Reading Room Book Reviews: New Books by Hudson Valley Authors in November 2012
New and interesting books with a local flavor
Jason Ocker is fascinated by death. To feed his passion for the gruesome, he set out on a road trip to explore New York’s most macabre attractions. After traveling more than 9,000 miles across the Empire State throughout the course of a year, Ocker compiled his New York Grimpendium: A Guide to Macabre & Ghastly Sites (Countryman Press, $18.95), a hybrid guidebook and travelogue to the state’s ghoulish points of interest — everything from the homes of grisly legends and infamous crime sites to notable graves and cemeteries. Though many of the book’s attractions come from the Manhattan area, the Valley is represented by a dozen and a half eerie locations. Included are Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, home to Washington Irving’s legend; horror movie filming locales like Phoenicia, where 2001’s terrifying Wendigo was filmed; and monuments to the supernatural such as Pine Bush’s Cup and Saucer Diner, which celebrates the town’s reputation as a UFO hot spot. (Read more about Pine Bush’s history with UFOs here.) Offering a wealth of historical detail about the Valley’s spookiest sites alongside the author’s own witty interjections, this book should pique the morbid interest of Valley residents and tourists alike.
As cofounder and director of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Jenny Brown has dedicated her life to rescuing and advocating for farm animals. Her new book The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals (Avery, $26) — written in collaboration with poet and fellow area animal lover Gretchen Primack — details Brown’s journey from Kentucky farm girl to documentary filmmaker to vegan animal-rights activist. Written in a candid, conversational style, Brown’s memoir blends her story with those of many of the animals she helped save, and is a passionate critique of modern factory farming.
The turn of the 20th century was a tumultuous time: The industrial revolution was in full swing, women were fighting for their rights and autonomy, and a booming flower industry earned Rhinebeck the title “Violet Capital of the World.” That’s the background for Kathy Leonard Czepiel’s debut novel A Violet Season (Simon & Schuster, $15), a moving and carefully researched historical tale about Ida and Alice Fletcher, a mother and daughter struggling to survive and keep their share of the family violet farm in trying times. The novel presents a heartbreaking but hopeful story of adversity, endurance, and family drama as both women’s personal and economic sacrifices put them in conflict with each other and with the era’s restrictive view of females. With sensitive, measured prose and a wealth of historical and psychological detail, Czepiel’s novel captures the practicalities of late 19th-century life and uses them to draw the reader into the action.
First published in 2009, Michael Perkins and Will Nixon’s Walking Woodstock: Journeys into the Wild Heart of America’s Most Famous Small Town (immediate right; Bushwhack Books, $18.95) takes the town’s freewheeling spirit to heart by seamlessly blending the directions, history, and description one expects of a guidebook with eclectic personal essays and reminiscences that draw on everything from zen koans to George Romero’s Day of the Dead. With plenty of humor and an easygoing tone, the book makes it easy to retrace the authors’ physical and mental journeys. This year, Perkins and Nixon return with The Pocket Guide to Woodstock (far right; Bushwhack Books, $13.95), a travel-size distillation of their impressive familiarity with the town and its landmarks. Less impressionistic and personal than its big brother, the guide is still jam-packed with destination ideas and local history served up in distinctive Woodstock style, making it the perfect book to grab if you just want to turn on, tune in, and walk around.
Like many erstwhile urbanites, globe-trotting Erica Stein faces disorientation and new challenges when financial problems force her to trade her SoHo loft for a home in sleepy Rhinebeck. As she adjusts to country life, however, she finds herself developing more-than-neighborly feelings for the handsome-but-married Chris Landis in Roberta Seligman’s novel The Seduction of Erica Stein (Epigraph Books, $14.95). As things progress, Seligman presents an impressively complex, realistic relationship that shies away from many of the usual easy solutions and romantic clichés. Seduction is the first part of a planned trilogy, so readers who enjoy the book can look forward to two prequels.
Renowned walker and conservationist Cy A Adler has long advocated constructing a public path along the Hudson River that would stretch all the way from Battery Park to the Adirondacks. In Walking the Hudson: From the Battery to Bear Mountain (The Countryman Press, $15.95) — originally published in 1997 and recently updated and rereleased — Adler guides would-be walkers along the first 56 miles of his ideal riverside trail. Filled with photographs, history, and other information, the guidebook offers a simple and unique way to get up close and personal with our beloved river, and Adler breaks the trek into manageable three- to six-mile chunks for mere mortals.