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Nancy Pearl
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Celeb librarian Nancy Pearl: Reading romance novels is A-OK

Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl with an action figure made in her honor. (AP)
LISTEN: Seattle's Nancy Pearl, celebrity librarian, says reading romance novels is a-okay

Every city has a cast of characters that you may see around, or hear about, but you don’t know their full story. In the suburban town I grew up in, it was the old, sunburned bald guy who rode his bike around town, year round, in a tiny pair of shorts. No shoes, no shirt, no one I knew had ever spoke to him. We called him the Bird Man.

But the person about town I’m featuring today is much classier than the Bird Man. She wears a shirt and shoes most of the time.

Seattle’s Nancy Pearl is a celebrity librarian. I know it sounds like an oxymoron but Nancy Pearl is beloved by readers around the world. A former children’s librarian in Tulsa and Seattle, Nancy Pearl gained national attention with her Book Lust books and she can be heard giving reading recommendations on NPR’s Morning Edition and affiliate stations in Seattle and Tulsa.

Nancy Pearl was named 2011 Librarian of the Year by Library Journal and she speaks to standing room crowds across the country. But you know you’ve really made it when you’re transformed into an action figure by Archie McPhee.

“This action figure, which is discontinued I’m sad to say, and it’s a very weird feeling to have been discontinued … It came out in 2003, it’s about five inches and it has an action which is the amazing shushing action,” Pearl said. “If you push the little button on the back, the finger will come up very close to her nose and many children who have seen it and played with it have asked me why she’s picking her nose.”

The shushing mechanism was controversial among a couple dozen humorless librarians offended by the stereotype.

There was even a bluegrass band called The Nancy Pearls.

“Yes! It was a couple of librarians in Australia, in Sydney, it was so much fun,” Pearl said. “I kind of don’t think they’re doing it anymore.”

Celebrity librarian Nancy Pearl

Nancy reads every single day and devours about three books a week.

“Reading is my job, so that’s all I do is read,” she said. “I don’t cook, I don’t garden, I do nothing. But I only read the books I want to read, that I’m loving. So if I start a book and I don’t like it, I immediately put it down.”

“People are sometimes shocked at that,” Pearl said. “But in fact, the book is always going to be there. You can always pick it up again and try it. There are several notable examples of books I don’t like on the first, or even on a second try or third try, that I ended up loving. Probably 70 to 80 percent of why we like a book or not is due to our mood.”

Pearl is also an advocate of reading whatever makes you happy, even if it’s a trashy romance novel or a paperback mystery.

“I don’t believe there’s a list of good books that everybody should read,” Pearl said. “I believe the definition of a good book is individual to each person and a good book is a book you like and a bad book is a book you’re not enjoying. But it also doesn’t mean that if some book wins the Pulitzer Prize and you don’t like it, it doesn’t make you a lesser person or somebody who doesn’t appreciate good stuff.”

Pearl says she wanted to be a librarian since she was 10 years old.

“It was because I was very well taken care of by the children’s librarians at my local library in Detroit,” she said. “I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration, they gave me all the love and support I felt I needed, that seemed to me to be lacking. I wanted to do for other kids what they did for me, which is open the world of books. What a wonderful gift they gave me.”

Nancy Pearl has said that she had a tough childhood and that books saved her life.

“On good days I think, ‘Oh, that’s an overstatement,’ and on bad days I think, ‘No, that’s exactly right,”‘ she said. “Because the way I used books as a child, and still, a great degree the way I use books today, is to escape. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I escaped into other worlds and I learned so much about people and places and history. That’s what books still do for me.”

Pearl’s first novel, George & Lizzie, is being published by Simon & Schuster and comes out in September.

To hear more with Nancy, check out the latest episode of my podcast, Your Last Meal or subscribe on iTunes.

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