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Nancy Pearl: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Nancy Pearl is the author of the well-known Book Lust series, the latest installment of which is Book Lust to Go (Sasquatch Press). She's also our first interview subject to have an action figure based on her.

In the introduction to Book Lust To Go, you describe yourself as a reluctant road warrior and more of an armchair traveler. What's your favorite armchair-traveling comfort read? Do you identify with any famous fictional armchair traveler, like Oblomov, or someone else?

I love books about real travelers, rather than fictional armchair travelers, like Sara Wheeler's books about Chile and the Antarctica, mostly because she's so adventurous and I am so not adventurous. That's the same reason I liked Michael Mewshaw’s Between Terror and Tourism: An Overland Journey Across North Africa—he just seems fearless, even in dire situations.

What do you like to read while you're traveling? Do you always choose books about the place you're going to visit?

Usually when I travel I take along mass market paperbacks—either mysteries or science fiction—because they're small and I don't feel guilty leaving them on the plane or in a hotel room when I'm done. One of these days I'll just bring along books on my iPad to read. I don't usually take along books about the places I'm going.

Name three authors (living or dead) you'd like to give you a tour of their hometown.

Rather than their hometown, I'd like these authors to give me a tour of the place they wrote about: James (now Jan) Morris's books about India—Heaven's Command, Farewell the Trumpets, and Pax Britannica; Agatha Christie's St. Mary Mead, where Miss Marple did all her detecting (I love the idea of small English villages); and Guy Gavriel Kay's imagining of Moorish Spain, in The Lions of Al-Rassan.

What great libraries have you visited on your travels?

I've visited many libraries whose architecture, staff, and general atmosphere made me feel welcome, including the Rapid City, South Dakota library; the Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, Montana; the Saare County Central Library in Kuressaare, Estonia; the Oak Park, Illinois library; the library in Burnie, New Zealand; and the Parkman Branch of the Detroit Public Library (which was my neighborhood library when I was a child).

What was the most challenging thing about writing Book Lust To Go?

Doing all the reading to find books I wanted to include. I didn't want to repeat titles that I'd already included in Book Lust and More Book Lust, so I spent about two years wandering through used bookstores and libraries, looking for books I hadn't read before. It was both hard challenging and fun challenging, if that makes sense.

Tell us about a time you visited a place you'd read about first. Was it like the way it was described? Was it like you imagined it?

After reading Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine as a child, I imagined that was the way Maine was—unspoiled and country-like. And I discovered that certain parts of Maine—certain places—are exactly like that. I remember visiting Vinalhaven and finding it all somewhat familiar, especially because we went blueberry picking.

Think of a favorite place you've visited. What did you learn about it from a book?

My trips to London have been very colored by my enormous amount of reading that I've done. Partly I went to see what was left of “Londinium” (from Rosemary Sutcliff’s books) and Roman life there, and partly to see where some of Dickens takes place. And the weather was just what I had read about.

What was one of your most memorable or surprising traveling experiences?

The majority of my travel is done for work, so I get to meet both librarians and readers. I am constantly surprised about how widely people read, and how reading tastes from Australia to New Zealand to the US tend to overlap. I met a librarian who lives near Sydney, and when I went to her house, her personal library was almost a duplicate of mine. It was lovely and wonderful. And I loved going into libraries all over Estonia and finding Terry Pratchett's Discworld books all translated into Estonian. Like seeing an old friend who's gotten a facelift or otherwise changed their outer appearance (I don’t actually know anyone who’s gotten a facelift.)

Do you shop for books when you travel? Tell us about a favorite bookstore or literary discovery, maybe an author you hadn’t heard of back home but found and loved on a trip?

I don't shop for books, but I always talk to people about books and writers they love. I discovered mystery novelist Peter Temple when I was staying in Melbourne, and that was a great find.

Do you always travel with a book? Do you use an ereader when you travel?

I tend to weigh myself and my luggage down with books when I travel. I do have an iPad, and could download more books to that, but it just doesn't feel natural to me to read on it. I do play a lot of games on it—Angry Birds is my current favorite.

What fictional world or place would you like to travel to or live in?

I want to go to India in about 1935 or maybe even earlier. Also, the world that Anthony Trollope describes would be great. Lady Glencora from the Palliser novels has always been one of my favorite characters.

You describe a map as "one of the most valuable purchases" you’ve made. What else would you say is essential for the armchair traveler/reader?

Essential reading for the armchair traveler would be The Great Railway Bazaar and Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux; anything by Patrick Leigh Fermor or Bruce Chatwin; and the early books of Dervla Murphy. And that’s just the start ...

Let's say you’re stranded in a Moroccan bazaar. What book would you want to have with you?

I think if I were lost in a Moroccan bazaar, I'd want some comforting old favorite to pass the time until I were found—maybe Brat Farrar or The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey. Or The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, which is not comforting but is a wonderful novel.

What's on your bookshelf now?

I am currently reading everything I can find by Jo Walton, who is this amazingly versatile writer. I am in the middle of Tooth and Claw and just loving it. Next on my list is Rosalyn Story's novel, More Than You Know. And after that is Mira Bartok's memoir, The Memory Palace. I do one tweet a day, about a book, so that's the best way to keep up with what I’m reading.

And you can follow Nancy Pearl on Twitter at @nancy_pearl. Thanks for sharing!

—interview by bostonbibliophile

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About author interviews

Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.

 

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