Living in Washington, DC I run into a lot of smart people who read a lot, but few of them seem to be doing it for fun. Until recently I didn’t really know many people who I could trust for book recommendations. I would rely on lists like the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century and the Booker Prize winners and other lists I could get my hands on. That is until I met Nancy Pearl. Well, I didn’t actually meet her, but I wish I had.
The first time I heard of librarian Nancy Pearl was in a blurb in The New Yorker where they described her new librarian action figure that came complete with genuine shushing action capabilities. Besides being known for her work in the Seattle Library System and her book reviews on Seattle’s NPR affiliate, Pearl has written two of the most important books in my library: Book Lust and More Book Lust. Essentially each book is a series of annotated lists of books that she has enjoyed. Let me tell you, Pearl has enjoyed a lot books, both fiction and non-fiction, and the breadth of her reading interests seems limitless.
Each chapter is organized around a theme. Some of them are appropriately predictable like “Small-Town Life” and “World War I Fiction”. Others are somewhat quirkier like “Sex and the Single Reader”, “Nagging Mothers, Crying Children” and one solely on U.S. government documents that are worth a read.
My favorite chapters however, are the ones where Pearl picks an author that she thinks is just “Too Good to Miss” giving an overview of what the author is all about, some of Pearl’s favorite titles by that author, and in some cases a list of all of the author’s works. Some of these chosen authors I was already aware of like Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan, and Carol Shields. But others were completely new to me including reporter turned novelist Ward Just. His subject matter tends to focus on fascinating depictions of some element of politic life and his prose is flawless. Without being pedantic or preachy or even very political, Just has written novels about an Ambassador with a wayward terrorist son, a political operative in Chicago, an American saboteur in Vietnam, a Washington political dynasty and many others. Needless to say I am glad Pearl gave me the heads up.
For those of you looking for something good to read check out Nancy Pearl for ideas. For those of you who aren’t looking for something to read: Why not? You should be. Unless of course you already have a book in your hand. In any case Nancy Pearl really is too good to miss.