Nancy was introduced as the “most dangerous woman in the Northwest” because when readers hear her on the radio, Lola Deane said, they “forget whatever they’re doing and head for the bookstore.” Just listen to the Library Journal Librarian of the Year (2011) on NPR or in person and you’ll understand how her enthusiasm for books is contagious. You can hear the twinkle in her speech even if you can’t see the twinkle in her eye when talking about books.
The 2004 winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award for contributions to the world of books brought 19 books with her. Here are thumbnail sketches of some of Pearl’s recommendations:
2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas (Marie-Helene Bertino): The connections tie the diversecharacters (including a dog) together. The main character is a 9-year-old girl but it’s “the quality of the writing” that Nancy most appreciated. The Whites (Harry Brandt) doesn’t hit the shelves until February. Nancy called it a fast, gritty urban thriller. If you liked the gritty crime drama HBO series “The Wire,” created by David Simon, this book’s for you. Harry Brandt is a pseudonym for Simon.
Spooner (Pete Dexter). Dexter is a Washington state author who wrote “The Paper Boy, “Deadwood,” and the award-winning novel “Paris Trout.” She appreciated the book from the first line: “My brother Ward was once a great man.” Nancy: “It’s a great opening line. My heart just started pounding. I’d fallen in love with this book.” Nancy started reading “Spooner” at a bus stop. “I clutched it to by chest and said, ‘Oh, wow! This is a book!’ The man next to me got up fast.” Dexter’s books tend to include violence, “But Spooner’s not like that. It’s the book that Pete Dexter was born to write. It’s an autobiographical novel about coming to terms with who you are and what the world is. But it’s the writing that really sets this book apart.”
The Peripheral (William Gibson). Gibson is credited with beginning the cyberpunk subgenre of speculative fiction with “Neuromancer” and coined the term cyberspace. He predicted the rise of our electronic media, Nancy said. “He is always one step ahead.” This book is set in two futures, the second in 2050 when there are few people left. Nancy called the book “amazing. It takes awhile to understand what’s going on and I didn’t mind. You discover the plot as the author wants you to. About 3 a.m. I got a handle on it … It covers contemporary issues such as climate change and income equality but it’s not heavy. It’s a great find.”
The Distance (Helen Giltrow). Pearl had to keep reminding herself to breathe with this one, a contemporary thriller with a London socialite who leads a double life: one as a law-abiding and contributing member of society; the other who helps people disappear. “The suspense is really, really great.” The author of The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt, is a brilliant writer, thinker and novelist who can write about big ideas and make them entertaining, Nancy said. In this case, gender bias in the art world, where traditionally women have been taken less seriously, reviewed less, and had a harder time to be granted gallery space. “Read it slowly, savor the way she uses words. It’s not a light read but it makes you think.”
The Unsubstantial Air (Samuel Hynes): A “prodigious amount of research” led to this nonfiction effort published on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It’s the story of American aviators, a disproportionate number from Ivy League schools, who went to war before the U.S. entered it. Hynes, a former combat pilot, brought his personal experiences to the letters, journals and memories. The Diamond Lane (Karen Karbo) “is so much fun to read. It’s a fabulous satire,” Nancy said about the re-issue of the 1991 novel. It’s about two sisters, Mouse and Mimi, who reconnect in Hollywood, and it’s through them that the materialism of Hollywood is skewered. “I have a sister and believe me, I recognize some of this stuff,” Nancy said.
F (Daniel Kehlman) “is a fabulous novel, a brilliant, brilliant book,” Nancy said. It’s the story of three brothers taken to see a hypnotist perform. The father does not believe he could be hypnotized but goes on the stage when asked. Afterwards, the father drops his sons off at their mother’s and disappears for 13 years. The story is about each brother as they go their separate ways, and what the letter “F” stands for in each son.
Check the Website later for more of Nancy Pearl’s recommendations.
—–Written by Sharon Wootton