“Telluride Inside…and Out” is all about what makes Telluride sing, which comes down to the soaring, quirky, original voices of locals such as Ilene and Richard Barth, pedigreed authors in their own right, and also founders/owners of the New York-based boutique gift book publishing company, Red Rock Press.
Red Rock Press’s new holiday book is “A Christmas Dinner” by Charles Dickens, with a series of original paintings for illustrations, and holiday recipes, many taken and adapted from Dickens’ family papers.
Red Rock Press founder and part-time local Ilene Barth explains how her publishing company and this book came about, with detours to reflect on Telluride’s past and present literary riches. Let Ilene tell the story:
Red Rock Press: The history
By Ilene Barth
A decade ago, some things were going right in my life but one big thing wasn’t: I wasn’t spending nearly as much time in Telluride with my family as I wanted. I was the fulltime journalist, heading back to my job in the big city, while my husband, a teacher, and our three children frolicked in the mountain sunshine for several weeks.
I named the antidote to this, the fix for my working life, my boutique (read “small”) gift book publishing company, Red Rock Press. Surely, I don’t need to describe to you the inspiration for its name.
“Why gift books?” some have asked me. It’s a fair question since until then my career had been rooted in political-issue commentary and literary criticism. The answer is that while I care passionately about language use and imparting ideas, I had to find a form for them to suit the new life I hoped for, and I had to have a business idea for which I could raise seed money. Gift books are concept books, i.e. they’re as good as their topics and executions but they don’t depend on expensive, name-brand authors to sell. Gift books can retail in outlets beyond bookstores. Sadly, there are many fewer bookstores in the U.S. today than there were 15 years ago.
I didn’t think launching a venture such as Red Rock Press would be easy, but then again I didn’t fully realize that the liberty it would give me was the freedom to work any 16 hours per day I chose. But many of those hours—and the too few I had left over for the rest of my life—could be spent in Telluride. Working in Telluride isn’t playing in Telluride but it’s better than working most other places. Here play is proximate, only a short hike or lift ride away.
Another truth is that with a FedEx account, the Internet, a cell-phone and, now, Skype, one can run an enterprise from almost anywhere. Most of the time, no one really knows where you are. Even though, I didn’t appreciate this fully in the planning stage, the Naisbitts, whose first book I had reviewed for Newsday and the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post newswire, were an inspiration. (Not personally – I didn’t know them and would’ve had to excuse myself from commenting for a major publication on their work if I had.) It was the idea that they could accumulate enough international information here for prescient analysis that helped get me going. In the clear, sometimes bracing, Telluride air one can think.
Fish from Telluride’s vast talent pool- local contributors:
Although, I can and do work with authors, artists, and designers all over the country – including a few I still haven’t met – the depth of the talent pool in tiny Telluride is considerable. Most local writers are visible, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a few such as Rob Schultheis and Art Goodtimes contribute to a collection of new essays called Charity that we published a few years back. They contributed because the book’s extraordinary editor, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, invited them to do so.
Rosemerry has also written two little holiday books for Red Rock Press: The Christmas Candle Book, which is an illustrated collection of her poems, and More Christmas Angels which rests on her fine prose.
A surprise author – you probably know him as a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, enthusiastic local actor and husband of this blog’s mainstay writer – has also contributed a book to this series. He is none other than Clint Viebrock, and his work is The Christmas Animal Book, illustrated with antique Christmas cards on its topic. All our small “Celebration” series hard covers draw their art from similar sources.
Most Telluride locals don’t know all the writers who live among us, though. There is, for example, one very literary couple, a husband and wife, each a highly praised novelist—and deservedly so—who journey here from New Mexico every summer to write in the beauty and the quiet. One half of this couple has spent whole summers here since she was a child, in the 1960s, and still she walks on Colorado Avenue without being much noticed. But, then again, isn’t this the valley where an unnoticed Nabokov chased butterflies of a 1950s’ summer.
But I digress, and of course, I do. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Telluride and fine literature are strangers – even if Red Rock Press is a mere gift book publisher.
