Piles of books feed Patricia Barr’s love of reading

By Andrea Tomkins – 

Patricia “Trish” Barr, owner of Wall Space Gallery in Westboro, didn’t have her top summer read with her during this interview. Instead, she turns her computer monitor to a page on goodreads.com that shows the cover of The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. It’s been rated over 67,000 times and has an average rating of 3.84 stars out of five.

“I just started it,” says Trish. She had it in purse for some time, but it was weighing her down so she set it aside.

“I don’t know where it is!” she laughs. (It’s very likely still at home, but if you happen to find it, let us know.)

“Art enriches your life. Cognitively, we need to be sustained by the arts,” says Patricia Barr of Wall Space Gallery.
“Art enriches your life. Cognitively, we need to be sustained by the arts,” says Patricia Barr of Wall Space Gallery. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

“We have stacks of books everywhere in the house,” describes Trish. They are beside the bed, at the front door, and in every other room.

The Professor and the Madman is about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary and reveals some surprises about its creation. It’s a timely read, considering the OED has just added 1,000 new words, including ‘glamping’ and ‘budgie smugglers,’ an Australian term for a men’s tight-fitting bathing suit.

She says attractive book covers and interesting titles initially draw her to a book, but the appeal of this particular choice goes beyond the cover art. It’s about the words themselves.

Trish misses the days of flipping through the dictionary and the process of discovery that happens while your finger is moving down a thick column of words.  “While you’re looking up your word you are discovering other words,” she says.

She enjoys non-fiction as well as fiction. “I like a story, things that are historically based,” she says. “I like a hidden message, things that have an ebb and flow, with beautiful character development… and sometimes tragic endings… things with a little mystery.”

Perhaps, not surprisingly, Trish is a big fan of paper books. For her, part of the enjoyment is the tactile experience of reading. She often reads several books at a time.

“Wherever I’m sitting I pick up the book I am reading,” she says. (Thank goodness for all of those stacks!)

Although she’s generally not interested in dystopian novels, another book on her list is a recommendation from her husband: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s about a flu that wipes out 99% of the population. Twenty years later, a group of actors and musicians stage performances in the settlements that have formed in a new world.

“It’s about the revival of the arts,” says Trish. There’s one line from this book that has resonated with her: “Survival is insufficient.” Trekkies may be the most familiar with this line. It’s from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager in which Seven of Nine encounters three Borg with whom she was previously linked.

“It’s the idea that you can’t just survive alone. Art enriches your life. Cognitively, we need to be sustained by the arts.”

The next book on Trish’s list is Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals, a U.S. web application company now known as Basecamp. Rework is about discarding old work habits and adopting new ones. The publisher describes it as “the perfect playbook for anyone who’s ever dreamed of doing it on their own.”

“This book was interesting,” says Trish. “It’s forcing me to rethink – and rework – everything I’ve been doing. It took me out of the box a bit.”

The last book on her list is The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater. This weighty tome would appeal to anyone who loves food and spends time in the kitchen.

“It’s a beautiful read,” says Trish.

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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