Monday, March 30, 2009

An Brief Interview (with a few recommendations because she can't help herself,) with Nancy Pearl

Librarians have not always been kindly treated by me, anymore than I was by most of them. Now that we're grown, there are a number of friends who have joined that tribe and yet kept my affection, and even one librarian, perhaps the most famous living American librarian, I've come to consider my friend. As unlikely as it seems, given my distrust of the average library-professional, I was already fond of her as an author and radio personality long before I had the chance to meet her in the bookstore, where she is a frequent and honored visitor, and something like our only unpaid employee. Other booksellers and customers can not help but ask the woman about books. As the author of Book Lust and it's sequels, Nancy Pearl has made a second career out of the best of her first; traveling the country, and in fact the world, recommending the best books, teaching and lecturing, and spreading both literacy and the good fellowship of books everywhere she goes. She is, in her public life, an inspiration and a wonder. Privately, to the extent that she is now allowed a private moment when in public places, she is a hoot. She is, for any who might need a description, a diminutive lady, though not quite so small as the Librarian Action Figure modeled on her, a stylish dresser, and genuine charmer. Had we both not already good husbands, I'd take her dancing without so much as a by-your-leave. She has become a friend, or I wouldn't have troubled her with such banal questions as these, and as a friend, I of course want to know about her books, the books she owns, the books she keeps, the librarian's personal library. Short of sneaking into her garage and poking around myself, this seemed the easiest and more polite way to find out something of the good lady's favorite books. As always, she surprises and delights me here again.

Brad Craft: Thanks for doing this, my dear Miss Fancy. You're most kind. I know that, as a librarian, you spent a good part of your professional life recommending books. In fact, you've made a whole second career from doing just that! But rather than ask you to do any such thing here, I'm more inclined to ask you about the books you own. I know you receive books by the hundreds to review, but do you keep many books? How many books would you say you own?

Nancy Pearl: I do get lots of books from publishers – all of whom want me to review them, preferably on NPR’s Morning Edition. I don’t know how many books I own, but it really isn’t that many. When LibraryThing started, I added all my books (which was useful, because then I could see all the duplicates I had purchased over the years), and I had about 1500 books. But that was a while ago, and I’ve added some since then. Now, sadly, mostly all my “real” books – the ones I love – are boxed up in my garage, and the books that are on the bookshelves in my house are ones that have come in for me to review, or books that are under consideration for an award for which I am one of the judges, and a few mass market paperbacks that I grab whenever I have to take an airplane somewhere.

BC: Do you write in books, in your own books I mean?

NP: I don’t write in the books I own. I think that’s because I find it presumptuous or something to think that I would have something to add to what an author said. Or to comment on it, favorably or not. Or maybe when I was a child I was punished for writing in a book, and have never done it since. In any case, something prevents from writing in the books.

BC: What was the first book you loved as a child, and do you own it now?

NP: One of the books I loved was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. (I was one of those horse-loving girls). I do still have the book, which someone must have given me as a gift, since we couldn’t afford to buy books. (The author) autographed for me when I was about 10. I probably haven’t reread it since I was 12 or so, though. Many of the books I own (that are boxed up) are children’s books that I loved when I first read them as a kid. They’re mostly ex-library books, in terrible condition, and no real collector would have them on his or her shelves. Like the Henry book, I’m pretty sure I’ll never reread them, but I still like to have them around, just in case. When some of my old favorites have come back into print, I have replaced my worn out copies – like the Betsy-Tacy books, or the fantasies by Edward Eager. And some of my children books I’ll end up giving to my three granddaughters when they’re old enough to read them.

BC: What was the first book you remember buying with your own money?

NP: Don’t laugh – it was Peyton Place by Grace Metalius – I remember the drug store where I bought it. Whew – what a read.

BC: I tried that one when a marvelous biography of Metalius came out a few years back. Though I didn't finish the novel. I suppose one had to be there, so to speak. Where is your personal library and what does it look like?

NP: As I mentioned above, all my real books are boxed up. But before I packed them up, before my last move, they were a very eclectic collection of titles, mostly fiction, and many of them being what I would characterize as either comfort reading (books by D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell had pride of place), or books that meant a lot to me when I read them – like Midnight’s Children or The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy or The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott or – my favorite novel of all time – A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller. I am not a first edition sort of person – that part never mattered to me; it was always what was inside the book that was important.

BC: Good to see Merle Miller's name again! What are the books on your night-stand?

NP: Let’s see – Tim Gautreaux’s The Clearing (I just read his newest book, The Missing, and really liked it, so went back and started reading his earlier stuff. I had never read them because I was under the misapprehension that his books were too violent. They’re not at all and I have no idea how I got that notion. I’m so glad I disabused myself of it by reading The Missing). I’m also rereading all the early early Dick Francis. My favorite of all time is Nerve.

BC: You've met and interviewed many wonderful writers, do you keep presentation copies? Do you want autographs?

NP: I don’t ask for or keep most presentation copies, but I do have a first edition, first printing, autographed copy of Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which I got when the book first came out and he read at the book store in Tulsa where I worked. I think there were only about 10 people there – this was way before he was well known.

BC: I can not imagine that you have the time, but are there favorite books you still plan to reread? Do you own copies of these?

NP: I don’t want to reread anything, but there are lots of books that I want to read again for the first time. Did I say that before? I do own copies of most of those books.

BC: A sentimental distinction, that, and one with which I can completely sympathize. Is owning a book better than borrowing it? Obviously I think so, but if you do, can you say why?

NP: There are just some books that I want on my own bookshelves, or in my own boxes in my own garage. I would feel bereft without them. Borrowing makes sense for lots of books for me, but there are some I want to have, just to have them. I hate seeing copies of books I love at book stores, because I want them to be on other people’s shelves as well.

BC: From your lips, as they say... Is there any book you wish you owned? Perhaps a book you once owned but don't now?

NP: When I moved from Tulsa to Seattle, we got rid of lots of books. Every night, I would talk to my husband (who was still living in Tulsa, while I was here) and he would pull books off the shelves and read me the title and I would tell him to save it or give it away, so it went in one of two boxes. Somehow, one of the “save” boxes got given away, and I lost a whole raft of books. Little by little I’ve re-found many of them, but there are still books that I’ve never been able to find. One of those is Clancy Sigal’s Going Away. Also, there are a couple of novels by Ruth Doan McDougall – One Minus One and The Cost of Living. I’m sure there are more, but I only remember them when I would go look for them and not find them.

BC: Finally, if you could talk to any writer, living or dead, that you haven't, who would that be?

NP: I find that it’s so chancy to meet an author of books you love – sometimes it turns out that they’re not very nice and then I’m stuck because I can’t read their books again. Mostly, with authors of books I love, I just want to gush about how much I love them, or stare at them with adoration.

BC: Well, thank you, my dear, dear friend, for gushing a bit for me. I adore you.

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