Simply put, "The Bucolic Plague" by Josh Kilmer-Purcell was a fun and engrossing read. When you read a book you really enjoy, it's often difficult to describe to others exactly why you thought the book was so great. For me, "The Bucolic Plague" is one of those books, but I will attempt to explain why I was reading this book for hours on end - turning page after page.
First off, Josh Kilmer-Purcell does a masterful job in creating an intimate closeness with the reader. The friendly tone of the entire memoir makes you feel as if you're sitting next to him on the couch while he's explaining to you how he and his partner went from high-profile Manhattanites to goat farmers in upstate New York. In this hectic instant-gratification world the story strikes a chord because it is a familiar one to many people - the yearning to throw away your rush-hour-9-to-6-5-days-a-week-plus-overtime career and settle to a simpler, idyllic life in the country on a farm. Maybe you'll own some livestock - a couple of cows, maybe a goat. Growing your own vegetables fresh from your prize-winning organic heirloom garden. While many of us may not agree with (or perhaps even like) Martha Stewart, nevertheless when we picture that ideal farmhouse most of us picture a perfect home straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog. Partners Josh and Brent take the plunge and turn their dream into a reality by purchasing a stately farm mansion in the middle of Sharon Springs, New York.
What follows is the reinvention of the Beekman Mansion from a simple weekend getaway home to a full-fledged, working farm - including the monetary need to survive! Josh explains the constant struggle to maintain the everything-is-always-wonderful facade while running around at breakneck speeds in the background, furiously attempting to tame reality in order to maintain the external image of perfection. The struggles and joys experienced by both he and his partner Brent during the transformation process bring a personal intimacy which changes the tone of the memoir from a story about a house into a story about the people.
In the end, "The Bucolic Plague" was a page-turner not because it was suspenseful nor dramatic; but rather because it was like catching up with an old friend and wanting to know all the details of their life in the time you spent apart.
I just have to share the first lines of the prologue from this book with you. "The last time I saw 4 A.M., I was tottering home in high heels and a matted wig sipping from the tiny bottles of Absolut that I always kept in my bag for emergencies. Emergencies like "last call"." I just had to see what would happen next! The author, Josh Kilmer-Purcell goes on to explain that now, a decade later, he's digging through a backpack with milk bottles for 5 baby goats that he's transporting in his pickup truck to the filming studio for the Martha Stewart Show that will be featured on the show telling about their handmade goat milk soap business in upstate New York.
Josh and his partner, Brent who is the one working for the Martha Stewart show (Josh is a advertising exec and author) come upon what they find out is the Beekman Mansion, a 4,500 square food mansion built in 1802 which has been renovated but on the market, for sale for the last four years. They're up in the area on a fall apple picking outing. The mansion is in Sharon Springs, a tiny little town in upstate New York, about a 3 1/2 hour train ride and drive from Manhattan where they own a tiny apartment and have high powered, big city jobs. They call Michelle, the local real estate agent and tour the mansion which they fall in love with. It's beautifully restored, complete with a family crypt in the back, a barn and another small structure which could serve as servant quarters. The place is listed for $1,000,000 but they make a low ball offer which is accepted.
A man named John who has seventy some goats leaves a letter in their mailbox asking if they need a caretaker in exchange for housing the goats. Although Brent is dead against all these goats in their barn, Josh eventually just brings them in and Brent is won over by their cuteness. The book tells about all of their adventures (and some misadventures) as they become totally involved in their new community, balancing jobs in the city during with weekends in this bucolic place.
I thought from the first chapter that the book would be funny all the way through. There were certainly a lot of laugh out loud moments, but also many touching, serious parts as Josh and Brent confront the realities of becoming gentlemen farmers on the weekends (They plant huge vegetable gardens) and struggling as the economy tanks with all the Wall Street meltdowns in 2006 through 2008. He's an excellent writer and the book was completely entertaining. It was a quick read although it was about 300 pages simply because I didn't want to put it down. I fell in love with this small town and it's people which made me do some daydreaming of my own about how cool it would be to do something just like they did.
Two thumbs up for this book!
on June 25, 2010
As an eco-blogger, I'm usually drawn to the "green" aspects of a book, such as how Brent and Josh planted an organic, historically correct vegetable garden and how they tried to grow or raise everything that they ate or at least buy everything from the local Sharon Springs area (all very admirable but clearly exhausting for two boys from Manhattan who lived at the Beekman on the weekends). Instead, I found myself drawn to their story of personal and financial struggle to make the Beekman both a home and a business. The result of their efforts, [...] is part lifestyle guide and part online shop for goods made using the Beekman's Goat Milk.