“A Christmas Dinner”
Red Rock Press’s newest author is Charles Dickens. This season, we proudly publish his very first Christmas sketch, A Christmas Dinner, written in 1835 when Charles was only 23. During the winter holiday period locals and guests also have the opportunity to see Dickens’ short masterwork, A Christmas Carol, performed on stage. The story has become such a theatrical mainstay that many don’t realize that it started life as a story printed on pages, not as a live-action drama.
The fact of A Christmas Carol being presented at The Palm on December 22 makes the publication of A Christmas Dinner, all the more important an event. We are celebrating the happy coincidence by making our book available for sale in the lobby the night of the performance by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, and we plan to donate some proceeds to support the great venue.
Peter Ackroyd, who wrote the introduction for our book is both the lead literary critic of The Times of London, and the foremost living biographer of Dickens. In his revelatory Foreword to A Christmas Dinner, Ackroyd tells us how, in 1835, Christmas was enjoyed by relatively few families on either side of the Atlantic. Blame the legacy of those blasted Puritans. Ultimately, they were responsible for both the poor stiffs who have to go to work on Christmas Day – and for old Scrooge himself.
But young Charles Dickens thought that Englishmen – and their American cousins – ought to reach further back to richer traditions and find pleasure in Christmas, in special foods and, yes, drink, in giving gifts, singing, in kissing under the mistletoe. Yes, he went the whole nine yards toward a modern Christmas – without it being overtaken by commercialism. Actually, young ink-stained Charles soon had help from a formidable quarter is putting forward his radical agenda for Christmas. His comrade in celebration was the one and only Queen Victoria, herself young then and very much in love with her German prince of a husband, Albert, who had known the fun of Christmas in his homeland. So the queen did it up in the palace for Christmas, beckoning the upper class to follow, much as Dickens’ writings were a beacon to the expanding middle classes.
There I go again—digressing, when, to tell the truth, Peter Ackroyd, and culinary historian Alice Ross tell it much better, respectively, on the Foreword and Afterword pages of A Christmas Dinner. Alice has also come up with a trove of holiday recipes from a cookery book written by Catherine (Mrs. Charles) Dickens, and from other old sources. In our new book, we print them as they were originally presented, and then Alice Ross goes two steps further. She tells today’s cooks how to prepare them in a fireplace as they were once made, and then she adapts the recipes for the tastes and techniques of modern cooks with modern stoves.
The multiple narratives in A Christmas Dinner are engrossing but the secret ingredient lies in their presentation, and for that, two talented women of Telluride deserve the credit. In a way, no one leads a more secret creative life in this town than the people who design, not our showcase houses (even our small, humble houses are amazing inside), but what we read. In this matter of resurrecting the initial Christmas achievement of Charles Dickens, I speak of the artist who near to three years ago designed its brilliant cover. She is Allison Crilly.
My hat really tips, though, to the artistic designer who, for over two long years, met challenge after challenge, to compose this book’s lovely interior. This is Susan Smilanic. Susan worked unstintingly on this project so long, that during its course, she and her children moved from Telluride to Durango, established one household there and then another. Through seasons of falling in love – and out – and even more momentous firsts, such as her children starting school, Susan unstintingly gave her best to this project. And her efforts show.
In Telluride, we tend to think of great beauty as natural, because we are surrounded by so many dramatic instances of that. I hope this holiday you will also look at the inner beauty between the covers of "A Christmas Dinner" by Charles Dickens, published by Red Rock Press.
Telluride’s local bookstore, Between the Covers, carries Red Rock Press books. In addition to “A Christmas Dinner,” “I’d Bark But You Never Listen: An Illustrated Guide to the Jewish Dog," by Harold Kimme, and “Outrageous Ads: Meet Your Father’s Automobile, the Nervous Housewife, the Smoking Doctor and the Bearded Baby,” by Kate Parker, make wonderful stocking stuffers.
Red Rock Press books are also available on Amazon.com, BN.com or at RedRockPress.com.