Editor’s letter

Friday, October 06, 2017

Hi, friends:

This time last week I had just gotten back from an overnight trip to Boston. I stayed with an old friend, which was fun, but the purpose of the visit was to give a talk about my most recent book, “Enter Helen,” a biography of the late Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. I don’t travel much for book events  —  too hard with a fulltime job and little ones — but I decided to do this one, partly because the host, who had read about “Enter Helen” in the New York Times, sounded so interesting. Her name is Joyce Linehan, and she is the Chief of Policy for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. She’s also a major mover and shaker in the arts, a former punk-rock promoter and an overall cultural and political force — she’s credited with convincing Elizabeth Warren to run for Senate — who for the past couple of years has been hosting readings at her house, where she gathers guests from government, social services, the arts and other areas.

I’m glad I went. Among other things, the informal salon-style gathering allowed me to engage with people about some of my favorite topics: feminism, journalism and the future of magazines, to name a few. Coincidentally, we talked quite a bit about Hugh Hefner, whom I interviewed for the book — HGB admired him greatly as an editor — and later found out that he died the same night.

All in all, it was a fun, invigorating exchange of opinions and ideas, and I came home wondering if such a salon exists anywhere in the Pioneer Valley. There’s a national house concert movement, but it would seem that hosting authors is much easier than pulling off concerts. And in addition to inviting authors to speak at her house, Joyce also exhibits artists’ work on her walls in a kind of rotating gallery. Anyway, it struck me as an inspired way to pull together all these different areas of a community, and if we have anything like it here in the Valley, I certainly would be interested in learning more.

Speaking of cool houses, this week Steve Pfarrer interviewed Amherst’s Lou Conover, a decorative-tile designer whose installations cleverly combine utility and art. Steve also wrote our cover story on fall bike rides. He spent the better part of a week consulting maps, testing out roads and then working with our design editor, Lucy Pickett, to create maps of four routes with little traffic, leafy coverage and lovely views. Personally, my favorite bike rides are ones that end with lunch at a cute restaurant — Steve and our photo editor Carol, who also loves to bike, were confounded by my question, “But what will you eat for lunch?” — but serious or even semi-serious bike riders will find much to enjoy in Steve’s writeup starting on page 12.

If you try any of the routes out for yourself this weekend, let us know if you liked the ride! Also, don’t forget: The 2017 Ashfield Fall Festival takes place on the town’s Main Street this Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days, rain or shine. Admission is free, and parking is available in lots east of the town center on Route 116. I look forward to this fest all year.

Finally, Ilan Stavans is back with a new essay, “In Praise of Improvisation.” It’s a subject he knows well as both a teacher and an appreciator of the arts, including jazz. Of course, Ilan is quite the cultural influencer himself. This Sunday, at 2 p.m., he will be in conversation with Norton Juster, author of “The Phantom Tollbooth,” at the Yiddish Book Center. Ilan is also the host of the still-new NEPR podcast, “In Contrast,” exploring “creativity and the creative process through the eyes of artists, activists, translators, writers, politicians and musicians, in a space that encourages diverse perspectives and where divergent voices can be heard,” according to press notes. New episodes are released on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. And, of course, you can find him here again in November.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend.

Brooke Hauser