It was even more interesting to read Josh's account of how the recession, in which both he and Brent lost their jobs, affected their business, their relationship and their daily lives. All of it seemed so horribly familiar but it was comforting to know that even the Fabulous Beekman boys were affected and yet, they seem to have gotten through.
Anyway, I highly recommend checking the book out.
I can't believe this book sat in my house for weeks before I began to read it.
I was sucked into The Bucolic Plague because Josh Kilmer-Purcell is so engaging and funny. Funnier than David Sedaris. And when the subject matter got less funny and more troubled, I stayed because I cared. Imagine, if you will, a book that covers the difficulty of being unemployed, the difficulty of maintaining a relationship when under extreme stress, the difficulty of being OVERemployed, and a real estate agent who points out that the pool on a property is close to the crypt, which should be convenient if anyone happens to drown. That is this book, and thinking of it brings a smile to my face. Highly recommended.
on January 27, 2011
Life's a peach, 'til it ain't.
All the while there is love and there is laughter, until all that's left are the long, lonely spaces between each.
There is idealism until it nosedives into cynicism, and there is, even, cynicism within idealism, and perhaps most importantly, idealism buried within the most bitter, difficult times that give rise to, you guessed it, more cynicism.
Like say, the great fall of our economy in 2008. Giants fall hard. Deeply dent the earth. Tears are shed. Bones are broken. Wallets, decaying into nothing. Soap, unsold. With some luck, though, there's getting back up to see what's next.
In "The Bucolic Plague," getting back up is two men who fell in love, fell out of themselves and away from each other trying to achieve their two different ideas of perfection, who then somehow, from the resulting tumult, begin to understand life's richest details aren't actually in the details.
They're in the great broad strokes of experience we should all be so lucky to share with the loves of our lives.
It's been a while since I read a book so quickly. Author Josh Kilmer-Purcell's prose is simple and to the point and therefore an easy read. But don't mistake its simplicity for banality (although there is some of that, just not much). Think of it as a metaphor for the idea behind a simple life of two men on a farm (complete with endless flies), living off some goats, a cow, a vegetable garden truly a labor of love, and a cat that hitches rides on humans.
You read the book, thinking it's simple, until of course it isn't. Instead you find it not just funny or un-put-downable, but unexpectedly moving. And then, if you're like me, you write about it.
on May 8, 2010
I loved every minute of this book, from the crap-smeared frolicking kids in the opening chapter to the anticipation-ripe origin story, the swirl of early, eager idyll, the joys and perils of quick success, the frozen nights, the fights, and the sad relinquishing of the Beekman dream. Josh Kilmer-Purcell writes with a perfect balance of acerbic wit and generosity, and captures the ups and downs of chasing and redefining a crazy dream. I have a special love of this story, as it parallels my own downshifting/fledgling rural business experience (though my dramas and successes have been far more modest). And it's not the stunt journalism so pervasive in the whole green yuppie back-to-basics world. It's not windy or preachy or self-congratulatory. It's smart and honest and as much about relationships and the mechanics of going out on a limb as it is about transitioning to the simple life.
You'll find yourself laughing, envying, worrying, and above all, rooting for them, right to the end. I feel inspired to get off my fat ass and get back into my garden, and I can't wait for The Fabulous Beekman Boys!
on March 16, 2011
My friend from Cooperstown, New York sent me this book and a bar of the "Winter" soap as a gift. (I haven't used the soap yet because it is so pretty!) I read through the book so fast--it is absolutely hysterical! It is not easy for a book to make me laugh and I have never laughed so hard as I did reading this book. Kilmer-Purcell's self-deprecating humor is just too funny! I highly recommend this book for a good laugh and a wonderful read. I will be out to visit the Beekman mansion on my next visit to upstate New York. I will send everyone I know who goes to visit the area out to see you all in Sharon Springs! I feel like I have family there after reading this wonderful book!
Immediately I should warn you that comparisons of "The Bucolic Plague" to classic TV series Green Acres are specious. Sure there are colorful local folk but they are not rubes. The lead characters are both from rural heritages and not the befuddled city slickers that got their comeuppance by the locals on an ongoing basis as on Green Acres.
