I was thrilled and honored to learn that I had received the Lifetime Achievement from the independent booksellers of the Northwest, joining other writers whose work I have long admired, such as Ursula le Guin and Alexandra Day. And I have greatly enjoyed getting to know many of you booksellers (and your wonderful bookstores) over the course of the last seven years, as each title in the Book Lust series appeared.
As you all, no doubt, already realize, reading is my passion. But here are four things about my reading life that you might not know:
1. I am among those fortunate few who have been able to make a vocation of their avocation, turned their passion into their profession. As Robert Frost put it in “Two Tramps In Mud Time,” “where love and need are one.” But I have realized that, at least in my case, there is a dark side to such good fortune, a whole hunk of self-destructiveness attached to that.
Over the course of my career, especially as I transitioned from being a librarian to a “celebrity” book recommender, I gradually came to realize that I had taken what had been for much of my life a pure and simple pleasure (putting aside, for the moment, the Freudian psychodynamics behind why I had chosen to live so much of my life through books) and turned it into a job. I’m certainly not ungrateful for all that reading-as-a-profession has brought me; it’s just that it has, not surprisingly, perhaps, changed the way I read. I can no longer read a book just for myself .
Instead, I find myself thinking about what kind of reader would like the book, how I will phrase my tweet, what I will say about it to Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition, or to the next group of people that I’m invited to speak to. And that’s something of a sad state of affairs.
2. Now back to what I put aside above (i.e., the Freudian aspects of why I have chosen to live my life through books): Although I enjoy reading nonfiction (especially history and social science) a lot, my first love has always been fiction (please don’t tell my —first and only—husband). I’m afraid that I tend to conflate the experiences of the characters that I read about with the experiences of the life that I live. For example, I was once reminiscing with my younger daughter about the dress that I wore to my Junior prom, and she commented on the exact similarity between my dress and that worn by Penny Howard to her Junior prom in the book Double Date by Rosamund du Jardin). Sometimes I fear that a significant portion of the life that I’ve lived—the life that I remember living—is totally fictitious. This has long been a problem for my long-suffering nonfiction reading husband, who prefers to think of me, and himself, as non-fictional beings. But since I am convinced that at least 87% of my life as I live and remember it is totally fictional, he is simply wrong wrong wrong.
3. People are always wondering how I can read so many books. Am I a speed reader, they wonder? I am not. My secret is that I multitask, with one of the tasks always being reading. I watch television and read; I talk on the phone and read; I wash dishes and read. If I did housework, I’m sure I could do that and read, too. (Fortunately, my long-suffering, and somewhat compulsive husband likes to do housework.) I can even manage to argue with him and read, only needing to look up briefly every few paragraphs, when I have something to say, or just to let him know that I’m paying attention. Needless to say, my (you know what) husband does not find this to be a completely satisfactory style of interaction.
The one thing I’ve discovered that I cannot do while also reading is play Angry Birds on my iPad. And I’ve become quite obsessed with Angry Birds, enough that it’s slowed my reading down a bit lately. Fortunately, I have a large store of somewhat older books -pre Angry Birds – that I can tweet about, in a pinch. I’m sure no one’s noticed.)
4. And, lastly, there are more books that I don’t like than those I do like. I know that seems counter-intuitive to everyone who has heard me speak about books, since I preface nearly every conversation about a book by saying how much I love it, but keep in mind that I only finish books that I do love. If I’m as much as lukewarm about it, out it goes. I always know that I can go back to a book I haven’t enjoyed and try it again, and I do that, often. But I figure that for every book I do read and love, first time around, I’ve tried and discarded twenty to twenty-five other books. I am probably the most critical of any reader that I know.
So there you have it: the me behind the Me. Or maybe I read this essay somewhere else and am simply writing down what I remember from it. No, that can’t be true, can it?
Join Pearl and Sasquatch Books at Elliott Bay Book Company February 28 at 6pm for a celebration of Pearl’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Complimentary wine and appetizers will be offered, and Pearl will give a brief talk.