Author Gina Hyams sells and signs her new book at the Lee Outlets over the 4th of July holiday weekend.
LENOX, Mass. — When local author Gina Hyams was working on a proposal for her 12th book — a book about the food culture of Berkshire County — she kept coming back to one chapter that excited her the most.
The topic of that chapter? Picnics on the lawn of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a cultural landmark in Berkshire County.
"I would just light up when I talked about it," Hyams said.
So she followed her instincts and pitched a book just on Tanglewood picnics. Her literary agent thought it was "too niche" for a larger publishing house, but Hyams didn't let that stop her. She created her own publishing company, Muddy Puppy Media, and self-published the book "The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires." She did a first run of 2,000 books earlier this summer, and last week, just in time for the Tanglewood season to officially get under way, she was down to only 200 copies and ordered another printing of 2,500 books.
Its immediate success has surprised and humbled Hyams.
"It's amazing," she said. "And the season has just started."
Hyams said many facets have led to the success. First, she said, local shopkeepers have "embraced the book," something that was critical for it to succeed.
"They're showcasing it front and center in their shops," she said.
The book also has received many favorable reviews in the media, which helps spread the word. But more importantly, she said, are readers who are simply devouring the book.
"Readers ... are connecting in an emotional way with the book," she said. "People feel such emotional connections to Tanglewood and picnicking at Tanglewood."
The book is not a traditional "coffeetable book"; rather, at only 8 inches by 6 inches, it's more of a "gift book," Hyams said, which allows it to be sold in a variety of places, including clothing and home goods stores as well as gourmet stores. It includes a multitude of photographs from the Tanglewood lawn, both recent photos taken by Hyams herself as well as photos submitted by people who saw her call for submissions last summer and photos she culled from the archives of The Berkshire Eagle and Boston Symphony Orchestra. There is a chapter of recipes and even a handy checklist of items one should bring when embarking on their own Tanglewood picnic.
And Hyams stressed that the diversity of picnic experiences at Tanglewood is what makes it so special. For the cover photo, she chose a Berkshire Eagle file photo by William Plouffe, circa 1965, that was black and white, but her designer, Christopher Hixson, colorized the sky, the lawn and trees —and one group of picnickers in the foreground.
"I was immediately struck by the woman in the yellow sundress," she said. "[It was] this little flash of elegance in the midst of a casual scene.
"It's everybody together."
With an outlay now of 4,500 books, Hyams is spending much of her time doing book readings and signings at all sorts of locations throughout the Berkshires — from libraries to bookstores to even the Lee Outlets over the 4th of July holiday weekend. On top of that, because the book is self-published, she is storing copies in her barn and delivering them around the Berkshires herself.
"I'm UPS," she said. "It's completely wild."
But she said she enjoys both the opportunity to connect with local shopkeepers while making deliveries as well as readers during her public appearances. Many people have approached her with their own Tanglewood stories (which may inspire a sequel to this book) as well as to thank her for highlighting the warm memories of their own visits to Tanglewood. One woman at a reading, Hyams said, was in tears when she told her how much the book touched her heart.
"That hadn't occurred to me," said Hyams, who said those "tears of joy" touched her heart, too. "It's the best possible response."
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