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Q&A With Francis Greenburger, Entrepreneur In Our Midst

By Jamie Larson

Francis Greenburger has led an astonishingly successful, self-made, elite life. Last year he condensed a lifetime of accomplishments and struggles into a co-authored biography called “Risk Game: Self Portrait of an Entrepreneur.” On Saturday, Nov. 4, the longtime/part-time Columbia County resident will read from his book and take questions as part of the Chatham Public Library’s Authors and Artists series. The talk starts at 3:30 p.m.

Locally, Greenburger is known for founding the Omi International Arts Center 25 years ago and more recently for purchasing Love Apple Farm, which he has renovated and created the Love Apple Art Space in the old farmhouse. But that’s only a fraction of the story.

Greenburger is the founder and CEO of Time Equities, Inc., a 50-plus-year-old real estate investment, development, and asset and property management business that holds in its own portfolio approximately 22.61 million square feet of property. He started the business as a teenager and began turning pre-war apartments into occupant-owned co-ops. He also still runs the Sanford J. Greenburger Literary Agency, started by his father.

Additionally, he founded The Francis Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, which works to reform the prison system, decrease incarcerations and improve the justice system’s handling of criminals with mental health issues. This is a personal crusade for the progressive philanthropist; his son, who suffers from mental illness, served prison time without access to the treatment Greenburger feels he and other inmates in the same situation deserve.

The library event is a unique opportunity to hear, in an intimate setting, Greenburger discuss his many-faceted life. In anticipation of the event, RI caught up with Greenburger to talk Columbia County, his book, and his outlook.

Rural Intelligence: What is your history with Columbia County? How did you first come here, and how do you feel about the area?

Francis Greenburger: Although I met her in New York, my girlfriend in 1970, Esther Wanning, had grown up in Germantown. She had friends who had rented a farmhouse on the Esselstein farm in Claverack. We spent a summer visiting them almost every weekend and eventually found a weekend place in Columbiaville. Esther got a job working at Love Apple Farm over the summer, picking apples. Chris and Rande, who owned the farm, became close friends and I recently bought the farm from them when they retired.

I have had a house in Columbia County for almost 50 years. Although I still live in New York City, I consider Columbia County my psychic home — the place where I can feel most secure.

RI: Are there any local restaurants, businesses or organizations that you love or have particularly close relationships with?

FG: Originally it was Kozels on 9H, but now I would say it is Blue Plate in Chatham. However, there are many other places we go both for dinner and lunch, like the Omi Cafe, Love Apple Farm, etc.

RI: Omi has evolved over the years and seems to be focusing more and more on engaging with the public. Was that something you always felt would be a part of Omi or did your view of Omi’s mission grow over time?

An artist’s rendering of 50 West, one of Time Equities’ current construction projects.

FG: I did not have a fixed vision for Omi. It was very much an evolutionary process where we facilitated and encouraged programs and people who came Omi’s way. Although we always had public programs in addition to our professional ones, our public programs have taken on a life of their own. This year I think we will have 28,000 visitors, triple our audience of five years ago.

RI: In the course of your extremely busy life what role does Omi play for you personally? How often do you walk the fields?

FG: My connection is most strongly with the people who attend our international residency programs. Over the years I have created strong friendships with many of our alums and can visit almost any country in the world and find old friends who I made at Omi. I also enjoy our exhibition program and constantly check out new art installations by walking through the fields and checking out what is in the gallery.”

Greenburger with artist Janet Echelman at an Omi event.

RI: Looking back at your life through the lens of writing your book, was there anything that surprised you upon reflection? Was there any experience or time period that you now see from a significantly different perspective than you did at the time?

FG: Well, I think the thing that surprised me was when I realized that some people who read my book and who I was meeting for the first time, knew many more things about my life than what I had told them. That was a bit weird. I think I realized that I am a collector of stories — about myself, people I meet and experiences that I have had. And sharing these stories was natural to me and of potential interest to others.

RI: What do you hope readers take with them after they finish your book?

FG: Since my book and my life touch on many subjects, different readers find different things. Some people who read it work in the same fields and find my business life and success of interest. Others relate to my not-for-profit work in art, education and criminal justice reform. Readers who have had to deal with a variety of challenges identify with those parts of my life — the death of my first son and my first wife, the challenge of having a family member with mental illness, surviving very difficult economic cycles, etc.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 10/24/17 at 09:39 AM • Permalink

The Meaning Of Movement: Choreographer Paula Josa-Jones

By Amy Krzanik

You don’t need to be a “horse person” to read this article. You don’t have to have a background in dance, either. Although Paula Josa-Jones has had years of practice as both a rider and a choreographer, the only thing she asks you to bring to her latest venture, her book, is an open mind.

