Thursday, October 09, 2003

Celebrity Libarian for Seattle

Ms. Pearl likes science fiction, she likes 19th-century novels, she likes travel books. She likes, well, everything. "Because I am such a voracious reader and because I really am interested in everything, there's hardly a book you could show me that because of subject matter I would say I don't want to read it," she said. "Well, I don't read true crime because it's too scary. But, for instance, I loved `Moneyball,' by Michael Lewis, and I'm not even that big a baseball fan."

Asked to react to a list of authors ranging from the well known to the somewhat obscure, Ms. Pearl had read them all. She responded with delight to each name, as though hearing the name of an old friend. Francine Prose: "Oh, Francine Prose! I think my favorite is `Hunters and Gatherers.' Oh, no, I think even better than that was `Bigfoot Dreams.' " Denis Johnson: "I love his poetry." Fred Leebron: "Hmmm. I really liked `Six Figures.' He seems to me a cold writer and I think that can be off-putting, but he's somebody whose next book I would read." Wilton Barnhardt: " `Emma Who Saved My Life,' that was a nice novel." Ada Leverson: " `The Little Ottleys'! Oh, those books were all in that wonderful series from Virago with the black bindings." Julian Barnes: "The first chapter of `A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters' is so funny." And on and on.

Confronted with a wealth of books, Ms. Pearl has invented a now-famous tool to cope with the onslaught: the Rule of 50.

"Nobody should ever have to finish a book they're not thoroughly enjoying, but you need to give the book a chance," she explained. "It seems to me that a good amount of pages would be 50. At the end of 50 pages, you ask, `Am I really liking this book, or am I just gutting it out?' This rule worked well for me for many years, until I started to get closer to 50 years old myself. I realized that time was short, and that the world of books is larger than ever."

So Ms. Pearl, who is now 58, came up with this ingenious calculus of reading: "Now I have an amended Rule of 50: If you're 50 years of age and under, you follow the original rule. But if you're over 50, you subtract your age from 100, and that number is the number of pages you have to read. A psychiatrist — not one I was seeing, a stranger — told me, with a straight face, that this is the greatest gift I have given to humanity."

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