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Short Book Reviews for November 2015 

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THE CATSKILLS: ITS HISTORY AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA

Stephen M. Silverman and Raphael D. Silver

Knopf, 2015, $45

From Rip Van Winkle to the Borscht Belt, the Catskills have had a distinctive hold on American culture. Silverman and Silver's lively, photo-filled history is a rich buffet of robber barons and immigrant dam-builders, tummlers and hippies, Hudson River School painters and bootleggers, the Harlem headliners of Peg Leg Bates Country Club, and the cross-dressers of Casa Susanna. Honey, it's home. Appearing 11/4 at 7pm, Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck; 11/7 at 1pm, Catskill Mountain Foundation, Hunter; 11/21 at 3pm, Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany.

THE GUNKS (SHAWANGUNK MOUNTAINS) RIDGE AND VALLEY TOWNS THROUGH TIME

Ronald G. Knapp and Michael Neil O'Donnell

Fonthill Media, 2015, $22.99

This ingenious book pairs historical photos, mostly black and white or sepia-toned, with the same landscapes in 21st century color. Some landscapes appear grandly unchanged, but there are startling additions (New Paltz's Town and Country Condominiums and Starbucks franchise) and subtractions (Minnewaska Lake's ill-fated Cliff House and Wildmere hotels). Informative historical descriptions make this addictive browsing for locals and fans of the region.

WALLKILL VALLEY WRITERS ANTHOLOGY 2015

Introduction by Kate Hymes

Soul Garden Press, 2015, $15

The diverse and talented wVw workshop has assembled its second "collection of poems, stories, and personal essays we just can't keep to ourselves." This edition features a striking variety of work by 18 local writers, including the late Barbara Taylor Martin. From workshop leader Hymes' poem "Believe": "Hold within you the knowing/ Wounds are possibilities/ Made manifest at the edge-tip/ Of scratchy pens and sharpened tongues."

TALKING WALLS: CASTING OUT THE POST-CONTACT STONE-WALL-BUILDING MYTH

Matt Bua

Publication Studio Hudson, 2015, $23

The first thing you notice is this handsome book's binding, a visible stitchery of metal wire. How apt that an artist's book examining the history and metaphor of wall-building should be bound by a handbuilt structure! Bua's "amateur but passionate investigation" of his Catskill home turf opens a dialogue: Were our local stone walls all built by hardy Colonial farmers, or are some indigenous, perhaps prehistoric? Appearing at Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, Date TBA.

ORGANIC STRUGGLE: THE MOVEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IN THE UNITED STATES

Brian K. Obach

MIT Press, 2015, $29

SUNY New Paltz Professor of Sociology Obach traces the organic farming movement from its 1970s counterculture roots ("more potluck than policy") to a multibillion-dollar industry, replete with government regulations and corporate investment. Examining local CSA farms and food markets as well as federal food policy, he asks, "Where is the movement moving?" Book talk and panel discussion with Liana Hoodes and Dan Guenther 11/11 at 4pm, College Hall Honors Center, SUNY New Paltz.

UPSTATE CAULDRON: ECCENTRIC SPIRITUAL MOVEMENTS IN EARLY NEW YORK STATE

Joscelyn Godwin

Excelsior Editions, 2015, $29.95

Celebrate All Saints Day with this fascinating study of alternative religions, utopian communities, and Doomsday cults, tracing what Godwin calls "the spiritual archaeology of Upstate New York." You've heard of Shaker founder Mother Ann Lee and Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, but what about Seneca visionary Handsome Lake, "sleeping preacher" Rachel Baker, free love apostle John Humphrey Noyes, Theosophist Madame Blavatsky, or hollow Earther Cyrus Reed Teed? Pull up a pew.

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