After all, therapy – be it sitting in a chair across from a psychologist, painting alone in a quiet room, or working with horses – isn’t about the psychologist, the art or the animal, but about you. No one can force you to look, but if you’re open to learning, they can make you see.

There are examples of this, along with strategies, and more than 65 meditations and gentle exercises, in Josa-Jones’ new book, Our Horses, Ourselves: Discovering the Common Body – Meditations and Strategies for Deeper Understanding and Enhanced Communication. In it, she marries her long career in dance and choreography (having taught at Tufts, Boston University and other schools) to her even longer adoration for horses. And while Our Horses, Ourselves will help you interact better with your equine, it was written to help you outside of the ring, as well.

The book focuses on improving consciousness of breath, movement and touch to better communicate with both animals and people. “Movement is our first, native language,” says the Kent, Connecticut-based Josa-Jones. “It connects us to others. Unfortunately, it’s not understood and not something people are fully conscious of.” Understanding the more subtle dimensions of our movement exchanges, she says, makes us more trustworthy, more comfortable in our own skin, and better prepared to act with balance, sensitivity and kindness in all of our relationships.

Although she rode when she was younger, Josa-Jones’ time with horses was limited during the years she ran a dance company in Boston. But about 20 years ago, she began to wonder if therapeutic riding would help the strain that years of dancing had put on her hips. “They taught me something far greater,” she says, “including connection, softness and compassion.” She says that, in addition to riding, she wanted to be on the ground with them and find out how she could be understood, speaking through the shared language of movement. “I hoped to understand them, and be understood in a more profound way.”

She began bringing her dancers to interact with the horses, too. “We began to understand how our movement languages were connecting, how to create an inter-species communication,” she says. It was a learning curve that led ultimately to her first dance performance with horses, “Ride,” which was then followed by other performances, classes and workshops with horses.

A TTEAM (Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method) practitioner, somatic movement therapist and Somatic Experiencing (trauma healing) practitioner, Josa-Jones offers a way for people to explore their own relationships with horses and without, and to learn and explore on their own. It’s for horse owners, sure, but it’s also an open door for people who are curious, or even afraid.

“Horses aren’t here to win ribbons or help us achieve technical perfection” she says, “but for a bigger, more soulful purpose. Horses reflect our inner emotional landscape rather than what we may be trying to project.” She tells the story of her 22-year-old Andalusian gelding, Amadeo. “He continues to be my most amazing teacher because he has the capacity, in the most subtle ways, of showing me when I am out of sync, emotionally or physically. I came to his stall one day and wanted to pet him, and he moved away. I felt in that moment that I ‘needed’ something from him and that need was in the way of making a true connection. He felt it, too. I stood and waited, and when I settled into just ‘being,’ he moved toward me and placed his nose in my hands. That level of teaching is something that they can do, but you have to be willing to take the time. The real goal, and gift, is the ability to understand ourselves better, to ‘get ourselves right.’ We have to do that hard work to become more human, open, playful and compassionate.”

You can hear Paula Josa-Jones speak and answer questions at these upcoming local events:

September 30 at 2 p.m.
House of Books
10 N. Main St., Kent, CT

October 6 at 6 p.m.
Equis Art Gallery
15 W. Market St., Red Hook, NY

October 14 at 12 p.m.
Merritt Bookstore
57 Front St., Millbrook, NY

October 21 at 7 p.m.
Scoville Memorial Library
38 Main St., Salisbury, CT

October 28 at 1:30 p.m.
Mason Library
231 Main St., Great Barrington, MA

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/25/17 at 04:55 PM • Permalink

Food, Farming And Sex: Alice Clayton’s Hudson Valley Series

By Andrea Pyros

Inspiration comes at the oddest of moments. For best-selling romance novelist Alice Clayton, the idea for her sexy, saucy, food-obsessed Hudson Valley-based trilogy — Nuts, Cream of the Crop and Buns — came to her while she was waiting in line to buy cucumbers at her local St. Louis farmer’s market. “The dreamiest farmer I’d ever seen was there,” Clayton says. And although, at the time, everyone else was writing romances about billionaire bad boys, she had other plans.

“I thought, ‘Farmers are the new alpha. I think they need their time in the sun.’” She’d wanted to write a story set in a small-town agricultural center, and although Clayton is “a Midwestern girl, born and raised,” she’d always been intrigued by the Northeast, so she decided to set a series of books here.

“The first time the Hudson Valley came on my radar was when I saw Dirty Dancing as a kid. I’d never even heard of that region of the country. I loved the idea of these wonderful old mountain resorts in the Hudson Valley and Catskills and Adirondacks. Years later, I was watching No Reservations when Anthony Bourdain visited the Hudson Valley and he went up to Mohonk Mountain House, and I was mesmerized. I started doing research on the area — it didn’t look real! — and I fell in love.”

