used to advertise Rodgers Book Barn in Hillsdale, N.Y. And while that claim may technically be true — the barn-turned-bookshop does indeed offer those items — the store’s dedicated fanbase knows this to be an obvious understatement. Even a first-time visitor to its tucked-away locale understands it to be much more: a book lover’s oasis, a neighborhood touchstone, a shelter from the storm.
The credit for this goes to owner Maureen Rodgers, who has manned the counter here for more than 40 years. Originally from England, Rodgers moved to New York City in the 1960s, where she worked selling hard-to-find textbooks to colleges. She and her ex-husband eventually moved to Hillsdale, where they purchased the “falling-down house and barn” and cleared the latter of its hay to create the two-story shop in 1972.
Rodgers points to the double supports on the first-floor’s ceiling. “A man came into the building one day and said ‘hay is a lot lighter than books’ and informed me that I needed more support to keep the second floor from buckling under the weight of all those books,” she says, laughing. “I told him, ‘you’ve got the job!’”
At first open only during the summer, the Book Barn is now a year-round business serving locals, seasonal vacationers and collectors who drive up from the city. The store is a must-stop for residents entertaining houseguests and some refer to the trip as more of a pilgrimage than a visit. There’s a colorful, light-filled children’s section upstairs that keeps even the youngest patrons entertained for hours.
The brightly painted children’s section.
In the summertime, the barn doors are thrown open, and visitors can enjoy picnics in the yard. The “free books” cart is out and the sale shed is busy. During the cooler seasons, a cast-iron woodstove keeps the place cozy, and upstairs, free coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available to keep browsers toasty (go ahead and have one, you’ll probably be here for a while).
In any season, it’s easy to lose yourself in the stacks. Seemingly around every corner (and there are lots of corners; bookshelves are good for that) is a comfy chair where you can steal some alone time with your finds. Rugs, oriental and otherwise, line the floors, stained glass lamps hang from the ceilings, and art — posters, prints and assorted knickknacks — are everywhere.
Beau the cat greets guests to the “free” table.
The store’s more than 50,000 books are carefully chosen and diligently arranged by Rodgers — this is no glorified tag sale. Unlike some second-hand shops that route their best stuff straight to their online store, here you’re getting all of what Rodgers has chosen from book and estate sales, and during private house calls. The merchandise is in great condition and the prices are a steal. (I got seven books for $19.)
Although she buys selectively at this point — the barn is pretty full — Rodgers is always looking for good classics in nice editions, as well as art books and fiction, of which she is a huge fan. Warm and knowledgeable, Rodgers is ready to chat about books or to give reading recommendations, without aiming for the hard sell.
She says her first 30 years working as a bookseller was pretty much the same, until the internet changed the nature of the book trade steadily and completely during the last 20 years. Owing to the fact that there are no big box bookstores in the area, she says, shops like The Chatham Bookstore, Oblong Books in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y., and The Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass. have been allowed to thrive, and even to allow used stores like hers to stay in business.
“We’ve all been hit by the internet, but the stores around here are still doing well. I survived because I don’t pay rent,” she says.
Thank god for that.
Rodgers Book Barn
467 Rodman Road, Hillsdale, N.Y.
November—March: Fri—Sun 11 a.m.—5 p.m.
April—October: Thurs—Mon 11 a.m.—5 p.m.
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Crime In The Gilded Age? Grislier Than You Might Expect
By Jamie Larson
Murder and mayhem may not be the first two words that come to mind when you think of our lovely Berkshires, but during the region’s “Gilded Age” life was, at times, a bit less civil than we’ve come to know it. From the 1870s to the early 1900s the region saw booming industry and vacationing high society mix with folks with a frontier mentality and a wild country still fraught with perils. These uniquely exciting times bred uniquely intriguing crimes.
Gilded Age Murder and Mayhem in the Berkshires, a new book by experienced regional crime reporter and frequent history writer Andrew K. Amelinckx, highlights some of the most intriguing crimes from the era. The tight and supremely readable collection of short stories is a captivating and dramatic read but it also serves as a meaningful addition to our local history cannon. One of the things Amelinckx says he enjoys about journalism and history is unearthing details about our shared history that deserve to be remembered.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage after it was hit by a speeding trolley car near Pittsfield, Mass., on Sept. 3, 1902. The accident resulted in the death of William “Big Bill” Craig, the first Secret Service agent to be killed protecting a president, and a jail sentence for the trolley driver.
“In the Gilded Age, the Berkshires was a really anomalous place. It was a playground for the super rich from New York but still considered backwater by most of New England,” says Amelinckx, noting that the culture clash is perhaps most pronounced in the book’s first story, “The Gentleman Burglar,” about a gang that preyed on the super rich.
“There were also a lot of ax murders,” the author adds.
