Posts Tagged ‘The Lace Reader’

Tonight my 12-year-old (LW12) and I drove up to the Barnes & Noble in Peabody for an event with Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader.  In case you’ve missed it, I’m absolutely smitten with this book; it has an intricate plot with well-developed characters and it highlights the wonderful city of Salem.  You can read my review, or follow along our family’s Lace Reader travelog of Salem.  This novel is an excellent pick for a book group; if you haven’t read it, get your hands on a copy today!  Now, on to our evening …

A Barnes and Noble bookseller greeted us as we entered the store and directed us to the cafe area for complimentary lace readings by three women from Artemisia Botanicals on Pickering Wharf in Salem.  If you’ve read any background to the novel, you know that there is no historical documentation of lace reading previous to the novel, and that it is probable that Ms. Barry has helped create a new industry!  The reader I sat with, Teri, explained that lace reading is a form of divination.  She suggested I “quiet” or “center” myself, then ask a question about what I need (as opposed to what I want).  I’ll admit that I was a bit uneasy about opening myself up this way, but I asked a heartfelt question and was given an honest and helpful response – thanks, Teri, for making me comfortable with this process and helping me be receptive to the answer you gave!  (Even Ms. Barry commented that Teri could be her sister, with the similar hair color; there are indeed two distinct women in these photos with me!)

The area for the event was filling up, so I headed back to my seat and chatted with the couple next to me (hello to Laura and Mike from Peabody, I hope your son enjoys the book as much as you did!); clearly I inherited my mother’s strike-up-a-conversation-with-a-stranger-gene!

Ms. Barry was introduced and started her presentation by sharing the great news that The Lace Reader will be in the seventh position on the New York Times Bestseller List on Sunday!  She then read the first chapter of the novel, and explained the context of the chapter headings, out-takes of The Lace Reader’s Guide, which is a series of lace-making instructions excerpted from the (fictional) diary of Eva Whitney.

Barry shared some interesting background information and opened up the floor to questions:

  • The Lace Reader began as a short story, with the central character of May Whitney bringing her children to the mainland for haircuts.  The story grew and grew, evolving into the novel in which Towner is the main character
  • She envisioned the book as “The Hero’s Journey” (a la Joseph Campbell) for women
  • Her given name is Sandra Brunonia; her grandfather gave her the middle name Brunonia because he attended Brown University and was a “rabid alumnus” (isn’t that a great term?!).  She chose to use her middle name as her professional name because of the strength it conveyed; her husband points out that there are several “Sandy Barry”s returned on a Google search, but only one “Brunonia Barry”!
  • Barry’s pre-publication editor, Tom Jenks helped her with the varied character perspectives (shifting it from her original focus solely from Towner’s point of view), and suggested she allow Rafferty much of the discovery of the story
  • Barry is about 200 pages into the first draft of a second novel, which is also set in the present day.  It covers the history of the shipping trade in Salem, and features the Friendship.
  • Regarding her writing habits, Barry told us that she rises whenever her muse strikes, sometimes before the sun is up!  She goes directly to her office and writes for about four hours before she allows herself a cup of coffee!  She edits in the afternoons.  Her office sounds lovely – it has a large fireplace and the walls are still papered with National Geographic maps that the previous owners hung.  Byzantium, their yellow lab likes to hang out while she writes
  • One audience member asked “Do you read, and if so, what do you read?”  I think we all assumed she meant READ, as in divination!  No, she was asking about books!  Barry told us that she’s been reading for pleasure while touring and promoting the novel, and that Snowflower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See), Last Night at the Lobster (Stewart O’Nan) and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski) have been recent favorites. 

After the Q&A we were able to meet Ms. Barry and have our books inscribed.  She is very pleasant; it was a delight to listen to her read from her novel and to see the way she enjoyed engaging in conversation with her audience.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us with her next book!


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We took the kids on the road up to Salem yesterday afternoon, about a 45-minute drive north.  I had my tote packed with The Lace Reader and a map and guide to “Towner Whitney’s Salem, Massachusetts” that I downloaded from the Salem tourist board.

We got to Salem around 3, driving through the center of town, then out to Salem Willows Park.  The map describes it as a “mini-amusement park next to Rafferty’s Victorian home frequented by tourists and bikers.  Rafferty comes for the chop suey sandwiches.”


