After a lifetime of reading, librarian pens novel

Librarian Nancy Pearl has read many, many books. And she’s written four works of nonfiction describing good books to read, but she never imagined she would write a novel. Not until Lizzie Bultmann and George Goldrosen crept into her brain one night.

That’s how her debut novel, George and Lizzie, which went on sale Sept. 5, began, and Pearl didn’t even think of it as a novel until three or four years later. She will come to Wilton Library Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Her talk will be free and books will be available for purchase and signing through Elm Street Books. Registration is highly recommended at 203-762-6334 or

In an interview with The Bulletin last week, Pearl, known for her book commentary on National Public Radio, explained how she wrote poetry in high school, college and into her mid-30s, then took up writing short stories. She had one published in Redbook magazine in 1980.

“That was pretty exciting,” she said. “The other story [in the magazine] was by Bobbie Ann Mason, which was pretty great.” Then she stopped writing and concentrated on reading and raising children.

After the characters George and Lizzie came to her, Pearl spent a lot of time thinking about them.

“I enjoyed spending time with them in my head,” she said, explaining that she would conjure up different periods in their lives. “I called them ‘snapshots’ in my mind, trying to understand their world.”

Not surprisingly, the result is a character-driven novel with a central story of George and Lizzie’s relationship and marriage. But there are many supporting characters and lots of depth behind the characters. Pearl eventually sat at her computer to try and put it all down.

“It felt to me at the time, and still feels to me, that the story line with George and Lizzie was always there and I was just writing it down,” she said. “It never felt to me that I ever invented any of this but was uncovering more about the characters I loved spending time with.”

George and Lizzie have very different views of the world, about love, and about relationships. George is an optimist, Lizzie a pessimist, sure she is unloved and unlovable.

“Those differing attitudes are a result of the way they were raised, their parents’ relationships with each other and the children’s,” Pearl said.

Lizzie is the “accidental” product of her parents, Lydia and Mendel, who are “all and everything to each other.” They are psychologists who are either incapable of loving her or unable to express any love for her.

“George had this wonderful mother, the kind I wish I’d had or I had been,” Pearl said. The character’s name is Elaine and Pearl admits to aspiring to “Elaineness in my mothering.”

“I have always found relationships interesting. I love finding out about peoples’ lives, and I think that’s why so much of the book deals with so much of finding out how these people are and who they are.

“Lizzie as high school senior, makes a decision to do a really dumb thing,” Pearl said. “It seems to me we all make dumb mistakes when we’re teenagers.” Pearl makes a point of emphasizing Lizzie’s mistake —  having sex with all the starters on the football team — is not something she, herself, did. (This comes early in the book and is not a spoiler.) “But I understand and hope the readers understand why Lizzie feels the way she does and feel over the course of the book they’ve gotten to know her.”

Unusual style

One thing readers will discover early on is this book does not follow a conventional style, with lots of flashbacks to Lizzie’s high school escapades sprinkled throughout and some other detours into the past.

“I really wrote the kind of novel that I love to read, which is one that has interesting and somewhat quirky characters and an unconventional structure,” she said. “The way I ended up writing was taking what was foremost in my mind and putting that down. It wasn’t written in any kind of structure, I was just writing down these snapshots of different times in their lives.

“Many readers don’t have that tolerance that I do, which is why the story of George and Lizzie is the central arc of the book. Other parts are put in there to highlight their relationship, to give it even more depth.”

Coming to Wilton

When Pearl visits Wilton Library she will talk about the “origin story of George and Lizzie, which is very funny, and then my kind of weird experience of writing it.” She’ll also tell how she feels about the characters and other good books to read.”

Since leaving her job at the Seattle Public Library in 2004, Pear said she has visited libraries the world over, something she loves to do. She has already investigated Wilton Library through its website.

“I think if I were to plan the next chapter in my life, I’d walk across the country and raise money for small and rural libraries. … Public libraries are the heart of the community. To see different libraries — everything from the library in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s hometown in South Dakota, which is little and has a really sad collection, to the fanciest libraries. It’s wonderful to see books on shelves and people checking them out.”

The library, she said, “is one of the few institutions, maybe the only in our country, where when you walk in everyone is equal.

“I think a successful library is like a three-legged stool and the legs should be equal. One leg is that supprt of books and reading and the importance of literacy. Another is outreach, bringing in authors and events, and the third is the need for information that the library does so well.

“My fear is in many libraries we’re de-emphasizing the books and reading aspects of it and that I find very sad. Heartbreaking even.”