6.20.2010

Review: Josh's Bucolic Plague

Is it possible to become delerious with ruralistic pursuits of ideal farm life? Can overwork, stress and a driving desire to sustain a centuries-old mansion in a recession be cured by homemade cheese, handmade soap and a bevy of loving goats? Can the fragrance of Martha Stewart's peonies intoxicate a person and cause him to lose all good judgment, sensibility and bladder control? The answers to these questions lie in the pages of Josh Kilmer Purcell's hilarious and surprisingly honest memoir called "The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers."

Josh is someone I consider to be a friend, even though I've only met him once at his glorious farm/mansion in Sharon Springs, New York: the Beekman, as it's known locally. His partner, Dr. Brent Ridge, is also someone I call a friend, though to this day we have not met in person. Our paths crossed in 2008 after I saw Brent on The Martha Stewart Show making soap with Martha using milk from the goats on his farm. At the time, Brent was the senior vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and wrote a monthly column for the magazine. Always eager to blog, I wasted no time investigating their Beekman 1802 brand of handmade soaps and housewares and ordered a batch for myself - several batches in fact. The pair were so thankful for the free publicity (which I'm told brought much-needed traffic and sales to the Beekman) that they embraced me with open arms. We're friends to this day and I can't wait to return to Sharon Springs for another visit. (Hopefully celebrity and fame haven't gone to their heads too much, now that they have a hit reality show on Planet Green: The Fabulous Beekman Boys.) But back to the book...
My copy arrived a couple weeks ago, courtesy of Josh, and it coincided with the arrival of their "After the Garden" soap at the Anthropologie store where I work. I wasted little time using the beautiful soap wrapping as a bookmark, gluing it onto cardstock for firmness. I brought the book with me on my trip to Ottawa and I devoured it over the course of two days.

My first impression was how honest the book was, charting the good, the bad and the ugly sides of this dreamy pursuit of country living, which in reality is nothing like it is portrayed in the magazines. Josh examines the stresses and strains of starting a new business, maintaining a healthy relationship and building a dream as a couple, all the while attempting to enjoy the journey, the beautiful setting and the new community. His writing style is conversational and witty, making it easy to fall in love with the story being told.

Fans of Martha will not be disappointed either. She looms large in their lives (both idealistically and realistically) and Josh pens several very funny anecdotes about his encounters with Martha over the years, including a Fourth of July dinner at Lily Pond Lane and her famous Peony Party at Bedford - probably the most memorable Martha Moment the book contains!

What the reader is left with is a sense of admiration for these fabulous Beekman boys: for trying so hard to make a dream come true, for not slitting their wrists or killing each other in the face of desperate times and for letting an historic town, battered by a propeller of insufferable economies over the decades, capture their hearts and harness their determination to make their mark. You can order the book here.

16 comments:

Andrea said...

I can't wait to read it! I sadly do not get their show on my satellite package, but perhaps the book will help fill the void. Thanks for such a great blog!

Ailsa said...

Thanks for that review Andrew. I think I have to order it now.
Especially since the other day while I was watching TLC, they had a commercial for the FBBs show on Planet Green! So mean to tease like that!

Kevin said...

I just ordered my copy from Amazon! Can't wait for it to arrive! :-)

Kevin

Chantel I. said...

Thanks for giving us a sneak peek into the book. I've been very interested to find out more about the Beekman Boys ever since you first mentioned them on your blog. It's unfortunate that we don't get Green Planet in Vancouver, otherwise I'd watch the show. Josh's book is the next best thing though, so I've just finished ordering it. Can't wait to take it on vacation for some summer reading.

Anonymous said...

I have not read the book, but I have read comments about their "economic hardships" while trying to make a go of farming. I think that should be kept in perspective, and perhaps he does in the book. Josh was a successful author before his farming stint, and Brent a NYC doctor, as well as former MSLO employee, so these two were not starting from scratch as a penniless duo. I imagine they had a nest egg, and somewhat of a cushion to start them off. But it seems they know how to make lemonade from lemons, and Josh, especially, seems very savvy about turning life experiences into opportunities.

Ailsa said...

I just went to Andrew's link on his review and watched the first episode online. Real and honest is right! It almost has a touch of melancholy to it, esp. when Josh says "This could be a nightmare"... I feel for them.
I do hope that the endeavour becomes easier as time goes by and that the boys find a way to co-exist through this adventure, both together and apart. I hope Brent learns to loosen up a bit and Josh can humour his "empire" dream.

jim said...

You can watch episodes on Planetgreen's website. Here's a link for an episode from the series


http://tinyurl.com/2enwat6

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

As I say, the book is very honest. Josh does make reference to their finances, including the fact that they were both making A LOT of money at the time they purchased the mansion....but then they were both laid off and had no jobs for months, all the while trying to start a business and run a farm. Read the book. It's great!

Kenn said...

I think this is Josh's best work to date!

Pru said...

I'll have to order the book. I couldn't make up my mind if to get it or not but now I am sold. The garden soap is wonderful (the joy of Anthro in London!) and I love the idea of using the wrapper as a bookmark.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell said...

Thank you for the very thorough review, Andrew. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

And, yes, you are right...we were very honest with this book. Interestingly, I think people see "bestseller" and "tv show" and think that they add up to riches. In truth, I did the math once, and I earn less than minimum wage for the hours that go into each book. And the TV show actually costs us money in the hours we have to give over to filming.

I share this because I think it's important and healthy. Many of us aspire to "good things" and a good life like Martha's. And that's honorable and admirable. We should all delight in style, great food, and good company.

But we should also acknowledge that part of a good life is, as one of the commenters says, learning to "turn life experiences into opportunities." To butcher a cliche: Serve a man some Martha Stewart lemonade and he'll drink for a day. Share with people how to squeeze the rotten lemons life handed you, and you'll both come out of prison thirty pounds lighter and wearing a fetching poncho."

Anonymous said...

the advertising free advertising that is generated on the internet and elsewhere if it were billable hours to be paid by the boys would be an enormous sum. Once it is on the internet it is here to stay . People love to live vicariously through the actions of others. the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Imagine.

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Bitter, bitter, bitter!

Anonymous said...

Bitter facts? Bitter facts boiled down to the bone -- --it is a blueprint -template for the next successful inter net business. lesson number one. if people live vicariously through visiting a web site more visits equal more hits which translates into a more popular site which translates into a potential for advertisers to reach more customers. Is this not true please correct me if i am wrong.


The mind is a terrible thing to waste-- was a popular tag line for the United negro College Fund public service announcements back in the day -- and a tag line that is Iconic , withstands the test of time and is a Brilliant statement-- correct me if i am wrong please.

If something leaves the internet once posted how does that happen ?? if it indeed does, well you have that capacity on this here blog do you not? I guess I won't be seeing this comment any time soon so perhaps I do stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of fetching ponchos -- where are the sheep to shear and wool to card and spin into hanks to then steep in willow leaves to crochet into fetching ponchos. Oh work some sheeps milk cheese into all that to please. Where are the solar panels to generate electricity to eliminate a bill from con-ed. And is the commuter car a hybrid or does it run on bio diesel

Anonymous said...

Andrew,dear sweet Andrew, when will your memoir hit the book stores?????. I am Sure I speak for your adoring public ---when will we turn the pages of your life story. A man who single handedly raised the consciousness of an addled public regarding the misfortune of a woman who had fortunes.