Clayton and her publicist took a research trip to the RI region, renting a car and tooling around towns like Hyde Park, as well as Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, marveling all the while at their “picture-book, Disney cinemascope” charm. The pair made a stop at Blue Hill Farm, and Clayton said that was when everything really started coming together.

“As a Midwestern girl turning her gaze towards this part of the country, I loved the idea that you have these wonderful communities, some artsy, some are agrarian, some full of big houses, and wonderful little mom-and-pop stores next to wealthy bankers’ wives; it’s a really different way of looking at small-town America and a really different slice of life in the Northeast.” Using inspiration from places she’d seen, Clayton created the fictional Bailey Falls, New York, and its appealing cast of characters.

Each of the Hudson Valley books have sexy farmer types with dirt under their nails, quirky small town characters (if you’re a “Gilmore Girls” fan, we need say no more), plenty of banter and R-rated shenanigans, and a big-city woman who comes to town and finds her life — love and otherwise — completely upended. True to our region, cooking and eating are front and center in the series, from descriptions of lovingly baked pies and vintage flea-market cookbooks to arguments over whether Cadbury Creme Eggs are gross or amazing (answer: both).

“Barefoot Contessa is my life,” Clayton jokes. “And I’m obsessed with “America’s Test Kitchen.” I’m a foodie who loves to cook and loves to eat, and in the last 10 years I was taken with slow food and farm-to-table and getting to know the local growers who bring you food. It just seems natural to incorporate that into a writing project.”

Even though Clayton’s not a local, she gets letters from readers in our area asking if she’s writing about their town. “So far, so good in that I’m representing the region. That’s all I want to do — create a place where people who don’t live there want to go there.”

Buns represents the last in this trilogy, but Clayton admits she’s been thinking about another series set in our region. After all, Clayton, who dedicated Buns to Mohonk Mountain House (“where inspiration becomes reality,” she writes), has fallen in love with the Hudson Valley and says she’ll use any excuse to visit the area. Stay tuned, then, Clayton may have more food, fun, farmers and romance for us.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/22/17 at 09:51 AM • Permalink

Dani Shapiro’s ‘Hourglass’ Explores A Marriage Over Time

In her new memoir, Hourglass (Knopf), Dani Shapiro of Litchfield County excavates and celebrates her marriage of nearly 20 years to screenwriter/director Michael Maren. In her previous critically acclaimed memoirs—Slow Motion and Devotion —Shapiro has put her personal history under the microscope to come to terms with her parents’ deeply flawed marriage and to search for a meaningful spiritual practice.

Now, Shapiro focuses the lens on life with her husband and teenage son, Jacob, and the hard realities of looking into the rearview mirror in late-middle age: “Some things that definitely won’t happen,” she writes poignantly. “We won’t have more children; we won’t host big family reunions; we won’t own a compound where generations will spend summer weekends playing badminton and roasting s’mores. Jacob won’t grow up in the city. I won’t enroll in a doctoral program to become a psychoanalyst, nor will I go to rabbinical school. M. and I will not move to Nairobi, where he will be based as a correspondent. He will not accept a job from the CIA, or the World Bank.”

Shapiro has two readings this month in the Rural Intelligence region — on Wednesday, May 17, at the Merritt Bookstore to kick off the Millbrook Literary Festival, and on Thursday, May 18, as part of the White Hart Inn’s Speaker Series in Salisbury. She took time from her cross-country book tour to chat with RI co-founder Dan Shaw, who profiled her for The New York Times in 2013, after she had appeared on Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday.”


In Slow Motion, you wrote unflinchingly about your “difficult” mother while she was still alive. In Hourglass, you expose your husband’s dreams deferred. “Where does hope go when it vanishes,” you write. “Does it live in a place where it attaches itself to other lost hopes? And what does that place look like? Is it a wall? A sea? Is it the soft bafflement I sometimes see in my husband’s eyes?” Who was it more challenging to write about?

In one sense it was easier to write about my husband and my marriage, because my marriage is much less conflicted than my relationship with my mother was. In Hourglass, I was attempting to write about a happy marriage from inside of it — to ask the question, what does it mean to walk alongside someone over time? It was, of course, still terrifying, because I wanted to tell the truth of my marriage without betraying it. Writing about my mother, on the other hand, meant writing about a thorny, enormously complex relationship. She was the single most challenging person in my life, but still, I never wanted to hurt her, so I tried to be careful, while still telling my story, a story which, by necessity, had to involve her.


Why did you call Michael “M” in the book?

