With Nancy Pearl's fiction debut, it's the librarian's turn
Nancy Pearl is best known as "America's librarian," and she's also NPR's books commentator.
She also was the model for The Librarian Action Figure.
"George and Lizzie" ($25, Touchstone), due out Sept. 5, is her first novel.
The Tribune reached out to Pearl as the release of her novel approaches. Reached at home in Seattle, Pearl's voice is warm and carries a laugh:
Tribune: You've written lots of books about reading — surveys of books, and suggestions for readers for different moods or tastes. How did fiction enter the picture?
Pearl: What happened was these two characters came into my head late one night as I was trying to fall asleep — the character Lizzie and I have the same insomnia issue. All I knew originally was their first names, and I knew they met in a bowling alley. Nothing else was clear. Days, weeks, months later I couldn't stop thinking about them, but it was all in my head. I didn't write anything down. And then one day — two years later — I was learning about their parents and their families ,and I thought, "Who knows if I'm going to remember these things," the good lines, so I started writing these little snapshots of George and Lizzie almost at random. I just thought, "I'm writing what I like to read about." I love reading about books and people and poetry, and I gave Lizzie some of those aspects. I was not thinking in terms of, "Can this be published?" I've always used books as an escape from the real world, and I was in a bit of a slump not finding what I wanted to read at the time.
Tribune: Who are some of your favorite fiction writers?
Pearl: I love Lorrie Moore's short stories, the "Birds of America" collection. Anne Tyler has always been a favorite — I've read all of her books — her first 12 books just can't be beat. She's getting all this great press for her new book, and I hope it makes people go back and read her old books.
Tribune: I've read Moore but not Anne Tyler.
Pearl: "Searching for Caleb" is the place to start.
Tribune: Your book's main characters are George, a Buddhist dentist, and Lizzie who's not in love with him as she should be. She's holding back some pretty big secrets. I've got three more pages. Does she ever tell him?
Pearl: You'll have to finish. I always thought the book ended one way, and when I got there the characters said, "No, that's not what happened." They told me what they wanted. When a friend read the book, and liked it, she said, "How come I can't find a George in my life?" But I wanted the two characters to be very different, and they approach the world from such different positions. He's a half-full guy, and she's completely empty.
Tribune: Lizzie loves poetry, and there's a fair bit of it the book: Edna Vincent Millay, for instance.
Pearl: We share the love of poetry. My mother was a huge poetry lover. The two poems — at the beginning and the end — are bookends of the book and that was really important to me. I was thrilled that I was given permission to use them in the book.
Tribune: Just how many books do you read a month?
Pearl: I don't have a life, I just read. I live my life through the books I read. I don't cook, garden or clean the house. I have a very self-sufficient husband. I talk a long walk in the morning, and then I read.
Tribune: Anything you've read lately that you're especially excited about?
Pearl: There are two books coming out in the fall: The new novel by Jesmyn Ward called "Sing, Unburied, Sing." Oh my gosh, it's about the resilience of children, it's about race, it's just fabulous and beautiful. And a new novel by Robin Sloan called "Sourdough" is very funny.
Tribune: That's a scoop right? You haven't mentioned them on the radio?
Pearl: It is.
Tribune: Are you still working as a librarian?
Pearl: I left the Seattle Public Library in 2004. And now I do in-service workshops helping librarians and sharing my theories about people sharing books with others, promoting books and reading. Becoming a librarian prepares you for anything.
Nancy Pearl will be at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6.