So many books, so little time-so which of the countless titles should a hungry reader pick out and devour? Pearl, a longtime reader, book reviewer and public librarian, presents a hundred or so of her favorites in this novel guide to finding the right book for the right mood. Presented in eclectic categories of people, places and themes (e.g. "Prose by Poets," "Dinosaur Hunting," "In Big Sky Country" and "Academia: The Joke"), each of her suggestions is accompanied by a few of her thoughts on it, a succinct plot summary and often information about the volume's prizes and print status. Her notes are sprightly and concise: in the section on "Families in Trouble," Pearl mentions Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides ("I always thought that it...defined the dysfunctional novel") and Sylvia Foley's Life in Ocean Air ("surely one of the most depressing books I have ever read in a lifetime of reading grim and depressing books"). There's more than just novels, of course: she recommends, for instance, good "Techno-thrillers" ("nonfiction about science and technology") such as The Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable and One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw. Interestingly, Pearl urges readers to abandon books they dislike after 50 pages, though she does point out that frame of mind often determines one's opinion of a book. "When I begin reading a new book, I am embarking on a new, uncharted journey," Pearl declares in her brief introduction; with this guidebook in hand, readers can benefit from her experience as they travel their own ways.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This column is the latest in our series of interview articles showcasing books written by Booklist contributors. Our focus this time is on Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl, a longtime freelance contributor of reviews to this magazine (see our review of the book on p.24 of this issue).
When Booklist asked Pearl about the provenance of her new book, her answer struck us as the dream of every writer and book lover. "The publisher came to me," she confided, "with the idea of doing a book of recommended reading--incorporating all sorts of books, old and new, fiction and non, for all ages. They wanted it to be friendly and inviting, to sound like I was talking to people who shared my love of reading and good books and wanted some ideas of what to read next."
The publisher certainly approached the right person for the job. A practicing librarian for many years, Pearl is currently the director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle (WA) Public Library. Also, it was her brilliant and much-imitated idea to get all the readers in her hometown to read the same book at the same time and join discussion groups about it. The idea has spread from city to city across the country. She has written a two-volume readers'-advisory reference set titled Now Read This (1999; 2000). But her new book is more than a reference resource for librarians in their readers'-advisory work. It is also a book for personal use by library patrons, and even a book to own and keep on one's reading stand.
Pearl sees this book as a personal milestone. "It's the book that I think my whole life (and career as a librarian) has been leading toward. I basically went through my bookcases at home, where I have managed to accumulate most of my favorite books, and figured out categories they would go in." She came up with almost 200 categories, many of them not surprising, such as "Latin American Fiction," "Science gFiction, Fantasy, and Horror," "Techno-Thrillers," "Biographical Novels," and "First Novels." Other categories reflect Pearl's creative approach to linking books, and these unexpected but exciting categories include "Our Primates/Our Selves," "Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages," "Grit Lit," "Do Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)?" and "Shrinks and Shrinkees."
One of the most interesting categories is called "Too Good to Miss." Actually, this category makes repeat appearances throughout the book, each time focusing on the work of a single author. In "Too Good to Miss," always approximately a page in length, Pearl isolates what makes a particular writer special to her and what books she would recommend. The authors receiving this special treatment include Frederick Busch, Mark Kurlansky, Eric Kraft, and Iris Murdoch. When Booklist suggested these one-author spotlights were one of the best features of the book, Pearl admitted, not surprisingly, that she loved preparing them. "I tried to include authors who I felt might be underappreciated . . . as well as those who might be less well known. Doing them gave me the chance to talk a bit about what makes these writers so good, which was a fine exercise for me as a reader and book reviewer." She expresses the regret that "I wish now that I had done more of them." So will her readers.
Of course, in preparing a book like this, which is all about recommending books on all kinds of subjects to open and eager readers, Booklist wondered if Pearl worried more about leaving out a number of books and authors than figuring out which ones to include. Pearl concurred: "The worst--most painful--part was having to bring the project to a halt. I still wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, realizing that I left out [certain] authors and books." That would seem to be an inevitable part of the selection process. Pearl had the last word on the subject: "I have to say, having done the indexing myself, that most of my favorite books are here. Except, of course, for the new books that come out after the book was done. I might have to do another book to include those!" We look forward to the sequel, then. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved