STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So I'm sitting here in the studio, got a stack of books next to me here and one of them has a post-it note on it, says books for conversation with Nancy Pearl. Our favorite librarian is here at our studios once again.
Nancy, welcome back.
NANCY PEARL: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: And I gather you've sent us another stack of books you describe as books under the radar.
PEARL: Yes. Now, Steve, I have to just begin by saying that I know you think that I just love books, but I have to tell you that I am the most critical reader. I probably start 12 books for every book I actually finish. So the books that I bring in, I can legitimately enthuse about, because I know compared to all those other books.
INSKEEP: Did you say you start 12 books for every book that you finish?
INSKEEP: So you're not someone who's necessarily going to give a poor book a chance?
PEARL: I give it until I get bored and feel that it's no longer worth my time. So all the books that I love and that I keep bringing time after time after time to entice you with are books that have great characters and really smart writing.
INSKEEP: Okay. Well, here's a book that apparently made the cut with you. It's called "Dingly Falls" by Michael Malone, and it's the kind of book that requires a map. You flip it open, and there's Dingly Falls, Connecticut, founded 1676. What's going on here?
PEARL: Well, not only does it have a map, but it has a three-page list of characters. It is - was written in 1980. I read it every two or three years just because I take such delight in it. But something evil is afoot in Dingly Falls, and nobody quite knows what to do about it. Separate people have little bits of information. Town's doctor knows that too many people are dying of heart ailments. The town's oldest widow goes out on the Widow's Walk and notices that bright lights are shining in places where they should not be shining. Only perhaps 16-year-old Polly Hedgerow, who's described as gossip or a sleuth, maybe can help put the pieces together.
Now I have to say for this book, in this rereading, I didn't realize in the past re-readings quite how racy it is, but I always describe "Dingly Falls" as the kind of book that is soap opera as novel or novel as soap opera, either way you want to look at it, which makes sense because Michael Malone was one of the writers on "One Life to Live," that long-running soap opera.
PEARL: So what you're getting here is a somewhat, maybe, an x minus rated soap opera, and great fun. You just don't want to give up getting to know those people.
INSKEEP: The Next book is "After," Jane Hirshfield. It's poems.
PEARL: It's poems, and it's so important that poetry not be pushed aside in the 800s in the library, and that you - that people don't approach poetry because they think it's...
INSKEEP: In the 800s?
INSKEEP: That's the Dewey Decimal number.
PEARL: That's the Dewey Decimal number.
INSKEEP: Okay, fine. Fine. Go ahead, please.
PEARL: You know that.
INSKEEP: I didn't know that. This is 811. Okay, it's from 811.
PEARL: Yes. That means it's an American poet. Eight twenty one will be a British poet.
PEARL: So, what Jane Hirshfield, who has been a practicing Buddhist for a number of years really - these are just gorgeously wrought poems in which you really feel that every word has been somehow created for just that poem.
INSKEEP: You want to read?
PEARL: Okay. Let me start. This was the last poem, called "It was like this, you were happy."
(Reading) "It was like this, you were happy, then you were sad. Then happy again, then not. It went on. You were innocent or you were guilty. Actions were taken or not. At times you spoke, at other times you were silent. Mostly, it seems you were silent. What could you say? Now it is almost over. Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life. It does this not in forgiveness. Between you, there is nothing to forgive. But with a simple nod of a baker at the moment he sees the bread is finished with transformation. Eating, too, is a thing now only for others. It doesn't matter what they will make of you or your days. They will be wrong. They will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man. All the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention. Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad. You slept, you awakened. Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons."
PEARL: She's pretty amazing.
INSKEEP: Well, let's move on here. The next one is called "In the Woods" by Tana French.
PEARL: Tana French, this is her first novel.
INSKEEP: This is a new book, by the way - 2007.
PEARL: It is a brand new book, and a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful mystery. What's great about this book is that she's created characters who are so real that you want to reach into the book and shake them when they're doing something that you don't approve of or say, come on, Rob. Get with it.
But the main two characters are two policemen - a young man named Rob, who, when he was a child, was involved in a very mysterious situation where he was playing in the woods with two friends. The friends disappeared, never to be found again. And he was found late in the evening with blood in his shoes, no memory of anything that's happened. And he - his parents sent him away, went to a very posh boarding school, but decides to be a policeman, comes back to Dublin and gets a job.
And then a young girl goes missing in those same woods that that happened in all those years ago. And so as past and present kind of mix, he's never shared what happened in the past with anyone except his partner, Cassie. And there's one scene in there that I think is just absolutely unforgettable. When Cassie is talking, she's interrogating a suspect toward the end of the book, and it's as gripping. I mean, if there's anything that we can define this gripping writing, that scene is gripping writing.
INSKEEP: Do you ever find yourself getting a little impatient to find out what the plot is in a mystery (unintelligible)? Can't you flip through some pages?
INSKEEP: You're just - okay, I don't need this chapter. We'll just go right on to sort of the next plot development.
PEARL: Oh, absolutely. Because mysteries are all plot.
PEARL: Most mysteries are all plot. And this is a book like Elizabeth George's mysteries, where the plot is almost secondary to the character development.
INSKEEP: Oh, really? Okay. We have one more book in the stack. It is called, "Then We Came To The End," by Joshua Ferris.
PEARL: How appropriate.
PEARL: Another newish book and absolutely wonderful. It's set in the 1990s at the end of the dotcom bubble...
PEARL: ...just as it's bursting, set in a failing ad agency in Chicago. And it's written in my favorite narrative form, which is the first person's plural. So it's all we.
INSKEEP: Oh, really?
PEARL: We did this and we did that, and it's very hard to do.
INSKEEP: (Reading) "Should we quit? Would that solve it? Or were these qualities innate, dooming us to nastiness and paucity of spirit? We hoped not."
PEARL: That is exactly what happens. One morning they go in, there's no flowers in the lobby. The next morning, the staff is being fired, and what comes out is all of that pettiness, all of that nastiness, all of that infighting. And there's a great scene of people arguing over who's going to get the chair of someone who is fired because it's one of those very expensive ergonomically correct chairs.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of "Book Lust," and what else you got out now? You got one book after another. "Book Crush."
PEARL: The newest one, "Book Crush," good books for teens and kids.
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INSKEEP: You can get more of Nancy's recommendations, excerpts and additional summer reading suggestions at npr.org/summerbooks. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Rene's back with you tomorrow. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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