Author Josh Kilmer-Purcell is a Type A advertising executive and best-selling memoir writer/contributor to the gay publication Out Magazine who has fallen under the spell of Oprah. His long-time life partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, is a Type AAA physician who is working for Martha Stewart's empire where he is a frequent on-air contributor to her television program as well as her fussiest disciple. As Josh writes, "He was Martha Stewart Living./I was Living My Best Life."
As part of their traditions as a couple, once a year they leave Manhattan and go apple-picking. On one of these excursions they wind up in Sharon Springs, NY where, by accident they find the Beekman Mansion, a 19th Century classic home that just happens to be for sale.
Quicker than you can say "You go girls" the guys decide to buy the house with the goal of ultimately giving up The Big Apple for the apple orchard on the property and living a more authentic life as their lives barrel towards the dreaded age of 40 ("It was the growing realization of the half of my life that was gone that was making me so determined to enjoy the half that was left of it.")
Then comes the 21st Century and the economic meltdown that throws both their lives into hyper-drive.
"The Bucolic Plague" is the story of how they succeeded and failed both personally and professionally, as they made the transition from gay culture to agriculture, including ghosts, goats and goats' milk soap, a cow named Cow, zombie flies, heirloom vegetables, Wabi Sabi, marimbaphones and a boom or bust Internet website (coming soon a Cable TV show starring Josh & Brent as "The Beekman Boys).
A quick and enjoyable read with a big heart imbued by Kilmer-Purcell's acerbic, skewed, hilarious point of view, "The Bucolic Plague" is honest, unfussy and well worth rolling up your sleeves and harvesting its pleasures.
on January 9, 2012
This book was a gift from someone who knows how much I love gardening and farming. On that alone, this book was not terribly interesting. Josh spends a day tilling a garden bed, but that's about the only real details we hear, other than the tremendous bounty of beautiful produce they glean from it. Considering they're only there on the weekends, how was this possible?
But I could have overlooked that. The killer for me is that the subtitle, or at least the description on the back of the book, should have mentioned Martha Stewart. She practically plays a starring role in this book simply by how many times she's referenced. Nearly every chapter brings her up in some way. It was akin to name dropping, but if I had her dropped on me one more time, I was going to lose it. So I stopped reading at Chapter 13. It felt too much like, "We're so cool, we know Martha Stewart!" Okay, we got it, you spent one 4th of July at her home. You don't need to keep telling us!
If you're looking for a superficial, light read that is a kind of ode to Martha, you might like it. But you have been warned!
on August 1, 2010
If you saw any episodes of the documentary/reality show, "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" on Planet Green cable, you're already familiar with the circumstances of how this came to be. Josh Kilmer-Purcell - an author , advertising exec and former drag queen - and his life-partner of more than a decade, Dr. Brent Ridge - known to many for his appearance on Martha Stewart's TV show - were on their annual apple-picking road trip in central New York State, when they stumbled upon the village of Sharon Springs and, more importantly, the beautiful Beekman mansion, which they decided to buy as a means of transitioning to a simpler life. The book is actual a prequel to the TV show, going much more into the thought process, covering what was going on in their respective careers at the time, as well as developing the early roadblocks they encountered, including personal disappointments and financial setbacks.
While both lived in rural areas as a child, Josh was the only one with any practical knowledge about living on a farm, but they were both smart enough to know they'd need help, and accepted the offer of a local gay farmer, John, who moved on site with his herd of baby goats and tried to help the city boys through their transition to weekend farmers. The goats also indirectly provided the farm's first "cash crop" ... actually soap made from the goats' milk, which they sold locally and through a website after Brent appeared with the goats on Martha's TV show.
The combination of two high-pressure careers, long commutes each weekend, plus strenuous farm chores (scheduled by Brent, an admitted perfectionist), strained their relationship to an alarming degree. Finding "how to" farming info on the internet didn't always work, and the the farm became more work than they ever imagined. The added pressure of maintaining two homes seemed even greater, when the burst economy threatened their "day jobs" that were paying the bills. Their struggles are touching and real, although the overall tone of the book remains mostly hopeful and positive, thanks to Kilmer-Purcell's ability to point out the irony or humor in most situations. It is a book that is beautifully written, witty, and completely captivating, as well as strongly recommended to anyone who has (or might have) a dream they need to pursue. Don't roll around in the hay pile (It's not what you think), but give this book five clear, moonlit stars out of five.
- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine