Dear Reader

Nancy Pearl Pic1

I love to read. And while I might not absolutely agree with the Anglo-American man of letters, Logan Pearsall Smith who said, “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading,” I come awfully close to subscribing to his sentiment. In fact, back in the day— far back in the day—I needlepointed that quotation onto a piece of canvas that I’ve never gotten around to framing and turning into a pillow. Too busy reading, I suppose.

Reading has always brought me pure joy. I read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world.  I read to enlarge my horizons, to gain knowledge of others and myself, and to experience beauty and sadness.  I read to find myself and lose myself. I read for company and for escape. I read to meet other people and enter their lives—for me, a way of vanquishing the “otherness” we all experience.

Growing up in a not very happy lower-middle-class family in Detroit, I spent my childhood and most of my adolescence at my local public library—the Parkman branch of the Detroit Public Library. The librarians there found me books that revealed worlds beyond the world I experienced every day.  Although I have very few memories of specific events of my childhood, I have vivid memories of books I read and loved during those years. Sometimes I have forgotten the author or the title, or even what happened in the course of the book; but I do remember how transported I was when I read them.

I’m talking about books like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron; Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse; Robert Heinlein’s Space Cadet, The Star Beast, and Red Planet; Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field; Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink; The Sea Is Blue by Marie Lawson; David Severn’s Dream Gold; Betty Cavanna’s teen romances, like Going on Sixteen and The Boy Next Door; Green Eyes by Jean Nielsen; The Kid from Tomkinsville by John R. Tunis, among so many, many others that changed my life. It’s not too much of an exaggeration—if it’s one at all—to say that reading saved my life.

When I was ten years old, I knew I wanted to become a children’s librarian, just like Miss Long and Miss Whitehead, the main influences on my reading life. I wanted to give other children the gift these two dedicated women gave to me:  the gift of books and reading.

Now, whenever I begin reading a book I’ve never read before, I realize that I am embarking on an a new, uncharted journey, with an unmarked destination.  I never know where a particular book will take me, toward what other books I’ll be led.  How could I have predicted that reading Richard Bausch’s Hello to the Cannibals would send me on a reading jag about Victorian lady travelers?  Or that Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children would lead me to Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and hundreds of other fiction and nonfiction works about India.

Each time I start a new book (and any book I haven’t read before, no matter the year it was published), I realize that there’s a very real chance that this may be a book that I will fall in love with. Some books let me know from the very first sentence that I am in great hands, that this reading experience will be transporting and transformative. How better to explain my reaction to the first few pages of Ward Just’s A Dangerous Friend, Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, The Paperboy by Pete Dexter, and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, to name just a few. 

One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that he or she isn’t enjoying, no matter how popular or well reviewed the book is (or how many awards it has won).  Trust me on this, you’re not going to get any points in heaven by slogging through a book you don’t like.  Any book you aren’t enjoying is not the right book for you at that time.  Of course, that’s not to say that in two weeks or two months or two years or twenty years you might not go back to it and discover that you love it and can’t understand why you couldn’t stand it in the first place.  Our mood has much to do with our reading tastes.  I always leave open the possibility of going back and retrying books that I didn’t like the first time.  I couldn’t get into Matthew Kneale’s English Passengers, John Crowley’s Little, Big, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, and Andrea Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal the first time I tried them: now they’re among my favorite books.

I hope that you’ll find many books here that you’ll read and enjoy, even come to treasure as a high point in your reading life. I do know for sure that some of the books I’m recommending here you won’t enjoy.  And that’s fine: that’s what reading is all about.

Finally, to paraphrase Robert Frost (from “Two Tramps in Mud Time”), my love and my work are one—and I feel extremely lucky to be able to say that.

34 responses to “Dear Reader

  1. Has anyone of you read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen? What do you think about it?

  2. Hey Nancy and all the other followers of your blog,

    has anyone of you read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen? I am terminating this novel today and until now am really enjoying it.. so what do you think about it..?

    Would love to hear your opinion.

  3. maurice

    Nancy:

    I want to love books, but they seem so arduous to get through.

    Currently I’m reading Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac. I love it … but it’s a bit wordy. Sure, he’s a 19th century writer, but I feel for ALL the books I’ve read, I should be plowing through this book a bit quicker, and I feel my reading speed should be quicker as well.

    Harry Potter Book 5 I read in five days. I was flying through it so fast I had to put it down. (After work I would spend two to three hours with the book).

    However, Balzac is sooooo much more engaging. The relationships, soooo complex, soo rewarding, but I have to put in a lot to get something out of it. It requires stamina, intellectual muscle.

    Do you have any advice for increasing my reading speed? There are a lot of books out there and I want to get to as many of them as I can.

