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Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farm House

Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farm House

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by Michael Korda, Research Cor Success, Success Research Cor

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When bestselling author and urban dweller Michael Korda and his wife, Margaret, decide to buy a beautiful but falling-down eighteenth-century house in upstate New York, they discover the hilarious, arduous, and irresistible aspects of country life. Living on the "wrong" side of the Taconic Parkway, where the locals wear bib overalls instead of Ralph Lauren, they are


When bestselling author and urban dweller Michael Korda and his wife, Margaret, decide to buy a beautiful but falling-down eighteenth-century house in upstate New York, they discover the hilarious, arduous, and irresistible aspects of country life. Living on the "wrong" side of the Taconic Parkway, where the locals wear bib overalls instead of Ralph Lauren, they are soon dependent on their elderly caretaker, whose approach to landscaping is to "Whack it all back!" The locals also immediately realize that Michael "don't know %*!# about septics." This witty memoir, replete with Korda's own drawings, is for all who have ever dreamed of owning that perfect little place to escape to up in the country, or, more boldly, have done it.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Michael Korda's Country Matters is a charming and poignant book, filled with stories about making the transition to country life and the more subtle process of becoming part of a world geographically close to the city, but far from it in terms of lifestyle, temperament and values.

However, this is not the tale of any city dweller turned weekend farmer; Country Matters is the stylish and vibrantly recounted memoir of noted author and Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Michael Korda.

Sophisticated citizens of the world, Korda and his wife Margaret embrace the rural countryside of Dutchess County, New York, seeing it initially as a retreat and an escape from their hectic city life. Ultimately, they regard it as a place to finally set down roots and re-connect -- both to their own pasts and to their desire to create a legacy for the future.

The book recounts tales from the couples' more than 20-year love affair with the small upstate town and the very old farmhouse they inhabit. At its heart is a warm portrait of the locals who give Pleasant Valley its color, vitality and authenticity of place. Beautifully and simply written, it is a work that reads like a valentine. Country Matters is alternately hilarious and moving, and is always deeply evocative of the characters that are the soul of the rural countryside it depicts. It is a joyful read for either a weekend getaway or a much-needed fantasy break for the armchair gentry. (Elena Simon)

Elena Simon lives in New York City.

George Plimpton
A wry, lively, informative, and wonderfully written chronicle that puts to the lie any idea that publishing is a stodgy business.
Barbara Tober
Anyone who lives in a fast-changing rural area outside a big city will resonate to Michael's hilarious and sometimes exasperating experiences. Frankly our best friends are the Fire Department!
Nicholas Pileggi
If anybody could make the world of book publishing seem as interesting and lively as show business or the mob, it's Michael Korda, and this book proves it!
Richard Rhodes
Why travel to Provence when smart pigs and charming eccentrics abound right here in rural America? Michael Korda, that sly anthropologist, serves up the humor and the humanity he's found living in the country, and reveals himself and his Margaret to be charming eccentrics themselves (not that that's news to his friends.
Bill Blass
The New York population growth will certainly diminish after Michael Korda's new book appears in bookstores. But despite the love/hate transplanted New Yorkers feel for the countryside, after a short time love wins out. [Country Matters] will become a much loved American classic for everyone.
A.E. Hotchner
If you own a country house or dream of owning one, you'll enjoy this wise and amusing account of the foibles and rewards of giving up busy/big city living for the simplicity of an ailing 18th century farmhouse located in a dairy community in upstate New York.
Talk Magazine
...a prose stylist of surpassing wit and grace.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the latest installment in Korda's series of autobiographical books, which include Charmed Lives, a look at his famous theatrical family's history; Man to Man, his frank book about surviving prostate cancer; and Another Life, his collection of reminiscences about his two decades as editor-in-chief of the publishing house Simon & Schuster. This chatty book describes how Korda and his wife bought a 200-year-old farm in a small town in Dutchess County, N.Y., about 90 miles north of Manhattan. Over the 20-odd years chronicled, the Kordas use a mixture of guile, hard work and perseverance to ingratiate themselves with the locals and truly make the place their own. Many of the episodes, often comedic, document the various renovations of the farmhouse and the mental and physical barriers the Kordas cross in exchanging a glamorous New York lifestyle for one filled with pigs, horses and grubs. Korda, who was born in England, brings a foreigner's eye to his surroundings and on more than one occasion draws distinctions between the genteel rural life of his forebears and those of the lower-middle-class Americans he is surrounded by. Only occasionally does Korda lapse into clich , drawing attention to pariahs such as Dunkin' Donuts and Americans' propensity to drive large, unwieldy vehicles. But the overall effect is charming and oftentimes witty, and in this sense his newest follows in the tradition of other bestsellers, like Peter Mayle's Provence, about dislocation to a place peopled with foreigners and strange ways. (Apr. 16) Forecast: Korda's celebrity and reputation as a literary gentleman will help propel sales among those in the know along the coasts and in the cities. Handselling from booksellers (especially in upstate New York and Connecticut) and national advertising will provide additional sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Twenty-one years ago Korda, editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, and his wife, Margaret, bought an 18th-century farmhouse in Pleasant Valley, NY. Initially, Korda bought the place as an escape from his hectic New York City life; over time, it was a commuter home, which eventually became his primary residence. This interesting, touching memoir, read by Michael Page, chronicles the transformation from the author's high-profile life in Manhattan to country living and includes his witty take on owning pigs, raising and caring for horses, and renovating an old farmhouse. Humorously, he discusses his slow acceptance into this blue-collar neighborhood, the unforgettable friendships, and sharing in common events. His wife, once a fashion model, becomes an avid and competitive horseback rider. A well-written tale that gives the listener a sense of Korda's hard work and perseverance to ingratiate himself with the locals and truly make this country home a place of his own. Recommended. Carol Stern, Glen Cove P.L., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"He Don't Know Shit About Septics"

TWENTY-ONE YEARS AGO, when my wife, Margaret, and I first moved up to the country from New York City and bought an eighteenth century farmhouse in Pleasant Valley, New York, not far from Poughkeepsie, we didn't give much thought to our new neighbors, who were mostly hardworking dairy farmers of seventeenth-century Dutch or English stock and, while not exactly unfriendly, were reluctant to enter into conversation with people who didn't raise Holsteins and weren't interested in the price of milk.

