Thursday, March 13

Book Lust - Nancy Pearl

Librarian and book lover Pearl has divided her favourite and most highly recommended books into some 175 categories, ranging from run of the mill themes (biographical novels, Cold War novels, Westerns) to unique groupings ("Christmas books for the whole family to read", "Dinosaur hunting", and "A... my name is Alice" - books written by women named Alice). Arranged alphabetically, the book also periodically lists authors "Too good to miss", with a suggestion of places to start and a little information about what makes them so good - the writing style, setting, what sets them apart from the rest of the herd, and Perl's favourites.
And that was my biggest gripe - for many writers or individual novels there was barely any information to let me decide if this was something I wanted to read myself. Opening at random, for example, I find the section "Gay and lesbian fiction: out of the closet" where Pearl gives a brief overview of the genre, including the delineation between American gay and lesbian fiction before and after 1970 (or the effect of the Stonewall riots on gay and lesbian fiction). Then she writes: "Merle Miller's What Happened and Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story are both set prior to Stonewall. White followed up A Boy's Own Story with The Beautiful Room is Empty and The Farewell Symphony." Nothing at all to tell the unfamiliar reader why these novels are notable, or even what they deal with - presumably the experience/s of being closeted, realising the protagonists' sexual orientation, and coming out, but how are we to know?
Despite this flaw, the understandable American bias, and the disagreements I have about some of her picks, Book Lust is well worth the reading. I consider myself to be quite well read, in terms of breadth and sheer volume, though I've managed to miss many of the classics and a whole chuck of literature, but the vast majority of authors Pearl recommends were strangers to me. This hopefully says as much about the increasing volume of publications as it does about my reading habits. I barely went three pages without finding something I wanted to follow up or try out - though I won't be buying any of her suggestions, armed with too little information about the books, I came away from her lists with several pages of suggested reading, and a library copy of her follow up, the creatively named Book Lust 2. And a resolution to make sure that I'm clear in these reviews about why I did and did not like the works discussed. - Alex

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