The park was crowded, despite the drizzly afternoon.  There were a lot of large family groups, perhaps reunions, cooking out and enjoying the park.  I took these photos of the harbor; the colors would have been brighter on a sunny day, but you can still see how beautiful it is.


The Red Trolley runs to various tourist spots in town; tickets/stickers allow passengers to board and debark at different spots, then get back on for a ride to another attraction.


Our kids loved the arcade!  We quickly ran through $20 in quarters, and they each got a little tchotchke or two to take home.  We had 427 points to redeem, but the small selection they could choose from reminded me of that line from the movie The Jerk where Steve Martin plays a carnie, “step right up and win some crap!” 


From The Willows we drove back to town and walked through Pickering Wharf which has shops and restaurants.  I enjoy reading the names of the boats, some are very clever!


 We saw The Friendship at Derby Wharf, but were too late in the day to board it.  Our map says this is an “accurate replica of 200-year -old spice trading vessel used by Salem’s sea captains to circle the globe.”

Across from The Friendship is The Custom House, where “Hawthorne worked … as a clerk.”

We had dinner back at Pickering Wharf, and I bought some picture postcards of Salem … be one of the first ten readers to leave a comment saying you’d like one, then use the Contact tab at the top of the page to send me your mailing address in a private message.  The postcards feature The House of Seven Gables.

The rain really started coming down after dinner, so we hurried up Lafayette Street to Cornerstone Books.  This is a nice independent bookstore, and is open daily, until 7 on Sundays (which was very nice, as we were finding many shops closing at this hour.)  The Lace Reader was featured prominently at the front of the store, along with a non-fiction book about Ipswich lace.


We continued up Lafayette to Central Street, so I could snap a picture of Red’s Sandwich Shop.  They close at 1 on Sunday afternoons, so we couldn’t have eaten dinner there; I’ll have to try lunch another day.  Red’s is billed as “classic American food in a building that dates back to the American Revolution. A favorite of Rafferty and Towner.”

Along the way back to the car we passed the Peabody Essex Museum, a “world class museum that was interested in buying Eva’s chinoiserie.”  We didn’t visit the museum this time, but have been there in the past.  It really is a great museum, and is a favorite field trip for schools in the area.  Last year my son’s fourth-grade class visited during a unit on China.

The rain was pelting now, but I snapped this photo of the Hawthorne Hotel, a “famous hotel near to Eva’s house and just off the Salem Commons”, as well as the sign in front of First Church, “Eva’s Unitarian Church and the original church for two of the alleged witches killed during the Witch Trials.”


 In our family, no outing is complete without ice cream!  We drove to the Dairy Witch, which looks remarkably like a Dairy Queen.  According to our Lace Reader map, the Dairy Witch is “Towner’s favorite ice cream place in Salem.”

All in all, a very nice afternoon and evening, despite the weather!  So, I’ve read and enjoyed the novel and visited sites mentioned in the book.  I hope to see Brunonia Barry at a book signing this Friday night.  If I get that checked off my “to do” list I can move on to stalking admiring another author 🙂

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Monday 7/28/08– Discussion of Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz begins today over at Everyday I Write the Book.  This is the first time I’ll be participating in one of Gayle’s on-line book groups, and I’m really looking forward to it.  The author will be responding to comments left on the discussion post; if you’ve read the book, pop on over and join in!

Tuesday 7/29/08The Lace Reader goes on sale!  I posted my review of this captivating novel yesterday.  I’m inspired to take a field trip up to Salem on one of these nice summer weekends, to more closely explore the area Brunonia Barry writes about.

Wednesday 7/30/08 – Oh, how embarrassing!  I’m heading to the Post Office today to mail my sister’s birthday gift, and I’ll be buying postcard stamps for those postcards I promised to send out.  I bought the cards right away (it’s a display at a local museum that I think will be of interest to book lovers!), but avoided the lines at the Post Office … they will be in the mail today (Wednesday).  I still have four unclaimed postcards, if you’d like one, leave a comment here, then click on the “contact me” tab at the top of the page to send a private message with your mailing address.

Thursday 7/31/08 – Last day to enter my drawing for The Genizah at the House of Shepher.  I have three copies of this engaging novel to give away!  A well-told tale spanning 150 years and four generations; read my review here and enter the contest here.  Drawing will be held and winners announced on Friday 8/1/08.

