Of course, you'd expect “Book Lust” author Nancy Pearl to tout the pleasures of reading when she appears at Charlotte's Novello Festival of Reading.
You wouldn't expect her to discuss the perils of reading.
Speaking Sunday at ImaginOn, the famous librarian with an action figure made in her likeness, revealed that being a compulsive reader comes with pitfalls.
You learn your vocabulary from books, for instance. As a result, “you never know how to pronounce anything,” Pearl said. For years, she thought fugue was pronounced “fa-gooey” and segue “se-gooey.” “I always thought when things went wrong, they went ‘aw-ree,'” instead of “a-rye,” she said. “I have a reader's vocabulary, and not a speaker's.”
In the book-loving audience of about 150, heads nodded with recognition.
Another danger: You end up guessing a word's meaning through context, without bothering to look it up. Pearl recalled reading at age 11 that a character had died of consumption. “I'm thinking, ‘Well, who ate her?'”
And then there's the problem of reading so much that life and art blur.
Once, Pearl described to her daughter the beautiful dress she'd worn to junior prom – light green, tulle, with a peplum bodice.
Her daughter replied, gently, that she thought her mom was mistaken. That was the dress Penny Howard wore in the book “Double Date.”
“It throws your whole life in disarray,” Pearl said.
Still, reading's pleasures have trumped those pitfalls.
Raised in an unhappy family in Detroit, Pearl spent as much time as possible at the public library and credits reading with saving her life.
The Seattle librarian achieved stardom in 2003 with “Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason.” In it, she lists hundreds of her favorite books, organized into categories such as “Politics of Fiction,” novels about politics; “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” novels about baseball; and “First Lines to Remember,” books with great first lines.
That book was such a hit that she followed it with “More Book Lust” and “Book Crush” for kids and teens. She's a regular commentator about books on NPR's “Morning Edition.”
During a question session, one audience member asked about her librarian action figure, which includes a push-button shushing action.
The idea, Pearl explained, was hatched when she was talking to the owner of the Seattle-based Archie McPhee store, which had previously sold Jesus and Freud action figures. “It was like an oxymoron – library action figure,” she said.
One day, she got a telephone call asking if she could go to Mukilteo, a town near Seattle, to be digitized. Digitized she was, and more than 100,000 plastic figures have since been sold. (They're a popular gift for library school graduates.)
And Pearl, who loves great first lines of books, figures she has one of her own if she decides to write a memoir: “I went to Mukilteo to be digitized.”