It was an intuitive decision — and I think it came from two places. First, in a literary sense I just thought it was more poetic.  Virginia Woolf, often when writing about Leonard, referred to him as “L.” And Mary Oliver, when writing about her longtime partner Molly Malone Cook, referred to her as “M” as well. It may also be that it made it purer, in a sense, to think of Michael as a character, which is what a writer of memoir must do, with herself and those she writes about.


Did Michael read every word of the final galley? Did Jacob?

Michael not only read every word of the final galley, but he read every word as I was writing Hourglass. He’s always been my first and best reader, and writing this book was no different. In a way, we were able to work together in the same way we always have. To put aside the fact that this was “us” and talk about the book in a literary sense. At the same time, Michael had total veto power, as far as I was concerned. If he had asked me not to write the book, I simply wouldn’t have. As for Jacob, he didn’t read Hourglass (by his own choice) until it was a finished book. It must be weird to read about your parents, and to a lesser degree, yourself, but he’s the kid of two writers, and he understands and thrives on the creative process. He told me he loves Hourglass, and that means more to me than just about any reaction from anyone else!


You are forthright that writing and promoting your books (especially on Facebook and Instagram) is the way you make a living and not about ego.

I can’t imagine what writing out of ego would be like. The writing life is way too fraught and full of indignities and rejection to be approaching it from an egoic place. If I can make the distinction, I don’t write my books in order to make a living (god knows there are easier ways to make a living!) but it is how I make my living, it is my “job.” And these days, a writer can’t simply publish a book and go back in the cave to write another one. I’m fortunate in that Knopf, my publisher, is sending me on a significant (26-city) book tour for Hourglass, and there’s a lot I enjoy about it — meeting readers, connecting with booksellers, traveling, running into friends I don’t get to see much. I think readers really appreciate meeting writers whose work they’ve responded to.


What aspect(s) of the book have readers reacted to most strongly?

It seems readers are seeing themselves, their own marriages, partnerships, relationships in Hourglass — whether they’re at the beginning of a romantic relationship or well into a committed one. I’ve had it said to me that every mother-of-the-bride should give her daughter Hourglass, and I really love that, almost as if the book is a glimpse into the future, after the bouquet and the champagne and wedding cake. But I have also had readers who have been married 50 or 60 years tell me that I got something right about contented long-time partnerships, and that means a great deal to me.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/09/17 at 09:49 AM • Permalink

‘Love Where You Eat’ Brings Joan Osofsky To The Table

By Dan Shaw

“Here in the country, when you invite people to dinner, they always ask, “What can I bring?” writes Joan Osofsky in her new book, Entertaining in the Country: Love Where You Eat (Rizzoli.)  Osofsky, who owns the Hammertown stores in Great Barrington, Pine Plains and Rhinebeck, understands better than almost anyone that friendship and community — not competitive, showy cooking — is the raison d’être of dinner parties and luncheons in our neck of the woods. Indeed, bringing people together is her life’s work. “Entertaining is at the core of the Hammertown style,” she says.

Like her previous book, Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country, this new volume is our story. It is filled with recipes, tips, and table settings from neighbors such as Andrew Arrick and Michael Hofemann, who own Finch in Hudson; Michael Trapp, who owns an eponymous antiques store in West Cornwall; fashion designer Patrick Robinson and Vogue editor Virginia Smith of Ancram; Dana Cowan, the former editor in chief of Food & Wine, who lives in Amenia and who enlisted Serge Madikians of the restaurant Serevan to prepare and share his recipes for falafel and eggplant dip in the chapter “Cocktails on the Terrace.”

Photographed by John Gruen of Lakeville and co-written with Abby Adams of Ancram, Entertaining in the Country is about actualization, not aspiration: the tables are set simply and realistically; the recipes require a minimal amount of time spent in the kitchen, so inviting people over for a meal does not become an ordeal. Sourcing of ingredients is important. “Food has more meaning in farm country,” says Osofsky, who was once a farmer’s wife and provides sources for local produce, meats, cheese, charcuterie, and spirits. And she suggests local shops where you can pick up desserts if baking is not your thing.

Abby Adams and Joan Osofsky. Photos: John Gruen.

Sometimes called the Martha Stewart of the Rural Intelligence region, Osofsky is not a perfectionist or taskmaster, but a soulful and supportive Jewish mother.  She is generous with crediting other tastemakers who’ve influenced her such as Lee Bailey, Mary Emmerling, and Bunny Williams of Falls Village, whose An Affair With a House is still one of the most successful books in the country lifestyle genre 11 years after it was first published.

One chapter of Osofsky’s new book is devoted to the quintessential country party — the potluck supper. But Osofsky doesn’t want to ever pressure friends and family so invitations to her potlucks ask guests if they would like to bring something. “It would be terribly rude to demand that they do so,” she writes.

