Cover image for Country matters : the pleasures and tribulations of moving from a big city to an old country farmhouse
Country matters : the pleasures and tribulations of moving from a big city to an old country farmhouse
Korda, Michael, 1933-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, 2001.
Physical Description:
viii, 303 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F129.P72 K67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
F129.P72 K67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
F129.P72 K67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



With his inimitable sense of humor and storytelling talent, New York Times bestselling author Michael Korda brings us this charming, hilarious, self-deprecating memoir of a city couple's new life in the country.

At once entertaining, canny, and moving, Country Matters does for Dutchess County, New York, what Under the Tuscan Sun did for Tuscany. This witty memoir, replete with Korda's own line drawings, reads like a novel, as it chronicles the author's transformation from city slicker to full-time country gentleman, complete with tractors, horses, and a leaking roof.

When he decides to take up residence in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Dutchess County, ninety miles north of New York City, Korda discovers what country life is really like:

Owning pigs, more than owning horses, even more than owning the actual house, firmly anchored the Kordas as residents in the eyes of their Pleasant Valley neighbors. You may own your land, but without concertina barbed wire, or the 82nd Airborne on patrol, it's impossible to keep people off it! It's possible to line up major household repairs over a tuna melt sandwich. And everyone in the area is fully aware that Michael "don't know shit about septics."

The locals are not particularly quick to accept these outsiders, and the couple's earliest interactions with their new neighbors provide constant entertainment, particularly when the Kordas discover that hunting season is a year-round event -- right on their own land! From their closest neighbors, mostly dairy farmers, to their unforgettable caretaker Harold Roe -- whose motto regarding the local flora is "Whack it all back! " -- the residents of Pleasant Valley eventually come to realize that the Kordas are more than mere weekenders.

Sure to have readers in stitches, this is a book that has universal appeal 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.

Author Notes

Michael Korda was born on October 8, 1933 in London, England. He was educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Magdalen College, Oxford. While serving in the Royal Air Force, he took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. On its fiftieth anniversary, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the People's Republic of Hungary.

He is the former editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. He is also the author of numerous books including Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, and Cat People, co-authored with his wife Margaret.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Last time out, Korda wrote about his romance with publishing (Another Life, 1999). Now the subject is his affair with country living, though this liaison is more like a marriage, with all the entailments that sort of relationship brings. Korda, the urbane editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster and a popular author of both fiction and nonfiction, brings to mind the quintessential New Yorker. But in a writing style that is both bemused and witty, he reveals himself as a transplanted urbanite, a rural New Yorker whose landscape is filled with horses, pigs, and, of course, a falling-down, money-eating charmer of an eighteenth-century house, one of the few in the area where Washington didn't sleep. It doesn't seem to matter what Korda writes about, his prose is utterly winsome. Here, readers will be caught up as he charts his course from city slicker (soon recognized as someone who "don't know shit about septic tanks") to fully assimilated member of the community. (He knew he was no longer an outsider when his neighbors started shouting questions about his prostate cancer to him across the checkout counters at the the A & P.) Readers may be surprised by the slightly amateurish, ever-so-twee drawings that dot the pages, but the title page holds the answer: illustrations by the author. Oh, well, this is still a delight: The Egg & I meets Under the Tuscan Sun. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Country Matters 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 owners were 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... Country Matters . Copyright © by Michael Korda. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 "He Don't Know Shit About Septics"p. 1
Chapter 2 Asleep at the Switchp. 17
Chapter 3 "Whack It All Back!"p. 23
Chapter 4 A Man's Home Is His Castlep. 30
Chapter 5 A Barn of One's Ownp. 47
Chapter 6 "Them's Nice Pigs, Them Pigs"p. 55
Chapter 7 Lunch at Cady'sp. 79
Chapter 8 Just Plain Folksp. 93
Chapter 9 Good Fences Make Good Neighborsp. 111
Chapter 10 Bats in the Belfryp. 119
Chapter 11 Where Every Prospect Pleases, and Only Man Is Vilep. 131
Chapter 12 One Left-handed Clevis, Pleasep. 143
Chapter 13 Nature Green of Tooth and Clawp. 152
Chapter 14 Manurep. 164
Chapter 15 The Wrong Deerp. 172
Chapter 16 The White Stuffp. 182
Chapter 17 Viva Zapata!p. 194
Chapter 18 The Acropolisp. 202
Chapter 19 "Do You Know Egg?"p. 209
Chapter 20 A Nice Cup of Teap. 217
Chapter 21 "Make That a Dozen Barbarian Kremes"p. 236
Chapter 22 The Sporting Instinctp. 247
Chapter 23 Free Kittens!p. 259
Chapter 24 "Change and Decay ..."p. 271
Chapter 25 No Place Like Homep. 286
The Six "Golden Rules" of Owning an Old Housep. 305
Acknowledgmentsp. 307