Friday, November 30, 2012

Lusting after books? Let this librarian help

When I visited Ooty recently, I picked up two utterly captivating books at a "book fair" (a permanent used-books store, really), which is located a short walk away from Commercial Road in the heart of town. The View from the Ground, by veteran novelist and journalist Martha Gellhorn, cost me Rs.250 (Flipkart is selling it for Rs.550). I bought the second book, which sort of jumped out at me from the shelves, for only Rs.150 (it costs Rs.777 on Flipkart). More Book Lust, for that is the name of this frisky critter, is the creation of the seemingly indefatigable Nancy Pearl.

Pearl, a Seattle-based librarian, is clearly in lust with books. Her first compilation, Book Lust, was such a hit that it flew off the shelves (much like its sequel did that day in Ooty) and made her America's most famous bibliothecary. In fact, as the New York Times reported afterwards, Pearl even became the model for a librarian action figure (''With amazing push-button shushing action!'') created by a novelty company.

Both Book Lust and More Book Lust, with recommendations for all tastes and in all genres, help book-lovers arrive at the answer to that perpetually nagging question: What do I read next? Pearl's website is a big help, too — it offers updated recommendations on books that came out after the publication of her two best-sellers and on books that do not feature in either Book Lust or More Book Lust.

I have already made a list of books I want to check out for myself now. And, thanks to More Book Lust, I have also discovered Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. Not unlike Pearl, who writes that Child wasn't a favourite of hers to begin with, I didn't think the Reacher books were for me. Over time, I have grown to love non-fiction and serious fiction; I am less keen on popular fiction. But after reading what Pearl had to say in the section "Lee Child: Too Good to Miss", I fired up my Kindle and found to my joy that I have the e-book versions of all the eight titles she recommends. I have since finished reading The Enemy. Next up: Killing Floor.
  • Book Lust, published in 2003, recommends 1,800 titles, while More Book Lust, released in 2005, discusses another 1,200 titles.

Here's some sound advice from Nancy Pearl concerning finishing a book you have picked up (from More Book Lust):

One of my strongest-held beliefs is that no one should ever finish a book that they're not enjoying, no matter how popular or well reviewed the book is. (Except, of course, if it's for a homework assignment or for a book group.) Believe me, nobody is going to get any points in heaven by miserably slogging their way through a book they aren't enjoying but think they ought to read.

I live by what I call the "rule of fifty", which is based on the reality of the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you're fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up. If you're over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100 — the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. (If you're 100 or over, you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers in doing so — see the section "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover".)

  • One thing led to another, as it often does when surfing the web, and clicking on a link on led to my discovering a video of her interview with Anu Garg, the Seattle-based software engineer who founded A.Word.A.Day. If you use regularly — and who doesn't? — you will have noticed the "Word of the Day" panel in the top left-hand corner. Yes, that Anu Garg. Watch the illuminating interview here.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for that post, Ramesh. as a compulsive reader, i've often been thoroughly ashamed of myself whenever i've put aside a book that's garnered rave reviews and been touted as the last word in whatever genre it's supposed to be in! Nancy Pearl give us all the hope and courage to say, sorry, this one's not for me! incidentally, i'm 50+ but there are times when i can't even get past the first 20 pages in some books.


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