Entertaining in the Country
is, quite simply, empowering and embracing. (It has the same down-to-earth sensibility as The Pollan Family Table by Sharon weekender Corky Pollan and her four daughters.) It will inspire you to bring people you love together around your table. And when your friends reciprocate, it would be the perfect hostess gift to give them.

Book signing with Joan Osofsky and Abby Adams
Sunday, May 28, 2-4 p.m.
Finch
555 Warren Street, Hudson, NY

 

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/02/17 at 01:54 PM • Permalink

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. 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.

Meet Joan Juliet Buck
Saturday, April 1 at 7 p.m. at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck (RSVP requested)
Saturday, April 8 at 3:30 p.m. at the Chatham Public Library in Chatham

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/20/17 at 07:56 PM • Permalink

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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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/20/17 at 01:36 PM • Permalink

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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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/18/16 at 10:17 AM • Permalink

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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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/10/16 at 03:37 PM • Permalink

‘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.
Basilica Hudson
110 South Front St., Hudson, NY
(518) 822-1050
$20 in advance; $25 at the door, based on availability

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/24/16 at 09:10 PM • Permalink

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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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/31/16 at 11:15 AM • Permalink

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?”

Volume Reading Series
Second Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Spotty Dog Books & Ale
440 Warren St., Hudson, NY

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/08/16 at 10:05 AM • Permalink

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. 
(518) 325-3610
November—March: Fri—Sun 11 a.m.—5 p.m.
April—October: Thurs—Mon 11 a.m.—5 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/17/15 at 10:43 AM • Permalink

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.

Murder and Mayhem Teddy crash

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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Posted by Jamie Larson on 10/20/15 at 10:47 AM • Permalink

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
(518) 392-3693

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/25/15 at 11:44 AM • Permalink

Q & A With Author And Activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin

“Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate” is the latest work by feminist icon Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Set in 1980s New York City, the novel focuses on Zach Levy, son of Holocaust survivors, who promises his mother on her deathbed that he will marry within the tribe.  Conflict ensues when he falls in love with Cleo Scott, an African American activist who could be his soul mate. In telling the story, Pogrebin probes weighty issues including self identity, inherited pain and the legacy of trauma. RI’s Lisa Green met up with Pogrebin, a part-time resident of the Berkshires, who will be speaking about the novel and signing copies at the Lenox Library on Friday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m.

RI: You delve into so many profound issues in this book, but the overriding one seems to be the question whether or not Zach — a stand-in for many of us — is obligated to choose guilt over love. Do you think non-Jews feel that to the extent that Jews do?

LCP: I often wonder if there’s any equivalent to the way Jews feel responsible for the diminishing numbers of us.  I don’t know if any other people have a sense of how they could disappear. I did want to really describe what that feels like.

RI: Zach makes a promise to his mother, even though he doesn’t practice Judaism in any traditional way — he doesn’t keep kosher, doesn’t attend synagogue except maybe once a year. Yet, as you write, “The essence of his Jewish identity was his obsession with his Jewish identity.”

LCP: We struggle. We have so many gradations along the spectrum. You can be a once-a-year Jew in synagogue terms, yet very Jewish…whether it’s a few rituals that are family oriented or identifying with our heroes, that kind of Jewishness. An Orthodox Jewish person wouldn’t say we’re Jewish, but we are, we feel it.

RI: Zach was so stuck on finding his bashert — his soul mate — he couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

LCP: When you have a filter that all the prospective dates in your life have to fall through, you close down so many options, and religion is a big one. The question for me in this book is, do you give up love for a kind of macro responsibility to your faith/tradition? What does continuity mean? What are you going to practice? You start slicing it very thin. It’s a conversation that’s very real and self defining. It forces you to distill meaning, instead of saying, I’ve got to marry a Jew, I’ve got to have Jewish children. What constitutes raising a child Jewish?

RI: How much of the writing was a way to sort out your own feelings?

LCP: All the things we’re talking about are things that obsess me. That’s my Jewish identity: obsessing over my Jewish identity. I feel like I am a transitional generation. My mother was born in Hungary and came here when she was 9. My father was born on the boat over, so his was an immigrant family. One third of each of their families perished in the Holocaust. We were very aware in the war that people weren’t answering their letters; care packages came back. Even though I was a tiny kid, you don’t miss that. My kids have grown up with none of that — the sense that if we lose this war we’ll be dead, too. The Holocaust is a historical event for them, but to me it feels like something I lived through. That’s why I have Zach saying, How can you have a flashback on something you didn’t experience? But you can — you fill in all the blanks.

