America’s Librarian

Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl is known to many as America’s librarian for good reason.  For many years she worked as a librarian in various public library systems, then taught a library science course called Book Lust 101 at the University of Washington.  She has also authored a number of books about books, and can be heard on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and on public radio station KUOW-FM in Seattle where she and her husband live.  And that’s not all.  In 1998 she started a program at the Washington Center for the Book called If All of Seattle Read the Same Book.  Her program has been duplicated throughout the United States with different names such as One City, One Book; One Book, One Community; One Book, One City; and On the Same Page.  There are more than 400 such programs throughout the United States with this in common: an entire community is encouraged to read the same book and to have discussions about it.

Nancy Pearl Doll

None of the above information is very personal, and Pearl prefers to keep it that way.  If you dig on the internet, though, you will find a story here and there that talks a bit about her childhood in Detroit in what she describes as a dysfunctional family.  And without explanation you will read that books saved her life.  Regardless of the scars she may carry from her childhood, she has grown up to be a well-adjusted, delightful, award winning author who even has an action figure named after her.

Book Lust

The books she has written include Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason (2003); More Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason (2005); Book Crush: For Kids and Teens: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest (2007); and Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers (2010).  She is also working with Amazon to bring back into print some of her favorite books that have long been unavailable.  The series is entitled “Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries,” and you can find a list of books in the series by using Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries as a search term at Amazon.com.  Amazon has committed to republishing approximately six books a year from a list of books that were originally published between 1960 and 2000.

I have many books about books, and Pearl’s Book Lust and More Book Lust are two of my favorites.  Rather than randomly listing books or spending an entire chapter on one type of book, each page or two in those books offers a new category to entice you.  How can you possibly resist reading sections titled “Les Crimes Noir” or “Academia: The Joke” or “Essaying Essays” or “First Lines to Remember” or “Lost Weekends” or “Shrinks and Shrinkees”?  Sprinkled throughout, Pearl has also included entries entitled “Too Good to Miss.”  Each is on the works of an author she particularly likes.  The authors and their genres are quite diverse.  They include Frederick Busch, George MacDonald Fraser, Robert Heinlein, Jonathan Lethem, Ian McEwan, Iris Murdock, and Rex Stout.  All of the above are from the approximately 125 sections in Book Lust alone.

Pearl does a show (usually with the excellent Steve Scher) on KUOW.  Check it out here.  I have listened to her on that show many times and am amazed to find that she does NOT finish many of the books she begins.  She follows a certain rule about how long to read a book before you decide whether or not to complete it, and recommends that we do the same.  The rule is that if you are less than 50 years old, read 50 pages.  If you’re not hooked on the book by then, put it aside and try another.  If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100, and close the book if you’re not interested in it after that many pages.  So if you’re 60 years old, read 40 pages of a book, and then decide if it is worth finishing.  She’s not telling you to get rid of the books you set aside, she’s saying that you aren’t ready for them at that time.

One more thing you need to know about Nancy Pearl is this: Never call her a “retired” or “former” librarian.  She will quickly remind you that she’s still a librarian.  She won’t say it, but she is, indeed, America’s librarian.

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