Literary First Love – Heather Barbieri

Heather Barbieri

As an only child in the mid to late 60s (my younger sisters weren’t born until 6 and 8 years later), I spent rainy days (and there were many in the Pacific Northwest) engrossed in books from my mother’s extensive library. Books held an important position in the household in a large floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the living room. A full set of Time Life history books transported me to Ancient Greece and Rome. A Popular Science series introduced me to the wonders of chemistry and astronomy. But my favorites were novels, some of them quite old, with tooled leather covers and gilt titles.

Mine was a childhood of creative freedom. Children of that era roamed the neighborhood at will, climbing the tallest trees, tearing down the highest hills, with little parental interference. I spent most days outside with friends, engaged in adventures large and small. But nights were made for reading. I’d stay up into the wee hours, reading by flashlight or the bedside lamp, careful to avoid detection. Books such as A Wrinkle in Time with the chilling character of It, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase with its English gothic splendor held great appeal, and richly-illustrated collections of fairytales and nursery rhymes. My mother gave me books every Christmas and birthday from the time I was very small. She had excellent taste. I also eagerly awaited visits to our local library, a fascinatingly ramshackle Carnegie-designed affair with a warren of sloped floors and shelves that offered a wealth of new literary discoveries. Life was an adventure. Reading too.

I found what would become one of my favorite books at my elementary school library. It was an older novel with a plain blue fabric cover—no flashy paper jacket the newest books possessed. Jessamy, by Barbara Sleigh, it said, as if introducing itself to me. I checked it out from the librarian, a tall woman with a black beehive hairdo, an artful streak of silver extending to the very top. She looked down her glasses at me and I was sure she was going to make some admonishment, as she was wont to do. “Good choice, ” she said, and pushed it across the desk and into my hands. That night, I fell in love with the beautifully-written story of a lonely girl who comes to have a greater understanding of herself and the world around her by traveling back in time to 1914, and slipping into the life of another girl, another Jessamy, who lived then. I finished it in a single sitting, but didn’t return it until the due date, when I had to let it go at last. Jessamy wasn’t mine after all, but the story lingered in my mind long after I closed the cover.

I went on to read scores of books, an avid reader to this day. I forgot about Jessamy until I had children of my own, and we were talking about our favorite books one evening. It was then that I remembered Jessamy then set out to find a copy of my own. It had long been out of print, and editions were scarce (and expensive—it had become a collector’s item; I wasn’t the only child who had fallen under its spell), but I eventually found one that wasn’t too dear. When I opened the package, I traveled back in time just as the main character had, becoming a younger version of myself, the child who loved to read so much that she eventually became a writer herself.

THE COTTAGE AT GLASS BEACH is Heather’s third novel. It releases tomorrow from Harper Collins.

Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm. Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke’s Island, off the coast of Maine. Nora hasn’t been back to the remote, Irish-American community for decades— not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

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2 Responses to Literary First Love – Heather Barbieri

  1. Melinda K Taylor May 14, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I too am an avid reader and books are precious to me. I grew up very poor and lived in a rural community. I went to a country school and the only reading material was the library books. I had read every book in the library by the fifth grade. I could hardly wait until the next fall and the teacher would order 10 new books for the library. Today nothing is safe from these reading eyes.

  2. Julie Kibler May 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Oh, I LOVED The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I still have my beat up copy and reread it from time to time. And a similar experience–I also had another childhood favorite I had to hunt down. I found a battered edition of the book, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, at a neighboring city’s library. It was exactly the same as I remembered, and completely different. 🙂 I feel like I might have read Jessamy, too, and will have to search for it online to refresh my memory! Looking forward to your new book. I really enjoyed the Lace Makers of Glenmara!

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