Nancy PearlNancy Pearl is hailed by some as a "rock star among readers". Indeed, the Seattle librarian-turned-author (Book Lust and More Book Lust) has had a life-long love affair with the written word. We had the chance to interview Ms. Pearl, and got the skinny on her favorite books, her thoughts on celebrity authors, and what it's like to be the inspiration for the "shushing" librarian action figure.

What was the hardest part about writing Book Lust & More Book Lust?

The hardest part was thinking up the quirky categories. For the most part, I knew what books I wanted to include (I just went through my bookshelves, basically), but I had to figure out ways to group very disparate books together – as I did in “Krakatau” and the “Parrots” section, in More Book Lust.

What book are you reading now?

Because my new book is going to be recommendations (ŕ la Book Lust and More Book Lust) for children and young adults, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading books like Carolyn Mackler’s Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Skippyjon Jones (a wonderfully funny picture book) by Judy Schachner. But I do sneak adult books in, and the one I’ve just finished and liked a lot is Kristen den Hartog’s Origin of Haloes.

If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only bring one book with you to read, what would it be?

This is a terribly hard question, but after much thought I think that what I would take is an unabridged dictionary.

If you could have dinner with 3 authors (dead or alive) who would they be and why?

In fact, I don’t usually like meeting authors of books I love – I find that after I meet them (or even hearing them read from their books) their reality gets in the way of reading their books – I tend to hear their voice instead of the narrator’s, for example. And even worse, it’s happened that in person the author is simply not a nice person – they’re egocentric, nasty, or take themselves far too seriously. That being said, I’ve interviewed Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis); Jasper Fforde (The Eyre Affair), and Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief) and really liked all three of them. It’s easier to answer a question like “what books would you like to be a character in?” I’d give anything to be the heroine in Georgette’s Heyer’s world of Sylvester, The Grand Sophy, Arabella, The Reluctant Widow, and The Talisman Ring.

Nancy Pearl Librarian Action FigureWhat it is like to have an action figure modeled after you? What are some of the funny/interesting/weird things that people have said about your action figure?

I love being the model for the Librarian Action Figure, now available from archiemcphee.com in a new deluxe edition. I have always felt that having a librarian action figure – along side those of Jesus, Moses, Shakespeare, Freud, and Einstein (among others) – is a great tribute to the people who choose to spend their lives in libraries, among books and other information tools. When the first action figure came out and there was a lot of hullabaloo about the fact that the action was “shushing,” I got some interesting emails – two of them said exactly the same thing, that “I had set the library profession back 30 years.” Other people felt the LAF looked dowdy and that it should be wearing hot pants and a motorcycle jacket. I am happy to report that probably 96% of librarians around the world thought it was wonderful. People have sent me pictures of the LAF in places as varied as the Everest Base Camp, on someone’s wedding cake, and in a shop in Royal Oak, Michigan, that specializes in tattoos and leather clothing. I love it!

Do you think that librarians get a bad rap?

No, I think the vast majority of people really love their librarians and their libraries. However, I don’t think we always do as good a job as we could in demonstrating to the public the absolute centrality of a public library in a community. It’s really an essential resource – just like the police and fire departments. It’s nearly the last truly democratic institution in our society – a place where everyone, regardless of age, race, economic level, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is equal and can make use of everything a library is and has.

What should America’s libraries be doing to encourage literacy?

Libraries need to keep emphasizing not only the necessity of reading for survival skills, but also the joy of reading, which is sometimes forgotten in this rush toward information literacy. To me, the two go together. The best way to encourage literacy is to show people how their lives are enriched by the books they read, whether they’re literary novels, mysteries, science fiction, romance, or the latest non-fiction by Simon Winchester or Bill Bryson or fantasy by J.K. Rowling. After the new Harry Potter came out, whenever I was interviewed I would be asked what kids should “get out of reading the book.” I always answered – “pure pleasure.”

How should libraries and the book industry work together?

I think that in general libraries and the book industry work together well, but I do wish that more publishers would recognize that libraries are great venues for author events, and think of libraries when they’re planning author tours. In my tours for Book Lust and now More Book Lust, events at libraries draw equal or more crowds than the book store events do. I don’t know of any libraries that don’t allow books to be sold at an author reading, either by working with a local bookstore, or by having the library friends’ group sell the author’s books.

What was the most unusual thing you saw happen while working in a library?

I didn’t see too many unusual things, but the funniest question I ever got asked was when I was the librarian on a bookmobile in inner-city Detroit (many many years ago), and a little boy asked me for a book called “Mush, the Male Mute.” After much talking to and fro, I finally realized that the book was called “Mush, the Malamute.” Which, of course, was checked out at the time.

What do you think about celebrities (Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton etc.) who have written books?

It makes me sad that although there’s so many wonderful children’s books out there, what gets reviewed and featured are inane books by celebrity writers, who should stick to whatever makes them a celebrity and leave off writing. Of course, there are some celebrities to whom this doesn’t apply – Jamie Lee Curtis, perhaps, or Julie Andrews.

 

Book LustAbout Book Lust: What to read next is every book lover's greatest dilemma. Nancy Pearl comes to the rescue with this wide-ranging and fun guide to the best reading new and old. Pearl, who inspired legions of readers with "What If All Seattle Read the Same Book," has devised more than 170 thematic reading lists that cater to every mood, occasion, and personality. These annotated lists cover such topics as mother-daughter relationships, science for nonscientists, mysteries of all stripes, African-American fiction from a female point of view, must-reads for kids, books on bicycling, "chick-lit," and many more. Pearl's enthusiasm and taste shine throughout. [Buy Now]


More Book LustAbout More Book Lust: All new recommended reading from America's favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl. This follow-up to the bestselling Book Lust is just as rich, enthusiastic, and all-knowing in its quirky recommendations of what to read next. The response to the author's first book was astounding; readers everywhere welcomed Nancy's encyclopedic but discerning filter on books worth reading. Her Rule of 50 (give a book 50 pages before deciding whether to continue reading; but 1 page for every year over 50 in your age) became every reader's M.O. [Buy Now]