If anyone still thinks that librarians are boring, unimaginative and staid, Nancy Pearl’s new book, “George & Lizzie,” will set them straight.
Nancy Pearl, a graduate of the University of Michigan who lives in Seattle, is a librarian with national chops. In her 30-year career she started the nation’s first community-read program, became a regular literary contributor on National Public Radio, has a weekly TV show called “Book Lust” and wrote a memoir of her lifetime of reading, also called “Book Lust.”
She also is the first librarian, and probably the last, to have an action figure modeled after her.
“Lust” and “action” take a front seat (and sometimes a back seat) in Pearl’s first try at fiction. Lizzie, the daughter of two world-famous U-M behavioral psychology professors, is on a quest to have sex with all 23 of the starting players on her high school football team. Lizzie can count, by the way — she knows a football team has 11 players each on defense and offense, but she decides to add the kicker for good measure.
What she doesn’t know is that the “Great Game,” as she calls it, entails a lifetime of consequences. Although Pearl doesn’t dwell on the sex, she does intersperse Lizzie’s assignations throughout the book. For the record, Pearl underscores that no portion of the book is autobiographical.
In many ways the “Great Game” is only the hook to get you into the underlying subject matter — love, marriage and family. Two suburbanites, George and Lizzie, enter into a union that is more for convenience than love. Lizzie still pines for the boy who left her behind after learning about the “Great Game.”
A large portion of the book is set in Ann Arbor, and Pearl has a knack for describing its upscale environs and quirkiness. The scene where a stoned Lizzie meets serious George at the bowling alley is hilarious.
Pearl had no intention of writing a book of fiction after she retired. She was settling in to some teaching, with speaking engagements on the side.
“George and Lizzie came to me. They just appeared to me in my head. I knew they met in a bowling alley and that Lizzie was a freshman at U-M,” she said in a telephone conversation from her Seattle home.
“Then I thought about it all the time. It became part of my daily life and I discovered more and more about them.”
At the time, Pearl was trying to find the right book to read and couldn’t find one. That’s when her own novel grew legs.
“I was looking for a book that was character driven, quirky and had an unconventional literary structure. I realized the book I was writing in my head was it.”
Pearl wrote poetry in high school and college and began writing short stories while in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Redbook published one short story and encouraged her to send more.
“I submitted everything I wrote to them, but I would get back notes that the writing was too depressing for the audience,” she said. “Stillwater was not a happy time in my life.”
She moved on, leaving a writing career behind for a life of finding good books for people to read.
At a time in our history when Americans are on hyper-alert about sexual overtones in their lives, Pearl said she has had only one complaint about the “Great Game.”
“One reviewer couldn’t believe that anyone would behave like her (Lizzie),” she said.
Nevertheless, Pearl has no problem viewing the book with a librarian’s eye.
“The book is not for everybody,” she said. “Very few books are for everybody.”
Pearl has written a page-turner that combines stand-up humor, gripping emotions and plenty of literary references.
In many ways “George & Lizzie” is a cliff-hanger. Will Lizzie and George find true love in their marriage of convenience or will youthful lust and indiscretions continue to haunt Lizzie? The reader won’t find out until the final sentence on the final page.