Some tales may be familiar to locals, such as the incident in which President Teddy Roosevelt’s carriage was hit by an unwieldy trolley car outside Pittsfield, resulting in the death of the first Secret Service agent killed in the line of duty. Others, like “The Thanksgiving Day Double Murder,” are more obscure, and more emotionally impactful than titillating. In the Thanksgiving case, an African-American man was sentenced and executed on thin evidence. While on death row, he wrote a book of his own and recounts the struggles and persecution blacks living in the Berkshires endured at the time.
Fadlo Mallak, the Syrian-born millworker who shot up a trolley car near Adams, Mass. in 1911, killing three and wounding five.
“The justice system worked much more swiftly and more violently,” says Amelinckx, who pored through innumerable old records and newspaper clippings while researching the book. “In none of these stories was there a lynching but in three or four articles, about different stories, the reporters said that had the police not gotten there, there would have been.”
Amelinckx says his work as a modern crime reporter informed the way he approached investigating these stories from those long-ago days. Over the past decade he’s written countless crime and court stories for the Berkshire Eagle and The Register Star in Columbia County. With his first book behind him, he now has ideas for another book on the historical crimes of the Hudson Valley, as well as a true-crime story about the recent Berkshire triple murder trial involving the disturbing looking Caius Veiovis, which Amelinckx covered at length for the Eagle.
The author. Photo by Rob Ragani.
“[Crime reporting] has certainly colored my perception, but not in a bad way,” Amelinckx says of the job he fell into almost by accident after receiving an MFA. “You get to see the worst and best of humanity.”
Amelinckx will be featured at book reading and signing events to celebrate the release of Gilded Age Murder and Mayhem in the Berkshires. The next will be at Magpie Bookshop in his hometown of Catskill, N.Y. on Saturday, Oct. 31 at 5 p.m.
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Spencertown Festival Of Books Turns The Page On Ten Years
David Highfill, Kimberly Rawson and Academy Board President Nick van Alstine at last year’s preview party.
By Amy Krzanik
Not just another used book sale, the Spencertown Festival of Books spans four days (September 4-7) and features award-winning and bestselling authors of fiction, history, memoir, food tomes, and young adult novels. It’s also a fine way to meet your neighbors – many of the featured speakers live right here in our area.
The festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, began as a way to raise funds for the Spencertown Academy Arts Center’s community arts programs but has grown into a hotly anticipated event for all ages.
Those who want first dibs on the selection of more than 10,000 books will want to attend the Preview Party on Friday night from 6-8 p.m. On Saturday, younger children can visit with Corduroy Bear and teenagers will want to catch the award ceremony for the Festival’s first-ever teen short story contest. The three prize winners, all local, will be chosen at 11:45 a.m. and get a chance to read their stories for an audience.
David Highfill, an Academy board member and vice president and executive editor at publishing house William Morrow & Co., is co-chair of this year’s Festival. For the past five years he’s been involved in everything from the Festival’s programming to the sorting of its book donations. “It’s a bit like channeling your inner librarian,” he says about organizing the titles.
Highfill is especially excited about Sunday’s event, “My Search Through History,” a discussion between bestselling author Simon Winchester and WAMC’s Alan Chartock. Although he’s a Sandisfield, Mass. resident, Winchester (The Professor and the Madman; Krakatoa; The Men Who United the States) is a popular speaker and this will be the first time he’s available to participate in the Festival. “I’m thrilled that he’s so excited to do it because I think he’s one of the great historians working today,” says Highfill. “He and Alan are friends, so it will be interesting to hear them in conversation.”
RI readers will recognize another familiar face when food writer extraordinaire Ruth Reichl and Luke Barr discuss “The Reinvention of American Taste” on Saturday. Reichl is revered by foodies, and Barr is the great nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and author of Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, so there’s sure to be a lot to chew on in this conversation.
Also on Saturday, historian and Williamstown, Mass. resident Alex Kershaw will join historical novelists David R. Gillham (City of Women) and moderator Daphne Kalotay (Russian Winter; Sight Reading) to discuss “Heroes and Spies, Real and Imagined.” The three will explore the role of resisters during the WWII and share themes of courage and moral choices in occupied Paris and in Berlin.
Alex Kershaw, photo by Michael Carroll.
In Kershaw’s latest book, Avenue of Spies, the author delves into a story that proves that truth really is stranger than fiction. The work focuses on American physician Sumner Jackson and his wife and son, who, during WWII, lived in France on a street surrounded by some of the most evil figures of the day. Drawn into the resistance movement, Jackson smuggled fallen Allied fighter pilots safely out of France, right under the nose of his neighbors: a Nazi “mad sadist,” spy hunters, secret police and the Gestapo headquarters.
“The son is still alive, so I spent time with him and it became personal for me,” Kershaw says. “The family was amazingly courageous and they paid a very high price for it.”
Kershaw explains his participation in the Festival — and sums up how many book lovers feel — by saying, “A festival that brings a bunch of readers together is a good and rare thing, and I’ll do anything to help people enjoy books.”
10th Annual Festival of Books
Friday, September 4 - Monday, September 7
Spencertown Academy Arts Center
790 Route 203, Spencertown, NY