Author On the Bookcase: Heather Barbieri, author of The Lace Makers of Glenmara

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Author On the Bookcase

Heather Barbieri

Heather BarbieriI'm thrilled to welcome Heather Barbieri, author of The Lace Makers of Glenmara. to On the Bookcase. Heather tells the story of her grandmother, Esther, and her mother, Michelle, and the joy of reading they shared with her. As a result, Heather's childhood was filled with books as Heather read from "quiet corners—behind the Christmas tree (the lights were particularly magical to read by) or the sofa (not on the sofa, behind it, right by the heat register)"

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Heather!

"Who instilled a love of reading in you? A teacher? A parent? A bookseller or librarian?

For me, it was my mother and grandmother, who escaped from difficult childhoods within the pages of Little Women, Great Expectations, and Hans Christian Andersen. My mother, Michelle, as solace for being the child of divorced parents, at times written off by the nuns at her parochial school as the product of a broken home; my grandmother, Esther, for a life filled with far too many tragedies.

After losing both her parents at a young age, Esther climbed into the branches of her “Scottish tree” with a novel from her grandmother Frances’ library. Frances wasn’t a kindly sort of grandmother by any means. A formidable woman to say the least, she’d been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, whose family had fallen on hard times after moving to the States and making—and losing—a fortune in the oyster business. Yet she had her books, shelves filled with leather-tooled, gilt covers; novels mostly—she liked a good story, perhaps needing an escape herself. Of the  twelve children she bore, only four survived. What with her husband being an alcoholic, she was left to run the household herself—and she did, with an iron hand.

My grandmother didn’t fit in with her idea of what made a lady. Esther’s sister, Ruth, was considered the beauty of the family. Esther grew up feeling chubby and plain, with fiery red hair and a temper to match. That she didn’t hear well—due to a childhood illness—didn’t help matters; she was only considered more intractable, eventually sent away to live with distant, at times abusive, relatives, then on to boarding school.

Books offered her an alternative world. They provided adventure, hope, and comfort her entire life—through an early marriage at 17, the death of her first child a year-and-a-half later, and a divorce at a time when divorces were nearly unheard of.

I had a relatively idyllic childhood by comparison, and yet books became my early companions too. An only child for over six years before my younger sisters were born, I loved to curl up in quiet corners—behind the Christmas tree (the lights were particularly magical to read by) or the sofa (not on the sofa, behind it, right by the heat register) on rainy afternoons. Many times, I’d read through the night, by the light of the bathroom fixture across the hall (that I was afraid of the dark came in handy), or later, after my parents went to bed—my dad’s thunderous snores shaking the house—the bedside lamp.

The books came from the Pioneer Elementary library (the librarian, Mrs. Davis, whom we not-too kindly dubbed Mrs. Skunk on account of the wide streak of white in her beehive, hid the much-sought-after copy of Judy Bloom’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret—because the author dared write about periods, the kind that had nothing to do with punctuation); Weekly Reader book order forms (which, to my delight, were heavy on mysteries at the time); the old Carnegie library downtown, a leaning tower of bookdom straight out of a Lemony Snicket novel; and much-anticipated holiday presents (my mother had excellent taste; several of her selections became favorites, especially the work of British authors Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge). And, of course, from my grandmother’s and mother’s bookcases; they both had a fondness for sweeping sagas, such as The Thorn Birds, Trinity, and anything by Herman Wouk). Even now, my mother and I share book recommendations. (Her most recent favorite: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.) We can’t stop reading.

The Lace Makers of GlenmaraNow that I’m a writer myself, fulfilling a life-long dream, I’m continually in awe of the wide variety of voices at work in fiction—and nonfiction—today. There’s always a new story to tell—and book to read. I hope that, like my grandmother and mother, you too are transported, that The Lace Makers of Glenmara gives you a window into another way of life—and into your own."

Thanks again, Heather! More on Heather.

Who instilled your joy of reading?


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