Along with the house, we acquired (or were acquired by) a bluff, jovial, pink-cheeked old man in his late sixties named Harold Roe, a local who mowed lawns and was reputedly handy with a backhoe, a bush hog, a York rake, and a dozer blade — all objects that were soon to loom larger in our lives than we had supposed.

Harold turned up in the driveway the day we took possession of our new home and announced that everything was running to rack and ruin. A bulky, muscular man, despite his age, he waved around him to indicate how widespread our problems were. More than slightly deaf Harold had a voice to wake the dead. Our trees needed pruning, wiring: fertilizing, our lawns needed emergency care, our shrubs wanted "whacking back" — a favorite phrase of his, as we were soon to discover, and by which he meant a kind of scorched earth policy; he didn't like the look of our cedar-shingled roof or our wooden gutters either, into one of which he contemptuously drove the blade of his folding penknife and announced with great satisfaction: "Dry rot."

Although the previous ownerswere still within earshot of normal speech, let alone Harold's roar, and were going through a small emotional moment together as they gave up their home of thirty years, he pointed to them as the source of our troubles. "They was do-it-themselves-ers," he shouted. "Did all the work without knowing how." He voiced his contempt: "Too tight with the dollar to hire help."

Harold was part of a numerous local clan of canny countrymen — there were a good many mailboxes around us that bore the name Roe — and one of his daughters had married into the Daley clan, which was almost as canny and widespread, and included the local highway superintendent and his brother "Turk" Daley, Harold's son-in-law, who dealt in sand, gravel, and septic system installation.

Harold himself, we soon learned, was one of those vanishing Americans who could set his hand to pretty much anything, from welding to fencing, and who put in an uncomplaining fourteen or fifteen hours a day of hard manual labor, for which he insisted on being paid in cash — the offer of a check had roughly the same effect on him as that of a cross when presented to a vampire. His only hobby was snowmobiling, a sport that had not hitherto played any part in our lives-in fact, he was the president of the local snowmobilers' club, and we had hardly shaken hands before he asked us to open up our land to them. This, as we soon discovered, was the first thing most of our neighbors wanted to know about us. Would we keep our land open to the Rombout Hunt, for foxhunting? Would we continue to let our neighbor to the south hay our fields? Would we open our land at the appropriate season to pheasant shooters, bird-watchers, cross-country skiers, and deer hunters, not to speak of one neighbor who trapped animals for their fur? Most of these people took rejection badly. Our home might be our castle, but our land appeared to be community property.

Shortly after we had settled in, on a hot summer day, we gave a dinner party to celebrate our new home, and as I was greeting guests in the driveway, I noticed an unfamiliar and unpleasant smell. I traced it to its source, and found the unmistakable signs of sewage rising in the garden, just in front of the dining room windows. Clearly, the situation was not going to get any better, so even though it was a Saturday evening, I called Harold, who soon appeared with son-in-law Turk in a pickup truck. Together, they sniffed the aroma, agreed on what it was, then proceeded to dig up the garden Harold had only just planted for us at considerable expense.

Since I felt obliged to show a certain amount of interest, I abandoned our guests from time to time to see how the work was getting on and bring Harold and Turk iced tea. Soon they had uprooted Margaret's favorite hedge and dug deep into the lawn, in search of the septic tank. On my next visit I brought them a couple of beers and asked a few questions, if only to show that I was interested and no citified snob. When they finally found the tank, would it have to be replaced? How much of our precious lawn would have to be backhoed if there was a problem with our leach field? Could the broken pipe to the tank — the prime source of the trouble, though not, as it was turning out, the sum total of it — be repaired, or would it have to be replaced?

Neither Harold nor Turk was eager to answer questions. Like surgeons, they refused to make guesses. "We'll have to see," or "It depends," was about as much as I was able to get out of them, and that was that. In the end, they went away as darkness fell, promising to return the next day with a backhoe and a bulldozer, leaving me with the task of telling Margaret that her lawn was about to be transformed into the equivalent of the testing grounds of the Royal Tank Corps at...

Meet the Author

Michael Korda is the author of Ulysses S. Grant, Ike, Hero, and Charmed Lives. Educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Magdalen College, Oxford, he served in the Royal Air Force. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and on its fiftieth anniversary was awarded the Order of Merit of the People's Republic of Hungary. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in Dutchess County, New York.

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Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farm House 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am compelled to write this review, in the hopes of persuading others to NOT MISS this extremely accurate, entertaining, and heartfelt book about all things country. I had bought this book about a year ago because it struck me as being about the kind of life and home my husband and I were searching for. Now, having finally found our dream house (in the middle of nowhere, complete with the same acreage, wildlife encounters, and ongoing home repair challenges that Korda so brilliantly describes), I sat down and read the book cover to cover in three days. I simply could not put it down, other than when I had to go check on my leaky pipes or chase a bat out of the house. While my version of country living is, no doubt, on a smaller scale financially than Korda's, country living is grand nonetheless, and he does a perfect job of relating the trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumph that goes along with it. If you've ever experienced or imagined having your own plot of land, an old house, and horses in the barn... then quite simply, you MUST read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago