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Published Upstate

When it comes to summer fare, it’s as easy to read local as it is to eat local

By Darryl McGrath

It’s gotten easier in re cent years for local authors to publish and promote their books, and no less so in the Capital Region, where the summer offers an abundance of titles with upstate connections. It’s well worth checking out the “Books by Upstate Authors” section in area bookstores; think of this as the literary version of the small-farm movement, in which the bumper stickers would urge us to “Read Local.”

“In upstate New York, there are a lot of fabulous authors,” says Rachel King, manager of the Little Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza, a section of the Book House geared toward younger readers. “I would say I’ve seen the numbers increase.”

Several Capital Region services and businesses now support local writers. The Hudson Valley Writers Guild “fosters an active community of writers and readers by encouraging the development of local authors,” according to its mission statement. The guild started in 1983 and has steadily grown through a partnership with the Albany Institute of History and Art that hosts writing workshops.

The State University of New York Press has expanded its original mission as an academic press with its Excelsior Editions: books on regional topics for general readerships. A homegrown self-publishing service—the Troy Book Makers, founded by Susan Novotny of the Book House and Eric Wilska of the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass.—provides first-time upstate authors a print-on-demand outlet.

Local authors capture stories and history that deserve to be told, but which might otherwise be lost and which major publishers would never print. Author Herbert Hyde touched on this at his recent Book House signing for his memoir, College and Eighth, about a bygone section of Troy that disappeared into an expanding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus.

“One of the reasons I wanted to complete this book was because I wanted to encapsulate the history of the neighborhood,” Hyde says.

A sampling of this summer’s local selections:

The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The first half of this ice-cream soda of a book accomplishes for the reader the same thing the author and his partner sought when they impulsively blew their bank account on a 19th-century mansion in Scho harie County: It slows you down until you too are ready to ditch the rat race and plant heirloom tomatoes. And then real life catches up with advertising executive Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his beau Brent Ridge, Martha Stewart’s erstwhile “Dr. Brent” medical personality. In trying to escape their perfection-driven Manhattan careers to become weekend farmers, they in stead re-create them as they launch first a business (goat milk soap), and then a website and blog (beekman for which they relentlessly chronicle an “everyday” life on the farm that’s about as real as Walt Disney World. Along the way, they discover the gay subculture of Schoharie County—go figure—and offer a wickedly funny insider’s subtext based on the question: “What’s it really like to work for Martha Stewart?” Answer: Just like working for Queen Elizabeth I, only people are fired instead of beheaded. (HarperCollins, $24.99.)

The Thunder of Captains, by Dan Lynch. Journalist, author and ex-radio host Dan Lynch has long been intrigued with why English Major General John Burgoyne lost the Battle of Saratoga. In The Thunder of Captains, Lynch offers his interpretation of the popular belief that Burgoyne spent precious time dallying with his mistress when he should have been consulting with his commanders. His theory emphasizes the apocryphal over the factual, and the romance proves to be the less compelling part of Lynch’s narrative. Breeze through the scenes between Burgoyne and his babe, and relish the far more gripping drama of the courageous soldiers behind both lines, the rich descriptions of life in colonial upstate New York—you will recognize place names and scenery—and the interactions among the rebel officers, all of whom can never quite forget that a traitor’s death awaits them should the battle go badly. (Three Lakes Publishing, $19.95.)

Postmortem, by Laurel Saville. Politicians who want to know how they can stop media leaks from their campaigns should study the American family, an institution that’s especially adept at keeping secrets. Two leading taboos: alcoholism and mental illness, both of which colored Laurel Saville’s unconventional upbringing by her brilliant but deeply troubled mother, Anne Ford. Saville, a magazine journalist and fiction writer, tells the story from the perspective of her Bohemian 1960s childhood as she tries to understand her mother’s tragic path from young fashion designer to murder victim. Interspersed through Saville’s memories of her mother’s parties, irresponsible artist boyfriends, lying husbands and hangovers are glimpses of an American fashion industry still under the spell of the groundbreaking mid-20th-century designer Claire McCardell. For women who aspired to similar fame, it was a little like toiling in the recording industry, where you cranked out largely anonymous but creative work in the hope that the next design (or song) could be your lucky break. This is a deeply forgiving account by a daughter who felt her mother deserved a far more loving eulogy than the one that fate originally handed her. (IUniverse, $16.95.)



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