For me to write about this displaces it onto some other characters but feels exactly what I feel, think about, worry about. The issue of race relations, especially black and Jewish, matters a lot to me. I was in a black-Jewish dialogue group for ten years, which is the only way I could feel entitled to write about Cleo. So black-Jewish relations, Jewish identity, the power of inherited trauma, the question of desire versus obligation — those are big things for me. But I didn’t end the book anywhere dispositive.

RI: A book reviewer said that you posed enormous questions without suggesting answers or even that they exist, that the search is the thing.

LCP: We’re much too focused on 10 tips for your garden, the recipe for happiness…it flattens the complexity of life, sands down all the rough edges. That’s not how life is. Between Zach and Cleo you have worlds in their past and their hearts. To wrap it all up neatly would be a disservice to all those worlds that are whirling around inside of those characters.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Friday, July 24, 6:30 p.m.
The Lenox Library
(413) 637-2630

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/10/15 at 02:15 PM • Permalink

Readers: Enjoy A Day Of Books And Authors At ‘Off The Page’

By Paige Darrah

New York City residents might be familiar with “Open House,” in which publishing giant Random House invites readers to its offices to spend a day with A-list authors. In the wake of those successful events, Random House will take authors “Off the Page” and into Upstate’s Basilica Hudson on Saturday, July 11. The first event of its kind in the Hudson Valley will feature keynote speakers Ruth Reichl, former Gourmet editor and New York Times food critic, and Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project.

“The main goal of our special events program is to connect readers with authors and readers with readers – a model that has proven very successful,” says Theresa Zoro, Random House’s director of publicity and communications. “The spirit of the Hudson Valley cultural scene perfectly embodies our vision for a day of literary inspiration.” It doesn’t hurt, she adds, that a number of the authors and speakers participating in the program have homes in this “culturally engaged community.”

It’s also an opportunity for the area to shine. Random House is partnering with local businesses like Gracie’s (one of the several food trucks that’ll be parked at Basilica throughout the day); Hudson-Chatham Winery (they’re doing tastings); and an Etsy pop-up shop featuring local Hudson Valley artisans.

The day begins with Reichl, who will be discussing her forthcoming Hudson Valley-centered cookbook (her first in 40 years), My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Changed My Life. The book’s gritty photographs — Gourmet-magazine-era prop food stylists are notably absent — span farmers market, forests and all four seasons, capturing the region via an inquisitive culinary lens. 

“I think that this is one of the best places in the world to live… especially if you’re a cook,” Reichl says during a phone interview from her home in Columbia County. “I was in such a bad place [following Condé Nast’s abrupt shuttering of Gourmet in 2009]. Being up here really grounded me. My whole attitude about life changed in that year. I was able to find moments of joy in the kitchen and pay attention to pleasure again.”

Gretchen Rubin will give the afternoon keynote speech focusing on habits and happiness, the subject of her latest book, Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. “Many of us have a draining habit that crowds out healthier, more productive activities,” Rubin says. She’ll offer some habit-changing strategies that will help you live your best life — a recurring theme of the event. 

There will be a variety of talks and book-inspired workshops throughout the day: mix-and-match sessions — dealing with “stuff,” standout travel destinations, meditation exercises, book club advice and more — plus time to meet and greet the authors and editors. And who doesn’t love a nice tote bag filled with summer reads and other goodies?

The event will be capped with a wine tasting featuring selections from local wineries; a special al fresco dinner is an add on.

Books, authors, food and wine — what could be better? Only, maybe, that it’s happening right in the Rural Intelligence region.

Off The Page at Basilica Hudson
Saturday, July 11, 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
110 South Front Street, Hudson, NY
Tickets: $100 (tote bag included)

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/23/15 at 12:49 PM • Permalink

Author/Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker Captures the Magic of Flight

By Nichole Dupont

Last year, on a flight from JFK to San Juan, my 11-year-old son was only concerned with two things. One, was I sure the hotel had a pool? And two, did I book him a window seat on the flight? Yes, and yes. I looked over his shoulder as we said goodbye to rainy New York in April, and again as we descended over the blue waters of the Caribbean. I wondered how many people had enjoyed this view before me. But air travel is something we too often take for granted, or even loathe, and author Mark Vanhoenacker says we shouldn’t. The 747 pilot has just published his first book, Skyfaring (Knopf 2015), which is part metaphysical contemplation, part memoir, and part intro to aviation engineering. It encourages readers to sit back and truly enjoy the modern magic that is flying.

“On a simple level, I wrote the book to show what my job is like,” says Vanhoenacker via phone from New York. He’s taking a little bit of time off from flying to promote the book stateside (it was released in the U.K. in April). “Some people, actually a lot of people, don’t like to fly. I’m hoping that those people will read the book and think it’s a pretty cool thing to do sometimes. C’mon — you’re looking DOWN at the clouds!”

