6 Books to Read this October | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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6 Books to Read this October 

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Nineteen Reservoirs: On Their Creation and the Promise of Water for New York City

Lucy Sante
The Experiment, $24.95, 2002

Lucy Sante’s latest book, Nineteen Reservoirs, hits bookshelves just as signs of drought in the Hudson Valley are all around us. Landscapes usually green with late harvests are bone dry and dusty, reminding us how vital a resource water is, and how closely it is tied to prosperity.

Nineteen Reservoirs is a thoroughly researched, handsomely illustrated book that traces the history of New York City’s quest for water during the 20th century. Through close examination of archival material, Sante interrogates the crafty maneuvers city officials employed to establish these reservoirs through eminent domain over the course of 60 years. She presents this reasoning plainly: “My purpose here is not to condemn the reservoir system, without which New York City might have faded into insignificance over the course of the 20th century, not only squelching its vast financial powers but aborting its function as a shelter for millions of people displaced from elsewhere. I would simply like to give an account of the human costs, an overview of the trade-offs, a summary of unintended consequences.”

The book charts New York City’s ongoing need for water and the parallel development of public policy around its acquisition and use. The Croton Reservoir was the first to be engineered in 1842 and was considered at the time to have an “inexhaustible” supply of water for the burgeoning city. Yet by 1907, with the population hovering around four million, New York City’s Board of Water Supply looked to find a more plentiful water source, setting its sights on Ulster County.

What follows is a repeating pattern of growing demand punctuated by exhausted supply, and then further reservoir exploration. The city was rapacious in its quest for water and seemed to view all neighboring rivers and basins as available for the taking. With the money and power to push farmers, townspeople, and small businesses out of the way for reservoir projects, New York City got its way and 26 villages were eventually flooded. Grievances were lodged but residents were largely powerless to make claims until the legal authority to do so was established in the 1950s.

The most ambitious engineering project, the Ashokan Reservoir, began in 1907. Upon its completion 10 years later, it was touted in the press as a “project rivaled only by the Panama Canal as an achievement of America’s engineering might.” The Ashokan had the potential to deliver 770 million gallons of water a day, an astonishing amount at the time. Yet in a recurring theme of the book, by 1916 this amount was insufficient, and the city moved to develop the upstate Schoharie Creek in search of more water.

Nineteen Reservoirs is richly enhanced by archival postcards of forgotten town centers, historic maps, photographs of work crews carving waterways out of earth and crag. The narrative is greatly humanized by this vivid source material; I couldn’t help but think of the rural communities and families in this march toward more urban water faucets. One of the most resonant passages in the book is Sante’s own reflection of living in an upstate community near the Pepacton Reservoir in the 1990s when residents remembered the flooding of their town and seemed to possess “an air of permanent mourning” over the dislocation. At the time, there was a living memory of a community that was torn asunder; one that was never able to feel fully accepted in a new town.

The book’s epilogue includes Tim Davis’s evocative photographs of present-day life near reservoirs. Photos capture still bodies of clean drinking water as well as battered markers of the towns that came before. These are images of rural life in New York State still wrestling with the politics of resource allocation. The book ends with an invitation to reflect on not only on the history of the reservoir system in the Hudson Valley but also larger questions of shared resources. Though Nineteen Reservoirs comes with a stated aim to explore an untold history, even readers not drawn to the subject will find pleasure in reading it.

—Betsy Maury

How to Write a Song That Matters

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Dar Williams
Hachette, $19.99, 2022

Cold Spring resident Dar Williams, a singer-songwriter who has moved the hearts of millions with her well-turned phrases and insightful stories told in song, shares her techniques with the aspiring songwriters among us. Just as her songs plumb the reaches of human experience (for the unfamiliar, start with “The Babysitter’s Here”), this book delves beyond the technicalities of songsmithing to guide you in discovering your own creative wellsprings and finding your own voice to craft songs that are uniquely yours—and a gift to the wider world.

Stories

[image-4] Sparrow
apathy press, $15, 2022

Sparrow is a prolific producer of witty bits of text��"poems that are stories and jokes and epiphanies all rolled into one��"that rattle around intriguingly in the brain and stick there. Phoenicia’s poet laureate is a keen observer of the human condition from a point of view that manages to be both absurd and relatable, as if we are being visited by a droll and empathetic alien. Fans of incisive ironies, concise, revelatory anecdotes, apt aphorisms, and books that taste good whether nibbled or gulped, will be delighted.

Witch Wisdom for Magical Aging

[image-5] Cait Johnson
Destiny Books, $16.99, 2022

Aging with grace and achieving spiritual maturity can feel like a lonesome challenge. Cait Johnson, a Hudson Valley-based transpersonal psychologist and student of shamanism, brings us a witch for each season: the earthy Root Witch of Winter, the airy Winged Witch of Spring, the fiery Summer Merwitch, and the watery Autumn Kitchen Witch. Each of these wise women brings us spells, rituals, ceremonies and recipes appropriate for her season, all calibrated to serve you well as you embrace life’s latter half with creativity, insight and joy.

Witches and Warlocks of New York

[image-6] Lisa LaMonica
Globe Pequot, $19, 2022

We have an enchanting collection of witch tales in these parts, many of them untold outside of the places they originated. Lisa LaMonica has collected lesser-known legends and historical accounts and placed them in historical context for the first time. You’ll meet Hulda, who inspired both the Brothers Grimm and Washington Irving; Elizabeth Garlick, the Easthampton Witch, who was accused and tried long before the famed Salem trials; along with other legends, victims, and sinister spell casters who walked our hills and valleys in a bygone era.

Lily Narcissus

[image-7] Jonathan Lerner
Unsolicited Press, $16, 2022

Growing up an expatriate American in Asia during the Vietnam years would have been passing strange, and Hudson-based writer Lerner—a `60s radical emeritus who joined SDS and founded the militant Weathermen—was inspired by his own experience in writing his third novel, a panoramic whirl of turbulent world history told through the story of an expat family: diplomat father, enigmatic and dramatic mother, and two wildly divergent daughters, each seeking adventure and meaning in a setting brimming with conflict and intrigue.

—Anne Pyburn Craig

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