All booked up: Nancy Pearl's fame continues to grow
Not so long ago, Seattle knew Nancy Pearl as a librarian, one who wanted to get the whole city reading the same book. Now she's a craze...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Not so long ago, Seattle knew Nancy Pearl as a librarian, one who wanted to get the whole city reading the same book.
Now she's a craze. Or an icon. Or a cottage industry. Or whatever you call one of those pop-culture phenomena that just keeps getting bigger and hotter.
• An "action figure" made in her likeness has been reissued in "deluxe" form, with book cart, desk and computer, and has just arrived at the Archie McPhee store in Ballard;
• Her second book, "More Book Lust," has sold more than 50,000 copies, and she's working on a third, on books for children and teens;
• The 2006 Book Lust Calendar is on sale, and she's already been photographed for the 2007 version;
• In her one year of retirement, she's spoken to book-lovers from Manitoba to Chattanooga, Tenn., to Sydney, Australia — and even made an appearance on NBC's "Today" show;
Catch Nancy Pearl
Radio: 2:45 p.m. Mondays on "The Beat," KUOW 94.9 FM
Television: 8 p.m. first Friday of each month on the Seattle Channel
At Archie McPhee, 2428 N.W. Market St.: Noon-2 p.m. Aug. 28
More info: www.nancypearl.com
• She'll be talking about books at Bumbershoot on Labor Day, teaching Book Lust classes at the University of Washington this winter and next spring, and still finding time to do her regular public-radio and TV programs.
To use a singularly appropriate word, this woman is booked.
"I never expected anything like this," said Pearl, spending August at home before hitting the road for Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, California, New York and Wisconsin. "I'm just doing what I've done all my life, recommending books for people to read. But it's just on a bigger canvas."
In case you just tuned in, Pearl, 60, is the mild-mannered former executive director of the Washington Center for the Book, part of the Seattle Public Library.
She fell in love with books at an early age and enjoys nothing more than sharing that passion with others.
Her first book, "Book Lust" (Sasquatch, $16.95), recommends 1,800 titles and has sold more than 100,000 copies. "More Book Lust" (Sasquatch, $16.95), released in May, discusses another 1,200 titles, grouped in categories such as "Gallivanting in the Graveyard," "Southern Fried Fiction" and "I am Woman — Hear Me Roar."
The first book was barely off the press before Pearl knew she'd need to do a companion. "I started waking up in just a panic thinking about books I left out."
Chances are, Pearl's literary observations alone would have made her books a success. But there's no denying that attention to them has been spurred immensely by her friend Mark Pahlow's decision to immortalize her in plastic.
Pahlow, owner of the Archie McPhee novelty store and its parent company, Accoutrements, used Pearl as the model for a "librarian action figure," a testament to the importance of the profession.
Twenty-eight thousand of the $8.95 librarians were sold in a week after they debuted in 2003, and the blue-frocked doll with "amazing push-button shushing action" has become the best selling item in the 20-year history of the Archie McPhee store and catalog.
The $11.95 deluxe set sees Pearl in a red outfit with most of the gray taken out of her hair, and has fun additions such as a 11-inch wide library scene and a book truck with wheels that really turn.
(Action-figure fans, take note: Accoutrements' Jesus doll is also being re-released in a deluxe set, complete with loaves, fishes and a jug for changing water into wine.)
Pearl's fan mail since the plastic librarian came out has included snapshots of it posed in locations around the world, including Mount Everest's base camp, a tattoo parlor in Michigan and outside a temple in Cambodia, shushing tourists.
One librarian even wrote to say she placed the doll atop her wedding cake.
An early current of opposition to the figure's shushing action, which some librarians said perpetuates a negative stereotype, has calmed over time.
"There are too many other things in the world to be shocked and outraged about," said Pearl. "As librarians, we need to take our work seriously, but we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story, originally published August 11, 2005, was corrected August 18, 2005. Nancy Pearl, author and retired Seattle librarian, is paid a royalty for the sale of each "librarian action figure," a doll modeled after her by the Mukilteo-based company Accoutrements. An earlier version of this story said Pearl makes no money directly from the doll's sales.
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