Friday 8/1/08 – August already, where is the summer going?!  Tonight I’ll be heading to a nearby Barnes & Noble with my 12-year-old “Little Woman” to enjoy the Vampire Prom and other festivities while she waits for Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn to go on sale at midnight.

Saturday 8/2/08 and Sunday 8/3/08 – It’s the weekend!  Reading and relaxing are high on my “to do” list; I’ll report back next week 🙂

What’s on your agenda this week – bookish or otherwise?

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  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
  • Publisher: William Morrow (July 29, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0061624764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061624766

The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry’s debut novel, deserves all the advance praise it has received; it is one of my favorite books of 2008!  This book will draw you in with well-developed plot, subtle twists and clever revelations.  The comparison has been drawn to a piece of finely-worked lace, in which every thread is needed to yield the finished product; nothing is extraneous in this engaging mystery.

The opening of The Lace Reader finds the protagonist, Towner Whitney, returning to Salem, Massachusetts after many years away.  She has been summoned home due to the disappearance of a favorite family member, her great-aunt Eva.  Eva, as well as Towner and most of the Whitney women, has the gift of “reading” people – seeing their future through patterns revealed in pieces of lace.  Towner has been uncomfortable with this unwanted talent for most of her life, and has completely denied it since the death of her twin sister, Lyndley.

The settings in The Lace Reader are realistically and fully portrayed.  Salem is the prime location, with its cobblestone streets, the town green and the shops and historic homes along the waterfront; even the local grocery store, Crosby’s, gets a mention.  Another venue is the fictional Yellow Dog Island, where Towner’s mother, May, runs a shelter of sorts for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.  The women live isolated, yet safe, on their small island, making lace that is sold on the mainland.

Barry blends historic themes of the abolitionist’s Underground Railway with May’s work helping women and children.  The Salem witch hysteria of the 1600s parallels the book’s portrayal of distrust of the “witches” and “readers” by a group of religious fanatics in the mid-1990s.  Using a combination of third-person narration, first-person in Towner’s voice, and a series of extensive journal entries, she skillfully combines the various perspectives in this captivating novel.  

See my post of July 18 for more information about The Lace Reader, including links to the official website and to an opportunity to win a trip to Salem, sponsored by the publisher, the William Morrow division of HarperCollins.  There is an excellent article in The Daily News Tribune about Barry, her experience writing and self-publishing The Lace Reader, and the impact the book has already had on the town of Salem.

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Bzzzzzzz.  Bzzzzzzz.  I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over all the positive BUZZ about Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader, which goes on sale at the end of this month! 

My copy of The Lace Reader will be tucked in my bag for the beach this weekend; I hope to have a review posted early next week.  In the meantime, you can check out these reviews on LibraryThing, and read the publisher’s synopsis:

Can you read your future in a piece of lace? All of the Whitney women can. But the last time Towner read, it killed her sister and nearly robbed Towner of her own sanity. Vowing never to read lace again, her resolve is tested when faced with the mysterious, unsolvable disappearance of her beloved Great Aunt Eva, Salem’s original Lace Reader. Told from opposing and often unreliable perspectives, the story engages the reader’s own beliefs. Should we listen to Towner, who may be losing her mind for the second time? Or should we believe John Rafferty, a no nonsense New York detective, who ran away from the city to a simpler place only to find himself inextricably involved in a psychic tug of war with all three generations of Whitney women? Does either have the whole story? Or does the truth lie somewhere in the swirling pattern of the lace?

The novel is a labor of love, and a self-publishing success story.  After completing her draft, Barry spent several years editing and finalizing.  Rather than spend more time trying to get in the door at a publishing house, only to then face the possibility of more extensive revisions, Barry and her husband decided to form a company that would publish and distribute the book.  The book was received so favorably that big publishing houses contacted them!  This is big news not only to publishing insiders, but in the mainstream press as well; read more in this article from the Boston Globe.  Perseverance pays off! 

The Lace Reader is set in Salem, Massachusettts, home of the Salem Witch Museum and Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables, among other local attractions.  Now, about that trip giveaway … I was catching up on my reading last night and saw a post at Book Club Girl that alerted me to this:  To celebrate the July 29 release date, William Morrow is giving away two prize packages which include two signed copies of the book, hotel accommodations, entry to a number of attractions, and gift certificates to local restaurants and stores.  Click here for all the details and to enter the sweepstakes.

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