    Thanks
    Maurice

  4. Sandra Slade

    The advice about never forcing yourself to finish a book must explain why I’ve never actually finished Midnight’s Children. On my third attempt, I just stopped reading. It’s not that I disliked the novel; it’s just that I felt no compulsion to continue. This “indifference” is hard to explain when I am surrounded by people you love Salmon Rushdie’s magic realist epic.
    For some reason. I really prefer his non fiction essays.

  5. Mary Brogan-Sizemore

    You made me remember the dust-and-sunlight smell of my old inner-city Kent Branch Library in Toledo, Ohio. Castle-like construction from the Carnegie school of architecture. Pretty Mrs. Guy and other nameless ladies people these memories of the journey from the black-sillhouette, orange-covered “biographies,” to the Saturday I brought home “Marjorie Morningstar!” In spite of a near-miss Master’s in English, I love much of the Canon, as well. How important NOT to separate it from -what? can we call it pop-fiction? My thought: figure out the intention of the author. How well she meets it in her production is the measure of the success of the book. I’ve even in my so-called retirement discovered that literary theory has a value – all in the service of a full reading life. (Recent reads, “Insatiable,” Meg Cabot – I had a cold. And “1000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” instant entry into my Top 5.) Bet you loved it, too. Next “The Magicians and Mrs Quent.”
    Thanks.

  6. Thomas Wixon

    Enjoy your site, am collector of Books on Books.

  7. Bernardette

    THANK YOU for including fantasy and science fiction among your favorites.

    I am an avid reader of the genre and I am distressed by how little consideration the critical “literary” world affords it. For example, I’ve never been able to understand why “Ulysses” (Joyce) is considered a masterpiece of literature but “Dhalgren” (Delaney) is not.

    In any event, I am happy to see that you are omnivorous in your tastes and hope that non-scifi/fantasy readers will be encouraged by your blog to try something they might not otherwise.

    Have you tried the Dan Simmons “Hyperion” series? It is absolutely engrossing.

    – Bernardette

    • nancy pearl

      I love Dan Simmons (although his horror novels scare me silly). I really liked the Hyperion books a lot. I also quite enjoyed Ilium.

      And another of my favorites is Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, and, of course, Wizard of Earthsea.

      I also love love love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. One of the highlights of my interviewing life is the one I did with him – just google seattle channel terry pratchett and you can find it.

      Also Guy Gavriel Kay’s historical fantasies – Lions of Al-Rassan is my all time favorite, but Under Heaven and Last Light of the Sun and Sailing to Sarantium are also terrific.

  8. Odette

    Hi Nancy

    I read your letter to your readers and was astonished (in a good way) at the similarities we share. I grew up in an unhappy home and books (and the public library) were my sanctuary. I remember feeling happier just by walking through the library doors.

    Every book was a doorway into a new world, showing me people and places I never knew existed. The greatest gift I ever received was my love of reading.

    It’s wonderful to know that I, here in South Africa, have that in common with someone on the other side of the world.

    • Nancy Pearl

      I was so moved by your note. I think that those feelings of the saving grace of a library are universal, and are why we need to make sure that libraries continue to offer themselves as havens-through-reading…

  9. Lisa Bryant

    I thoroughly enjoyed your interview at ALA and meeting you in person. I look forward to reading your books and finding some new treasures to read!

  10. Pingback: Just Do Good Work » Me & Nancy Pearl

  11. Shara

    Commenting on great books with bad endings (KUOW discussion). In reviewing my homework, my 8th grade English teacher told me that it is the sign of a lazy or uncreative writer to kill off the characters at the end to get out of resolving the storyline. I think ending the story with the character waking up from a dream is also cheating.

  12. Dear Nancy,

    I wanted you to know that you have a Venezuelan fan!

    I listen to your wonderful Podcast vía ITunes and enjoy it thoroughly.

    It’s been a way to know some of my favorite authors and pick up leads on books to read.

    Thanks for sharing your “lust” with us.

    Angela
    Caracas

    • Nancy Pearl

      It’s nice to know that I have a fan in Venezuela and lovely to think that my voice is heard way over the ocean.

  13. KHT

    I want to start by saying I very much enjoy your work in all forums. I especially enjoy hearing you on KUOW’s Weekday. I heard your conversation about audio books this morning and it made me wonder…

    I know you are a fan of graphic novels and did not know if you have also read any comic book series, which are often compiled by storylines into books. My husband turned me onto “Fables” which is wonderful! It is a comic revamping of the classic fairytales we all know in a modern New York City setting. This is a comic for mature audiences as it includes adult themes including war, marital strife, and espionage. There is now a novel by the main writer for “Fables”, Bill Willingham, which interweaves every fairytale and nursery rhyme that includes the name Peter, quite impressive. The novel “Peter and Max” is also an audio book read by Wil Wheaton which my husband and I both enjoyed. All of this to lead to my question:

    Have you ever been a fan of a comic book series and do you consider them “books” along the lines of graphic novels or are they a category apart?

