Sunday, November 11, 2007
Highlights from the Kentucky Book Fair
Something for everyone at the Kentucky Book Fair
Yesterday was my first book fair experience. I attended the 26th Kentucky Book Fair at the Frankfort Convention Center. The local coverage has been tremendous and last week The Pantry was one of two book covers featured in an article on the fair in The Lexington Herald. Well-organized and planned (thanks to Connie Crowe and other organizers and volunteers), the fair drew over 170 authors, most with Kentucky connections.
The theme of the fair this year was the cookbook genre and they included The Pantry in that category as it is food-related. I sat among several cookbook authors but especially enjoyed being right next to Bruce and Shelley Richardson who have published many tea cookbooks (several of which I own) and who used to operate The Elmwood Inn in Perryville, Kentucky where they had a popular tea room (and which is still the site of their tea empire). Now they write and consult widely and develop their own tea blends, publishing some lovely books on tea and places to have tea throughout the world. Bruce introduced me to many Kentuckians in the book and publishing world and I also learned of the fabulous independent booksellers in Lexington and in several other locations, Joseph-Beth, who helped sponsor the book fair.
Of course a bit of shopping was in order (ok, I got a bit carried away) and I browsed other author tables from time to time and enjoyed meeting them. A highlight for me was meeting Wendell Berry, a native Kentucky farmer, writer and poet. He has a quiet, self-deprecating presence and reserve about him and he patiently signed a small pile of books for me. I have always admired his writings about the land, his faith, and perspectives. In many ways he is a modern day Lois Bromfield, one of those people I would like to meet today if I could.
In his day, Bromfield was a great influence on my grandparents' decision to leave the New Jersey suburbs in 1946 and go "Back to the Land". Malabar Farm is today preserved in Lucas County, Ohio, near Mansfield, and operated by the Ohio State Parks Commission. I also met Jon Carloftis, a New York-based garden designer who also has a shop in Kentucky with his mother, at his home place. His recent book First A Garden is a lovely compilation of photographs of his Kentucky home and various gardens he has designed.
Another highlight of the day for me was meeting Catherine Staat who said she has been a "quiet" blog reader for a while (and it is always great to connect with another Catherine!). She and her husband, Blaine, have settled in Kentucky in the past few years, leaving the rat race behind them. As it turns out, they aren't far from where we have landed (both geographically and somewhat in mindset). Catherine keeps her own blog [Mrs. Catherine's] and publishes a magazine called Making It Home. She also home schools two of her children and writes a column, with her husband, for The Casey County News. In a local article about them last year what resonated most for me was that before settling in this part of the world, they realized they were able to afford everything materially that they could want and instead desired to simplify their lives. Thus a move to a quieter, more rural place. "We were kind of saying it was time to stop the world and get off," Blaine was quoted in the article.
Catherine is part of a very large movement of home-based Christian women who are seeking to return the home to the spiritual and physical center of their lives and families. Many of these women also blog--and read mine--and I find their perspectives both of interest and refreshing in today's world. Historically, I would liken it to the Cult of Domesticity in the nineteenth century that advocated the importance of the woman and wife as the spiritual keeper and tender of the hearth and home. I imagine if Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catharine Beecher, authors of The American Woman's Home, were alive today they would be prolific bloggers and have even more of a widespread following.
Another woman, Meryl Randall Ward, an interior designer, stopped by and we started chatting about Kentucky. Native Kentuckians often ask, part curious, part incredulous, "What brought you to Kentucky?" and I just open my arms as if to say, "Look around you!" (As with the places where we live, we often take for granted what we experience every day but while Kentuckians seem to have an innate understanding of their natural world there is also a sense of "why would anyone else like it here?") As it turns out, Meryl grew up on Hickory Nut Ridge where we live and is cousins with many of our neighbors. This was one of many delightful coincidences throughout the day and only seemed to verify our decision to be here.
I enjoyed talking with people about their pantries, why they have them or want them. Many browsers said, "oh I could never have a pantry that looks like that!" but that isn't the point of The Pantry. It is as much a history and fusion of the domestic impulse that drives the home and hearth, a nostalgic journey, as it is a collection of beautiful and inspiring images (if I do say so myself). Everywhere I go people comment on the fine book design and photography and I have the folks at Gibbs Smith to thank for that as well as the fine photography of my friends Susan Daley and Steve Gross. It has been a great journey in The Pantry and I'm glad somewhere amongst that process that we have found Kentucky.