Food For Thought

Strangers tend to tell things to Amy Dickinson

‘Ask Amy’ advice columnist to speak about latest memoir at Hancock Shaker dinner

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PITTSFIELD — After more than a decade as nationally syndicated "Ask Amy" advice columnist, are there any questions Amy Dickinson is asked over and over again?

"The in-law thing, that's a perennial ... Every single question is about a relationship — annoying coworker, spouse, in-law, parenting," said Dickinson. "It's about people who don't know how to establish boundaries."

Dickinson, a columnist, author and frequent panelist on NPR's "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" will come to Hancock Shaker Village on Saturday, Aug. 11. She will present her second memoir, "Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home," published in March 2017 and released in paperback earlier this year.

"This gig is sort of the last gig of an unrelenting two-year-long road trip," she said, during a recent phone interview, of this stop on her book tour. "It's a nice way to stop."

She's been to the Berkshires before: In 2013, "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" taped at Tanglewood. Despite that appearance, she admits to being a little unfamiliar with the Berkshires, her experience mainly coming from glimpses she'd catch out the window of the bus as it passed through on school breaks during her tenure as a student at Clark University in Worcester. She's looking forward to "getting off the bus" with this event, which also features a farm-to-table dinner by chef Brian Alberg. "I'm super psyched, I think it's really going to be fun."

Response to this book has been very strong, she said, even more than her first memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville." "Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things" takes a look at Dickinson's life, from her childhood in Freeville, N.Y., her divorce and raising her daughter, and eventually to her return to the town of her youth, remarrying, becoming a stepmother, a grandmother and caregiver to her ailing parents.

"One reason the books have done so well is because ... my life has been ordinary," she said. "Ordinary problems are refreshing to other ordinary people."

And that's what she hears from her readers.

"For me and every writer I know, hearing from individuals is special," she said. "Women tell me this book speaks to them — it speaks of being alive in the world at a certain age and stage. I love hearing from people, especially who have experienced grief, because so much of this book is about caregiving, about the time of life sandwiched between having kids and becoming caregivers."

With two memoirs written, should we expect another anytime soon? The answer is no. Dickinson is tired of writing about her life, she said. But that doesn't mean she's done writing. Maybe she'll write a novel. Currently, she is busy working on a pilot script: CBS has optioned her memoir for a television series. There's a long way to go to make that happen, but for now she's enjoying the experience. "I love it, it's sort of like being inside the biz — but it is a fickle biz. It's a lot of fun to work on."

Is it ever hard to find sympathy for the people who write in?

"I don't ever want to take down someone," she said. "Look at our world. We're just surrounded by heartbreak and discord. It would be easier to add to that, I only get out my two-by-four when people are mean. I do have fun when people are clueless."

Thursday before the event she travels to Chicago to tape "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" at Millennium Park; up to 11,000 people are expected to attend. And she and her husband are using her appearance in Pittsfield as an excuse to take a four- or five-day trip through New England. "I'm psyched," she said.

"I think it's really going to be fun," she said, of what we can expect from the event at Hancock Shaker Village. "Readings are a lot of fun, I've done a lot of theater. I always show up ready to play."


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