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gift of memory

Peterborough: Jaffrey columnist to give Toadstool reading from book about growing up in New Hampshire and life in his new hometown

Those that regularly pick up the paper will recognize the name of Joe Steinfield. For more than eight years, the stories of his family history, life’s little coincidences and daily observations have been part of the makeup of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript viewpoints sections. And now, those same stories and observations will be given a space of their very own, as Steinfield releases a book made up of handpicked columns he’s published over the years.

His book, entitled “Claremont Boy: My New Hampshire Roots and the Gift of Memory,” is a sprawling reminiscence of Steinfield’s family tree, his childhood growing up in Claremont, and his relationships with friends and family as an adult. Over the years, as his columns accumulated, Steinfield said in a recent interview, multiple people have questioned whether he ever planned to turn them into a book.

“It occurred to me to try,” said Steinfield thoughtfully. “It turned out to be more work than I thought,” he added with a laugh.

Steinfield’s book, published by Bauhan Publishing of Peterborough, will be released this Friday, with Steinfield attending a book launching in Claremont, where it all started. The following day, he’ll also be making an appearance at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough to give a reading.

The book, as the title implies, cover’s Steinfield’s childhood in Claremont, but also his adult years, including the 28 years he’s lived in Jaffrey. Steinfield said his connection to the state of New Hampshire has always been strong, and even now that he splits his time between Jaffrey and Boston, he will always say he’s from New Hampshire when asked.

“Maybe it’s true of every state, but I feel as though there’s something about being from New Hampshire that’s a little different,” said Steinfield. “Maybe people from Maine or Vermont feel the same, but I felt very comfortable growing up where I did. It was a good place, and left me with certain values that stayed with me. Calling the book ‘Claremont Boy’ feels right to me, even though I lived there for the first 18 years of my life and not since. I guess it’s part of my DNA.”

Steinfield went back over the columns he’d written over the years, For some, it was an easy decision to include them, he said. Over the years, he’s had a few favorites, such as the article that spins the tale of the Steinfield family Christmas tree. Despite being Jewish, his sister was set on having a Christmas tree and so, for several years, the family had a tree set up in Steinfield’s sister’s room around the holidays. Another is about the inspiration he received from his fifth-grade teacher.

The articles he likes best are the ones his readers can see themselves in. “I had someone come up and say, ‘I had a teacher like that.’ You write experiences that everyone has had. Everybody has memories of growing up and family holidays.”

Steinfield’s stories range from explorations of his family history and searching for the graves of his grandparents, to the interesting people he’s met during his life. Some are simply interesting personages Steinfield’s run across during the course of his life, such as the Muslim man he met while teaching in the Russian Republic, or a business partner of Steinfield’s who shared his experience growing up as a black man in the segregated deep South. Steinfield also recounts meeting public personages like Julia Child and Dom Dimaggio. Other stories just detail his day-to-day life in New Hampshire.

“The stories, in a way, are reflective of the diversity of my own experiences and meetings. I just decided to write them all down,” said Steinfield. “Memory can play tricks on anybody. My mother, in her last year or two, lost much of her memory, so I know that every time I’m able to remember these experiences, it’s a gift. I wanted to write them all down in case I forgot them. That’s why the book’s subtitle is ‘The Gift of Memory.’”

The book serves not only as his memoir, said Steinfield, but is also a gift for his grandchildren, since much of the family history is detailed within.

“I regret very much that I didn’t ask enough questions of my father and grandfather. There’s a great deal of information that I don’t have. One of my motives has been to leave for my children and grandchildren, even if they don’t ask, whatever I can provide. But I hope that it’s more than a family album — I want it to have a broader appeal than that. I hope people can enjoy it and get a laugh or two out of it.”

Tomorrow, Steinfield will hold a book launching at the Claremont Opera House, with funds going to support the Fund for Greater Claremont, a New Hampshire Charitable Fund. On Saturday, he will be holding a reading and book signing at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough at 11 a.m.

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