Vanhoenacker will be on the ground on Friday, June 19 at The Bookstore in Lenox to read and sign his book on, as it turns out, his native soil. The well-traveled pilot, who began flying commercially when he was 29 years old, grew up in the rolling Berkshire hills and returns to the area regularly to be with friends and family. This place, he says, even after long jaunts to Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and nearly every other major city in the world, will always be home to him. 

“A lot of the world is kind of hot and crowded. I’m actually glad to come from a place that has seasons, even winters — I know, I know,” he laughs. “Because I fly a 747, we usually only go to the biggest cities and my first inclination when we land is to leave it and find the hiking trails.”

Not an easy feat when one is in, say, Hong Kong for the day. But Vanhoenacker has done it, and insists that there is “tons of open space” on the islands that surround one of Asia’s most crowded epicenters. In the book, he describes a hike with other flight personnel in a park in South Africa, where it is “hot and dusty” and the “soil gusts up in crimson clouds with each step” while back in London, where they departed, it’s freezing. This constant flux of climate and geography and light, all within the span of just a few hours, and the sense of shock that comes with such adjustment, is what he and others in the field refer to as ‘place lag.’ According to Vanhoenacker, place lag doesn’t fade away, no matter how veteran the traveler. It’s non-combative, and also part of what makes his job so enjoyable. In this state of lag, making connections — human, geographic, ethereal, metaphysical — becomes both a science and an art.

“It’s amazing and interesting work. The plane is making connections between very different places,” he says. “There’s a social shake-up that happens with the crew, as well. I don’t have a fixed set of colleagues. I may never see some of these people again. It’s the same with the passengers. It’s so interesting to see new people and learn the kinds of jobs people have. Some are on the trip of a lifetime that they’ve saved their whole lives for.”

Off the ground, Vanhoenecker allows readers a mystical-toned glimpse into the world of flight. He writes about sky regions, a “new world, high above the old one, that is not yet fully charted,” the intricate and somehow beautiful guts of passenger planes, and the vastness of water and night. A whole world familiar yet unfamiliar, and at times incredibly solitary. But he is able to balance the solitude, and has found little pockets of acclimation — a bookstore in Beijing, sunset in Scandinavia, a shrine in Japan — that seem always to bring him back to the landing strip.

“I’m at home, standing sleepily by the sink,” he writes. “The water runs over the soles of my trainers, sweeping the African dust brightly over the stainless steel. I try hard to remember that this is an unusual experience of the world — to have stood on the earth there…then suddenly to find myself alone on an ordinary afternoon quietly washing it from my shoes.”

Mark Vanhoenacker reading and booksigning
Friday, June 19, 7 p.m.
The Bookstore
11 Housatonic Street, Lenox, MA

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Posted by Nichole on 06/05/15 at 06:26 PM • Permalink

WCMA Launches A First: ‘Warhol By The Book’

Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), 1967 (pre-publication mock-up designer’s copy). Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Richard F. Holmes, Class of 1946. © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

By Lisa Green

Even now, 28 years after his death, Andy Warhol is an artist who keeps on giving. Just this week, in preparation for the “Warhol by the Book” exhibit at the Williams College Museum of Art, curator Kathryn Price and Matt Wrbican, chief archivist of The Andy Warhol Museum, made a discovery about the artist’s Index, a popup book complete with sound recordings, balloons, fold-outs, holograms, even a do-it-yourself nose job.

On Friday, March 6, that book, called a “children’s book for hipsters,” along with around 500 other Warhol book-related projects, will be on view at the opening of the first U.S. exhibition to concentrate on Warhol’s book work. Organized out of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the exhibit makes WCMA its first stop, thanks in part to the College’s own collection of Warhol’s book-related works, many of which were given by Richard F. Holmes, Class of ’46. The fact that Williams is in the middle of a year-long, campus-wide Books Unbound initiative made this setting particularly relevant.

“We’re so happy to be partnering with the Warhol Museum,” says Kathryn Price, curator of collections at WCMA. Inspired by the Williams Warhol collection, she first proposed doing such a show four years ago. “Our venue will be the largest one dedicated to this exhibit.”

Andy Warhol, 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, 1954, (Printed by Semour Berlin, written by Charles Lisanby), bound artist’s book, litho-offset prints on paper with hand coloring. Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Richard F. Holmes, Class of 1946. © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The exhibition showcases a range of material from Warhol’s practice including paintings,  drawings, prints, photographs and artist’s books, all of which demonstrate Warhol’s experimentation with form and content. Included in the exhibition are never-before-shown paste-up layouts for two books of photos, a to-scale model of a book made from his Marilyn Monroe prints (it unfolds to almost 30 feet), and preliminary mockups that show how the Index changed from inception to its final state (and therein lies that most recent discovery).

