Nancy Pearl is a book savant, a former librarian with an encyclopedic knowledge of books and a reading sensibility she describes as "promiscuous." She puts this literary promiscuity to bear in her bestselling Book Lust book series, which deals in chatty, irreverent book recommendations. She's in town this week to promote Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers; she spoke with the Mercury via phone from her home in Seattle.
Mercury: Can you describe your new book?
NANCY PEARL: It's an eccentric collection of armchair travel, history, explorers' tales, and fiction of all sorts. It's arranged in various quirky categories that cover everything from mountain climbing to Naples and everything in between. Not just European travels but world-wide travel, various states and various cities, all over the world.
How do you know which books are appropriate for cities or countries you've never been to?
In one way you could say, "How can you write this book? You've never been to these places." But on the other hand, I'm the perfect writer for this kind of book because I have been to all these places via books. So it's not just my perspective of a place—it's all these different authors'.
Are books in translation a tough sell?
We're seeing, finally, in the United States a lot more translations of books... particularly when you're talking about mysteries, because Soho Press is doing a huge number of mysteries set not just in the Scandinavian countries, but all over. Which is very, very exciting, that we're finally getting to read those.
How did you decide what books to recommend?
It took about two years to do the reading and culling out the books that I wanted to be in Book Lust to Go. I spent a lot of time trolling bookstores looking for books in their travel sections and looking at the 900s in the library, so just because the book was no longer in print was not a reason for me not to include it.
Do you think your background as a librarian informs your willingness to recommend out-of-print books?
Certainly it's an important value that I had as a librarian, which is that we're so concerned with what's new that we forget that there were wonderful books written 10 years ago and 50 years ago. I wanted to bring those back into the public consciousness.