Saturday, September 01, 2007

Nancy Pearl: Rock Star Librarian

I've been fascinated by librarian Nancy Pearl for a while now because despite all the gloom and doom news about the demise of independent bookstores, large bookstore chains struggling to turn a profit, schools that no longer teach the classics, and the fact that one in four Americans did not read a single book in 2006, she seems to be everywhere sharing her excitement about books. Turn the radio to NPR and you're likely to hear Pearl talking about books. Pick up a newspaper, and there's her latest book commentary. Go to your local bookstore and you'll find copies of Book Lust , More Book Lust and Book Crush, the three books in which she recommends hundreds of books that she's enjoyed over the years. She's everywhere and, in the book world, she seems to have reached rock star status. Heck, the lady even has an action figure patterned after her.

I particularly like her common sense advice when it comes to reading habits because Nancy is not afraid to remind readers that there are only so many hours in a lifetime that can be dedicated to reading and that those hours shouldn't be squandered on books that don't work for you as a reader.
Nancy Pearl is tough on books. She guesses she finishes one for every 10 she starts.

"I really demand a lot," the retired Seattle librarian says, "sometimes, I think, too much. But I don't want to waste time on a bad book."

"A bad book," she explains, "is any book you don't like. A good book is any book you like."
...
These days, in addition to her regular radio appearances and writing books and book reviews, Pearl speaks at libraries, bookstores and various literary events across the globe, encouraging adults and children alike to read.

"We are a community of readers and what we need to do as adults ... is really allow kids to find themselves in the pages of a book," she says.
...
Her research for "Book Crush" included asking kids what they were reading, then reading the same books herself.

"Unless I liked them, too, I didn't put them in here," says Pearl, gesturing to the book. If a title is listed in one of her books, she assures she's read the entire thing.

"Time is short and the world of books is very large," she says. "To slog through a book you're not loving is a waste of your time. If you don't like a book, no matter how old you are, you should stop reading it."
It really is as simple as that. I've found that reading a "bad book" takes at least twice as much time as reading one that I enjoy and, since I have stacks and stacks of books waiting to be read, I can't waste much of my reading time on "bad books." The trick is knowing when to admit that enough is enough. I'm considerably less likely to give up on a book than Nancy is. Where she admits to finishing only one book in any ten that she starts, I am just the opposite, finishing at least nine of any ten that I begin. But, as my reject rate has gradually risen over the years, I find that I read more books per year now than ever before and, more importantly, that I enjoy reading more than ever. Words of wisdom from a rock star.

16 comments:

  1. She really does make the decision to drop a book sound incredibly simple doesn't she? I estimate I finish about 6 for every ten that I start. That includes those that I stop reading but tell myself I'll get back to later and, naturally, never do. I think I tell myself that in order to avoid the guilt I usually experience when giving up on a book, even ones I don't like.

    I think I'll tape Nacy Pearl's words of advice on my wall. I said it once, and I'll say it again: the reading life really is too short.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm like you, Sam, I finish most everything I start, but I'm starting to see a pattern--books that start badly tend to stay that way. There are lots of other books in the library...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am more likely than ever to skip a book that I am not enjoying but I still try to give it a fair shot because I always figure there may be a point at which it gets better.

    Sometimes I am right and sometimes I just give up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't have a problem with quitting a book if I feel like it, but honestly, I don't dislike 90% of the books I start. She must be picky in some very specific way(s). Not everything I read leaves me in raptures, but most of it I'm glad to have read anyway and enjoyed in one way or another.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I can't decide if I want to live with Nancy Pearl and be her love (apologies to my husband) or if I want to BE Nancy Pearl.

    She is wise in her advice about abandoning a book if it's not working for you. I did that more in the US when I had access to a library. Now that I buy most of the books I drag in, I feel as if I should finish them. Besides, if I really hate a book, I can have fun slagging it in my blog.

    The last book I quit was Atlas Shrugged 2.5 years ago. When I quit reading a book, I really mean it!

    Thanks for a(nother) terrific post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm really bad about leaving a book unfinished: even if I'm not enjoying it, I'll usually slog through. I just can't make myself admit defeat!

    However, I will try to keep Nancy Pearl in mind when I'm reading from now on. I can't believe she abandons nine out of ten books; I really love most of the books I read. Weird!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I guess I finish more than Nancy Pearl does, but I have finally given myself permission not to finish books I don't like. She's so right, time is short and there are just so many books...

    ReplyDelete
  8. J.S., I think that we all carry a certain amount of guilt that we learned in school when it comes to quitting a book before we finish it. I'm getting better at doing it. I've finished 107 this year, so far, and have quit on 9, the highest ratio of quit to read that I've ever had, probably. And I don't feel "guilty" about it, even on the ones that are best sellers or were written by best selling authors whom I've enjoyed in the past.

    I even list the "quits" in the left hand column of the blog just to remind myself of how much time I've spent reading that group of books this year. It amounts to several hundred pages of reading, without a doubt.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sylvia - that's exactly what I've come to realize. If I'm not enjoying the book in the first 50-60 pages, it's not likely to change later.

    Amy - I hear you, but it just almost never happens for me that the book actually gets better. Now if it's something like a Dickens book, I'll keep plodding onward, no matter what.

    Del - I do have a hard time understanding how someone can reject 9 out of 10 books. The only thing I can figure is that she is not very selective on the front end of the process or is forced to start a lot of books because of her work that she wouldn't otherwise have even picked up.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bybee, if I were dragging books half way around the world, I would have a hard time quitting on them. When I lived in Algiers and there was nothing in English available, books were almost worth their weight in gold to me and I would never have given up on one of them. This was back in 1992 when the country was in the middle of a civil war and it was wise to stay in and keep your head down. I could trade books for liquor, food, or video tapes. It's the one time that books reached their true value in my life.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Eva - I do think that giving up on 90% of books is a bit strange, but you will be happier with your overall reading, I think, if you don't force yourself to suffer through books that are just not working for you. Just think of all the extra "good" books that you will read in your lifetime that way. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm with you, Gentle Reader...too many books, too little time. No doubt about it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I completely agree with both you and her. Just as you say, if I'm not enjoying a book, I take forever to finish it. I think it might just be a matter of being more easily distracted when the book isn't interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I really enjoy Nancy Pearl and am glad I attended her talk at ALA back in June.

    I'm assuming she's so inundated with review copies and just published books at the library that she may regard reading a few pages--in what I'd and probably lots of others would call the selection process--as starting a book. If it doesn't snag her immediately she keeps moving on until she find one that does.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Dewey, I know that's true for me. If I'm not enjoying a book, my mind tends to wander.

    ReplyDelete
  16. That's probably it, sfp. She has to wade through so many books as part of her work that she can't be wasting a lot of time on those she won't be writing about or recommending. Makes sense.

    ReplyDelete