Book lovers who are surreptitious snoopers of other people’s bookshelves will especially appreciate the gallery that recreates Warhol’s eclectic personal library. Among his collection: the first edition of the Atkins Diet and a book on poodles.

At the opening, Price and Wrbican will present the first in a series of conversations devoted to Warhol’s contributions to the field of publishing, with drinks and mingling to follow. The exhibit will be on view through August 16 and will then travel to the Warhol Museum.

“Warhol by the Book”
Williams College Museum of Art
15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown

Warhol & the Stuff of Books
Friday, March 6, 6 p.m.

Warhol & Cookbooks
Tuesday, April 7, 6 p.m.

Warhol & Infiltrated Publishing
Tuesday, April 28, 6 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/03/15 at 03:13 PM • Permalink

Author Megan Bergman Brings ‘Almost Famous Women’ To Oblong Books

By Nichole Dupont

There is almost no drawl left in Megan Bergman’s voice. The North Carolina native has become almost completely northernized thanks to life on her Vermont farm which she shares with her veterinarian husband, their two young daughters, and a slew of feathered and four-legged critters. Maybe it was those long New England winters that prompted Bergman, who penned “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” a starkly rich collection of short stories that received almost instant accolades, to delve deep for her latest, arguably darker ensemble. “Almost Famous Women,” (Scribner, Jan. 2015) was released this month and is Bergman’s first foray into historical fiction. But it doesn’t feel like fiction at all.

“I’ve been reading this stuff for ten years as an academic and a writer. If it’s out of print and obscure, I’ll read it,” says Bergman in a phone interview from her home state, where her book tour has begun with balmy 40 degree days. “The research really lights up my brain in response. The hardest thing was that I had to give myself permission to write historical fiction. There was so much missing anyway that the imagination takes over.”

Bergman will be at the Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck on Sunday to answer any questions — if she can — about the women she has chosen for the collection. And what women they are. The book opens with Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins well into the twilight years of a life once-filled with Vaudevillian potential. The story is told by Daisy, who implores the reader to “Imagine: you could say nothing, do nothing, eat nothing, touch nothing, love nothing, without the other knowing.”

The book’s title hints at the quiet devastation of bad choices, hard times and plain old flawed characteristics that shape and shatter or let go to ground the lives of Dolly Wilde, Tiny Davis, Beryl Markham, Butterfly McQueen, Norma Millay and the others, named and unnamed. None of us are immune, it seems, least of all the talented.

“The ‘almost’ is a qualifier from the beginning. It’s a longing, coming up short. We’re fascinated by characters, even people, who really want something. But it was important to me that this wasn’t ‘Almost Famous White Women’ or ‘Almost Famous Straight Women.’ The fact that they still read as challenging stereotypes in a contemporary setting is significant.”

The stories, which are largely set in the 1920s through the 1940s, flow in a cacophonous timeline of war, solitude, poverty and decrepitude, and are not limited to one continent. From heiress turned boat racer “Joe” Carstairs’ Caribbean paradise to a convent in Northeast Italy where the bastard daughter of Lord Byron is hidden from the world to Steepletop, home of the venerable Edna St. Vincent Millay (and her oddly obsessive sister, Norma), it seems as if no geographical stone is left unturned as these women refuse to bend into the mold that is laid out for them. For all of us, really.

“All of these women are taking risks,” Bergman says. “They are all navigating that strange line between self-actualization and self-sacrifice. Life can be very messy and there’s so many ways to sail this ship of being a woman. I didn’t want to cultivate the pity of the readers. These characters are definitely more interesting than likeable.”

In fact, some of the characters are, at first glance, detestable. What remains of artist Romaine Brooks is presented to us at the very last stages of her physical and mental disintegration. She wants to die. We kind of want her to die, too.

“…Romaine cracks one of her ancient teeth on biscotti. The misery in this world is constant, Romaine says, one liver-spotted hand to her temple.”

But before she dies, before any of them sound off or disappear for good, there is so much to uncover, and so many questions about unconventional lovers, about deciding not to raise their children, about divorce, about cheating death on a motorcycle, about the origins of their madness. In some instances, Bergman gives us that; she gives us the finality we need to move on to the next tale, but not always.

“I’m really interested in these moments that are distilled,” says Bergman. “It’s flash fiction. Some people really get it, others don’t like it. But it’s the idea that there are these moments that can define a character’s whole life.”

Megan Mayhew Bergman Presentation, Q&A and Book Signing
Sunday, January 25 at 4 p.m.
Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY

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Posted by Nichole on 01/18/15 at 08:29 AM • Permalink