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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