Barbara Abbott | Books of My Life

Barbara Abbott is the owner of Canton Food Tours and co-author of the book “Stark County Food: From Early Farms to Modern Meals.” She lives in Jackson Township with her husband, Mike, and son, Dominic. She loves to read, eat good food, spend time outdoors and can’t wait to get back to socialization with friends.

Photo by Regina Bowe Photography

Barbara Abbott is the owner of Canton Food Tours and co-author of the book “Stark County Food: From Early Farms to Modern Meals.” She lives in Jackson Township with her husband, Mike, and son, Dominic. She loves to read, eat good food, spend time outdoors and can’t wait to get back to socialization with friends.

Barbara grew up in Akron, attended public schools and then obtained a Bachelor of Science from the University of Akron. She had a successful 13-year career with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, based out of Quail Hollow State Park (now a county park) in Hartville. She moved to Canton in 2004, and in 2012, she started Canton Food Tours, a culinary tourism business focused on showcasing regional food and history. Barbara was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2013. She was inducted into the YWCA’s Stark County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016 and has been a member of the Cleveland Chapter of Les Dames D’Escoffier since 2015.

What is your guilty pleasure book? 
My Arthur Cleveland Bent series on the life histories of North American birds. These first-person accounts up through the turn of the 20th century allow me to flip to any page and suddenly be tromping through the woods through the eyes of early naturalists. The accounts of the Passenger Pigeon are haunting, though, as they are eyewitness accounts of a species that no longer exists. I re-read them even though it’s chilling to know that a species so common and prevalent up through the mid-1800’s would be all but extinct in the wild around the time William McKinley ran for President (1896). The following 1866 observation of the birds moving from a roost in Pennsylvania is similar to others who describe immense populations: “Each morning, a valley a mile wide between the hills was filled with the birds, sometimes eight courses deep, for about an hour, with the multitude of birds flowing westward at the rate of a mile a minute. The roar of wings was like a tornado in the treetops, and the sky was darkened as by a heavy thunder-shower.” In 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo.

What is the book that shocked you the most? 
“Hidden Valley Road” by Robert Kolker (422 pages, 2020). This is a mind-blowing true account of the Galvin family from Colorado Springs. Don and Mimi had 12 children and initially seemed like the picture-perfect mid-century family. It’s nail biting to follow the normal-turned-horrifying trajectory of the family as, one by one, six boys exhibit their own unique signs of mental illness, leading to the diagnosis of schizophrenia for the six of them. The harrowing effects of the disease turned the family upside down and take the reader along for the ride.

What book have you read more than once because you love it so much? 
“As She Climbed Across the Table” by Jonathan Lethem (225 pages, 1997). The imagery is fabulous. The story is intense and humorous. It’s set on a college campus and weaves between a love interest, chatty blind men and alternate universes. There’s a competition among particle physicists. A few years ago, I came across a Joseph Close oil painting that reminds me of one of the characters in the book. The painting hangs in a prominent spot in my house. I look at it and can mentally jump back into the book at any time.

What section of the library or bookstore do you visit first? 
First of all, I still love going to bookstores, although I don’t go as much as I used to. For years, a group of friends and I would plan a “day out” based solely on where our favorite bookstores were located. This means of planning took us to Wooster (Books In Stock and The Wooster Book Company), Barberton (Snowball Books) and Akron (I forget the name, maybe Bookseller, which is now closed). Of course, the giant multistory Book Loft of German Village in Columbus is always a fun destination. We would spend hours leafing through pages, laughing over silly things each of us would find and point out to the other, petting the obligatory bookstore cats and generally having a great time until our stomachs started to growl. Then we would pay for our loot, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and compare our “finds” on the car ride home. The section of a bookstore I always go to first is actually a tie between two: the “Nature” or “Ohio” sections, whichever is closest to the front door.

Who is your favorite author and why? 
Louis Bromfield. I re-read his books a lot. Complex character development and elaborate scenery take the reader from balcony lunches in France to gritty Midwest factories to soaking monsoons in India. Among my favorites are “The Green Bay Tree” (400 pages, 1924), “Early Autumn” (312 pages, 1926) and “The Rains Came” (578 pages, 1937). I also love to read about Bromfield’s experiences at his homestead, Malabar Farm. You can visit this Ohio State Park, tour the home, see his writing studio and take in the beauty of the surrounding hills and fields.

What is the book you always come back to?
Michael J. Fox’s books “Lucky Man: A Memoir” (343 pages, 2002) and “Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” (276 pages, 2009). “Lucky Man” was given to me by a friend who went through difficult health issues but has the absolute best disposition and outlook on life and is a high achiever. That’s the premise for these two books: Whatever life throws at you, acknowledge the tough parts, but do your best with each situation and persevere to achieve your goals and be happy. It starts internally, with a positive outlook on life.

What is next up on your reading list? 
Matthew McConaughey’s new book “Greenlights” (323 pages, 2020) and “On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist” by Clarissa Ward (272 pages, 2020) are currently at the top of a big stack of “must reads.” Plus, I’m in a local book club, so we always have something on the roster. Our upcoming book is Sarah Blake’s “The Guest Book: A Novel” (497 pages, 2019). We recently finished “What Love Becomes: A Novel” (428 pages, 2019) and enjoyed a Zoom discussion with the author, Jan Marin Tramontano.

What is the first book you remember reading? 
Some of the early books that I recall reading include “Ribsy” by Beverly Cleary, “The Great Brain” series by John D. Fitzgerald, “Nancy Drew” mysteries by Carolyn Keene, “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc., but “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl (178 pages, 1964) stands out because it was given to me by my cousin, Lisa Fiocca. As a young girl, I looked up to my older, beautiful cousin, but when she handed me this book on the occasion of my eighth birthday, I thought, “Ick! Who gives someone a BOOK on her birthday?!” Maybe I was expecting something less like homework. But because my idol gave it to me, I gave it a read, and of course was hooked on the whole series and ended up thinking it was one of the best gifts ever.