Seattle’s Most Famous Librarian Tries Her Hand at Fiction Writing

Author and lit critic Nancy Pearl says her first novel was "a surprise in many ways."

By Gwendolyn Elliott


September 1, 2017

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Having an ice cream flavor and action figure created in one’s honor comes with some cachet. Normally reserved for the likes of a rock star or sports legend, these tributes have come to Seattle’s favorite librarian and author Nancy Pearl. (The flavor is Full Tilt’s Peanut Butter Book Club; the toy, Archie McPhee’s Librarian Action Figure, comes complete with “push to shush” button.)

Before she “retired” in 2004, Pearl was the executive director of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library, where she became widely known for her much imitated reading program, “If Everyone in Seattle Read the Same Book,” and for her first book, Book Lust, a lively, conversational guide to recommended reading. (She has since published three more in the Book Lust series.) A frequent literary critic on National Public Radio and “full-time reader,” the 72-year-old Hawthorne Hills resident has just completed her first work of fiction, George and Lizzie (Touchstone, September 5, $25).

“This novel was a surprise in many ways,” says Pearl, who had the characters in mind for a long time but never had “write a novel” on her to-do list. “I still feel like, ‘Really? Did I do that?’”

The book—which Pearl describes as “a character-driven novel about a couple who maybe shouldn’t have gotten married, but did”—was an utterly different experience than her other writing projects.

“The hardest thing about writing this novel was that the sentences that sounded perfect in my head, the minute I put them down on paper, they sounded so lame. I’d write a sentence like, ‘She took his arm,’ and then I’d think, well, where did she take it? What did he do with only one arm? Do I have to include that in the plot?” (Pearl credits a good editor and the writer’s grind of “just getting it all down” as having helped.)

Naturally, many of the novel’s characters share a love of books. “It seemed to me that, partly consciously and partly subconsciously, if I was going to spend all this time with these characters, they’d better be characters that I shared a lot with. I think, when I sat down and was doing the writing, I just wanted to write a book that I would love to read,” says Pearl, who’s looking forward to a busy book tour but is keeping mum about what comes next. “I’m just enjoying what’s happening right now with George and Lizzie.” 

Upcoming George and Lizzie readings:

9/5. 7 p.m. Free. Seattle Central Public Library, 1000 Fourth Ave.; 206.386.4636.

9/28. 6 p.m. $200. Author Salon at the Sorrento hotel, presented by the King County Library System Foundation. 900 Madison St.; 425.369.3448.

11/3. 7 p.m. Free. Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, 17171 Bothell Way NE; 206.366.3333.

11/7. 1 p.m. $45, includes copy of the book and lunch from Vios Café). Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave. NE; 206.525.2347.


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