An Evening of (Book) Lust with Nancy Pearl

Regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition Nancy Pearl and author of the (Book) Lust series spoke at a fundraiser for my local library foundation earlier this week, and I had the chance to attend. Her talk was a delightful mix of book recommendations and anecdotes about reading and writing and how she became a librarian. Though she only spoke for an hour, I took away a quite a few “pearls” of wisdom, in addition to laughing so hard I got tears in my eyes.

Libraries really are the foundation of our communities.

I’m happy that I get to work across the street from our public library, even if the new renovations the city council approved this week will seriously inconvenience my short drive to work every day (I honestly have no business complaining about my commute). A library offers a public space for community events and a space for citizens to learn and grow. Books are expensive; if they were only privately held, it would limit a lot of people’s access to them. Nancy’s touching story about how “her” public library was her refuge growing up reminded me that no matter what their size, libraries really do touch people’s lives. Even the tiny library in my small town did a wonderful job of getting me to read during the summer, as well as kindling my competitive spirit.

There’s no right or wrong reason to love a book.

During the Q & A, the best question from an audience member was “what is the worst, most memorable, book you’ve ever read (and loved)? Nancy confessed to loving a horribly racist, sexist, terribly written multi-generational series about a family during each American war. This struck a chord with me. After growing up a literary snob, I’ve recently become obsessed with a certain series about a telepathic waitress who happens to date vampires. Not all reading has to expand your vocabulary or wow you with its incredible prose. Sometimes just be entertained is enough of a reason to read, and just because on the surface a book might seem to be pure fluff, doesn’t mean it won’t get you thinking.

In addition to the pleasures of reading, there are always perils.

Librarians are taught to balance collections, and Nancy felt obligated to offer multiple perspectives on reading, too. Some are amusing, like developing a “reading vocabulary”— you understand the meanings of words, but can’t pronounce them properly (ie, “misled” should really sound like MIZZled, should it not?). But there is also a certain loneliness to reading. As a writer and avid reader, I know that there are many Saturday nights when I feel more like putting on my favorite flannel pajamas, opening a good bottle of wine, and curling up at home with a book or escaping to the world I’ve created for my characters, rather than getting all dressed up and going out for a night on the town. And of course this goes back to balance, at least for me.

A few books needed to be bumped to the top of my “to-read” list.

When I first read this review of The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson and discovered it was not about vampires, but children who grew up with performance artists for parents, I added it to my reading list. Now that Nancy Pearl recommended it, I decided I couldn’t wait until it came out in paperback and went ahead and ordered what I thought was an overpriced Kindle version.

Even if it took an evening away from my work on NaNoWriMo, it was definitely worth it (and not just for the wine and cupcakes). If you ever have a chance to hear Nancy Pearl speak, I highly recommend it, and don’t forget to support your local library!

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