    • Nancy

      I think that comic book series are similar to graphic novels. I know about the Willingham books but haven’t found time to really delve into them. I might start with Peter and Max – what do you think? Nancy

      • KHT

        Yes it is a good novel and a good introduction to Willingham’s wonderful reworking of classic fairytales. I have only experienced it in audio book form and thought Wil Wheaton did a wonderful job with the characterizations. I hope you enjoy it if you find the time to give it a read.

  14. Alex

    Wow! Thank you for mentioning The Kid from Tomkinsville, by John R. Tunis. It has been years since I have thought of him, and that great read! Thanks for that memory!

  15. So glad to have found you. I write about books that inspire travel on my blog, and found several recommendations from you here and there. Have you read the book by new novelist Carolina de Robertis, The Invisible Mountain? It was my first big book this year, and all others are going to have tough going replacing it on the top of my list for the year.

  16. John DeVeiteo

    Nancy,
    If this is not the place to share book titles, I apologize. I am usually not able to phone in during your sessions on KUOW so thought I might share through this medium.

    I will make my comments short. One of America’s most prolific novel writers wrote predominately in one genre and subsequently became the most published writer of that genre to date. He was able to persuade his publishers to allow him to write and, subsequently publish, only two novels outside of that genre. The writer I am speaking of is Louis L’Amour, and the novel is, The Walking Drum.

    

The story is not a western for which Mr. L’Amour became famous. It is an extraordinary and powerful adventure stretching from 12th Century Muslim Spain to the assassin strongholds of SW Central Asia. It is a journey of passing which contains rich characters, exotic landscapes, and is heaped in historical drama.

 The main character is Kerbourchard, a young Breton who sets out to rescue his father, a corsair lost four years earlier and thought to be held by the assassins in what is now modern Iran. His journey takes him not only through the tumultuous times at the end of the dark ages, it also takes him on his own inner journey of growth from naive farm boy , to warrior, lover and scholar. 

The Walking Drum is not only an epic drama (Mr. L’Amour was educated in world history) it is steeped in historical significance. As example: in Kerbourchards travels from Spain to the Middle East, he travels with a band of people called ‘Grocers’. It is they who offer the only form of commerce between villages, countries and tribes and they trade in goods by the ‘gross”. This was the origin of the word we still use to describe where we shop for goods – a grocery store.

    The story is rich and full as is the hallmark of Mr. L’Amours writing. The story resonates with historical fact, the characters are intoxicating, and the religious / political landscapes are illuminating.

  17. I wanted to recommend a book to you Ms. Pearl, since your recommendations have brought me many delightful imaginative journeys over the years.

    I discovered the Moomin series one winter afternoon in Helsinki when I asked a bookstore clerk for some light travel reading recommendations. For the sake of the season this last week I reread Moominland Midwinter, which is hands down my favorite of the valley adventures. I am certain you will love Moomintroll’s discovery of winter and journey into melancholy, the existential musings of Too-ticky and the irrepressible Little My, along with the winter creatures who are otherwise apart from from society.

    Happy reading.

    • Nancy

      I love the Moomin series, too. I think I included them in my book Book Crush, but I can’t locate a copy at this moment and thus can’t double check if I did. If I didn’t, it was a major oversight :-(

  18. susan jones

    Have you read “Let the Great World Spin” ? Was it worthy of the award?

  19. Borg22

    do you have list of recently reviewed books here on line somewhere thanks, BT

    • pearlspicks

      All the recently reviewed books are here on the blog. You might be able to access more at npr.org, under Morning Edition, where I also do book recommendations.

  20. kathleen schultz

    Hi,
    Have you read the book The Tree That Time
    Built?
    Do you think it is worth buying?
    Thank you for your time.

  21. Maggi

    Just listened to you on the radio with Kathleen – I’m so excited to have this source for finding wonderful books. At the end of the hour you were discussing mysteries set in England during specific historic times. Have you read the Masie Dobbs series by Winspear? They begin during WWI (Masie becomes a battlefield nurse) and have continued into the 1930’s. The time period is almost always a factor in the story line, and, of course, there is the idea of a woman in a traditionally “man’s” job. Off to send this link along to some of my book loving friends. Maggi in Wisconsin

    • pearlspicks

      I am quite fond of the Winspear books as well. There’s also a new series starting by Charles Todd that you might enjoy, too. He’s also the author of a series of WW I mysteries about a guy with post traumatic stress syndrome. Also, have you read the series of books about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes? It starts with The Bee-Keeper’s Apprentice. Quite wonderful.

  22. Oh, I forgot to tell: I’m starting my own blog about schoollibrarianship (in Norwegian). I was searching for pictures for the blog at Flickr and that’s where I came across you being a model for the Librarian acton figure. It’s so brilliant and I would very much like to use it in my blog. Little did I know I would find a new literatureblog to follow.
    Best regards, Kristin Berglid

  23. This is the most beautiful story about bookreading I have ever read and being a librarian I’ve read a few. Thank you so much for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s