Just for the record, the book towers on second floor of the library featured Gems from Nancy Pearl even before Library Journal named Pearl 2011 Librarian of the Year.
LJ rightfully praises Pearl’s innovative training and advocacy for books and libraries. What I appreciate most is the uncanny knack of “the librarians’ librarian” to bring together books and readers, matchmaking that has engendered great happiness on thousands of occasions.
Before Nancy Pearl hit the big time as executive director of the Washington Center for the Book (where she originated the “one city, one book” concept), and before she gained national celebrity and inspired an action figure, she evangelized the joy of reading on a smaller scale. She worked as a bookstore owner and librarian in Tulsa where I lived. I wasn’t a librarian then, or even thinking of becoming one at that point. But I still viewed her as a role model; her booktalking ability was and is magical. Chatting on the local NPR station, Pearl warmly recalled Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons. A few words and one well-chosen anecdote later, and I was hooked, convinced already that Pearl’s pick was exactly my kind of book. Not only am I now a Kaye Gibbons fan, but I’ve recommended Charms and other Gibbons novels to others who also loved them.
Along with Nancy Pearl’s contagious affection for a good story, I admire her non-judgmental approach, the belief that “a good book is a book someone likes and a bad book is one they don’t like”. Still, Pearl does encourage librarians and readers alike to answer “What should I read next?” with three titles: “One should be pretty close to the one they loved. The second should be a little bit different, a bit of a stretch. Their third book is the real stretch book, the reach book. The book they never would have found because it is nonfiction and they only look at Westerns.”
From my vantage point at the reference desk, I can see the Gems from Nancy Pearl displays clearly; every book there has been recommended by Pearl. Julia Glass’ memorable Three Junes would, for most readers, fit the “close to one they loved” tag. Across from it, Mark Winegardner’s witty Crooked River Burning could supply the “little bit different” factor. For the “real stretch” book, you might want to pick up Jose Saramago’s Blindness, unless you’d prefer Larry Beinhart’s (how appropriate!) The Librarian.