Advice Column 

Nancy Pearl: reader; rock star of the library world.

t was a cold, windy night, but the crowd that came to hear Nancy Pearl at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library warmed to her immediately. And why shouldn't they? Pearl — a former librarian, an author, a book reviewer, and a commentator on public radio — is the woman whom The New York Times called "the talk of librarian circles." She's also been called "the rock star of the library world." There's even an action figure modeled after her. And here she was in Memphis on December 6th doing what she does best: recommending books to an audience that easily numbered 150. (200?) She charmed. She enlightened. And she let us know a thing or two about herself.

She talked about growing up in Detroit inside a less than ideal household; about the comfort she took as a 10-year-old in her neighborhood library; about her work as a librarian in Tulsa and then Seattle; and about what seemed to come as a surprise to many in the audience: "I am," Pearl announced, "a pathological pessimist. The glass isn't half-empty. There isn't even a drop!"

So, she worries — about cuts in library staffing and library funding. "Libraries are the heart of a community," she said. "What do these cutbacks mean for us as a society?"

The question was asked and left unanswered, because the big question of the night was: What were Pearl's favorite books of 2010? It's a question that the author of Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason and Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers was more than prepared to answer. But first:

"As a child, I read to escape. I still read to escape. In fact, my grand-daughter complains that all I do is read, which is true. I don't clean house. I don't cook. I don't do anything. But I'll read anything."

Except for horror. Pearl is a self-described scaredy-cat, which is why, at the Central Library, when she recommended Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton, she had some explaining to do: "If I'd seen this cover, I would've never picked the book up. But Blood Harvest is just scary enough, not too scary."

Among the other, less than scary titles Pearl recommended, look for: Miss Hargreaves, a novel by Frank Baker ("to cheer you up if you have a fit of the dismals"); The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund De Waal ("the best work of nonfiction I read this year — beautiful to hold and to behold"); Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin of the University of Mississippi ("a mystery that transcends the genre of mysteries"); Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom ("I read five pages at a time, so I wouldn't sit there oohing and ahhing"); Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay ("historical fiction that's 25 percent fantasy: what I call elastic realism"); the Vietnam novel Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes ("I had to stop every three to four pages, it was so viscerally painful to read"); and Kate Moses' memoir Cakewalk ("I can recommend it in four words: page 234 Chocolate Brownies. Is that four words?").

For more recommended reading, go to nancypearl.com, and do as Nancy Pearl's grand-daughter did. When asked what she wanted for Christmas, the 8-year-old replied, "Not books! Send me a list. I'll check them out of the library."

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