Books

Q&A: Nancy Pearl on travel writing and books to go

Mary Ann Gwinn
The Seattle Times (MCT)

SEATTLE — Nancy Pearl's fans know her by her voice. Last week I waited in line for espresso with America's favorite librarian; when Pearl ordered coffee, the woman next to us swiveled left and lasered in on Pearl's warm, low-pitched voice.

"Are you ... that NPR lady?" said Pearl's admirer — she'd know that voice anywhere.

Seattle-based Pearl reviews books for National Public Radio, travels the world talking about books and writes her own. Her latest is "Book Lust to Go — Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers" (Sasquatch, $16.95). I asked her about travel, great travel writers and her own reading habits.

Q: In "Book Lust to Go," you say you hate to travel, but you seem to spend a lot of time doing just that.

A: Since I left the (Seattle Public) library in 2004, I have spent a lot of time traveling. For someone as anxious as I am, traveling is hard. I get homesick for Seattle and my house.

I've had some great times. Two or three years ago I went to Estonia for a State Department cultural program. They had scheduled a five-hour book talk at the Estonian National Library. Five hours! That was because every word was translated (into Estonian). Then I went to Narva, a town in Estonia near the Russian border. A high school student translated what I said into Russian. At the end she said, "I looked you up on the Internet. Can I hug you?"

Just this fall I've been to the Twin Cities; Milwaukee; Westport, Conn.; New York City. I'm going to Memphis Sunday, will fly home on Tuesday. It's just that these books are so good — I just want people to have the opportunity to hold them in their hands and read them. "Book Lust to Go" is a book for browsers, about books that have a sense of "thereness."

Q: When you travel, do you lug all your books around, or do you use an e-reader?

A: I carry many, many books with me. Mostly mass market paperbacks and galleys (advance reader copies in paperback). I have an iPad ... I could see downloading them — reading on the plane that way could be good. But a lot of books I'm interested in are out of print (and not available for download). Sometimes I listen to audiobooks.

Q: Who are some great practitioners of the travel narrative?

A: Michael Mewshaw and his book "Between Terror and Tourism: An Overland Journey Across North Africa." I had given up reading Paul Theroux because he's so cranky, but "Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town" was great. Eric Newby's "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" (ironically titled — the walk is not short). Colin Thubron ("Shadow of the Silk Road"; "In Siberia"). Peter Fleming ("Brazilian Adventure"), who was the brother of Ian Fleming.

Q: What makes a great travel writer?

A: They are able to go with the flow. They don't mind that it's a bad hotel room or that they've missed their plane — they just take it all in. Michael Mewshaw had a great quote about travel: "The pleasure of being where I had never been before, doing what I had never done, bound for who knew what — I found it all thrilling. I always have."

The 10 Best Electropop Albums of 2019

From bubbly, perky synthpop to the deepest of darkwave, electropop in 2019 reflected the general malaise by forging the brightest of pop to forget the bad times on the one hand, and embracing downtempo textures and moods on the other.

Music

Codeine Club Music: 10 Sizzurp Rappers and Their Lean Lyrics

Southern Houston rappers put a twist on old blues musicians' mix of cough syrup and booze and stirred it up into a more dangerous concoction. Here are 10 rappers who took the brew from their double-cups and dropped the purple drank / sizzurp / Texas tea / "lean" into their lyrics to mixed effect.

Music

Brits in Hot Weather #19

This week we have shadowy trap from Jordan Comolli, grime infused techno from Barney Lister, eclectic indie from Weird Milk, lo-fi indie pop from Tricky Juno, and an absolute belter from Two Tribes.

Music
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.