STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If I sound like I'm a little distant from the microphone at the moment, it's because I am behind a giant pile of books. Let me just move them aside here.
(Soundbite of paper and clattering)
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, our virtually resident librarian is with us once again. She brings us under the radar reading selections, and she has sent another giant stack along.
Ms. NANCY PEARL (Creator, NancyPearl.com): Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: And let's begin here with one that fell off the top of the stack, "Evening is the Whole Day." What is it?
Ms. PEARL: "Evening is the Whole Day" is set in a part of the world that many people have not been to, or probably will not get to. It's set in a small town in Malaysia, and it's about a particular family. And the plot takes off from the fact that the oldest daughter in his upper-class Malaysian family is going off to Columbia University. And her leaving puts into motion a series of events, one of those is that the grandmother in the family has just died, and the youngest daughter, Asha, believes that she still sees her grandmother -that her grandmother spirit is somehow still there.
But what makes this book so interesting is the post-colonial aspect of it. It's Malaysia trying to form a government. It's the issues of class and cast and race, and you just get such a wonderful feeling for the place.
When I was reading this book I kept thinking about Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children," which I think is a book that just begs to be read out loud. And that's how I felt with Preeta Samarasan's novel, "Evening is the Whole Day."
I just wanted to stop people on the bus and say, come on, listen to this great sentence.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Did you actually do that and people began looking at you strangely at this point?
Ms. PEARL: Well, yeah. They always look at me strangely when I'm talking about books.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PEARL: But there's a sentence in there - just one of those throwaway sentences: A wry sun was setting with a vengeance on the British Empire. Isn't that great?
INSKEEP: Hmm, a wry sun.
Ms. PEARL: A wry sun, right.
INSKEEP: You have also sent us a postcolonial book, in the immediate postcolonial period. It's set in 1956 in Trinidad, and the book is called "The White Woman on the Green Bicycle," Monique Roffey.
Ms. PEARL: This is the story of a couple whom moved to Trinidad from England in 1956, shortly after they're married and they remained there for the next 50 years. So this is another one of those books that's going to go, not only back and forth in time, but also told from the point of view of the husband and the wife.
INSKEEP: Can I just mention that there are four parts to the book. You look at the table of contents and they're labeled to "Trinidad 2006," "Trinidad 1956," "Trinidad 1970," moving all over the place in time.
Ms. PEARL: Yes, and what Roffey does in this book, I think, is through the eyes of these characters, she gives you a sense of Trinidad. And I can say they were good to Trinidad but I always had an image of it in my head, and this book just strips away all of those images. It's a book in which, really, the main character - even though the book is about this longtime marriage of Sabine and George Harwood - is really the main character in the book is really Trinidad. And it's one of those books that, unless somebody tells you about it, I think one is unlikely to pick it up.
INSKEEP: What about "Matched" by Ally Condie. Am I saying that name correctly?
Ms. PEARL: Yes. This is a fabulous teen novel for 15-year-olds and up, I would say. It's set in a dystopian world. This dystopia is that the government has taken over, deciding everything about everybody's individual life: how many calories you'll get, how far you'll go in school, what your job is going to be. And most importantly, who you're going to marry.
INSKEEP: I love it that that's a definition of dystopia, because that is the nightmare of both the right and the left in this country, in completely different ways, but it's basically the same nightmare. And so that's what she takes on here.
Ms. PEARL: Yes. Well, what happens is that an 18-year-old girl - that's when you'll find out who you're going to marry - goes to the dinner where you're matched and she learns who her husband is going to be. And she receives a picture that's in a little packet so she can't quite see the picture. And she discovers that, much to her pleasure, the person that she's going to marry is her best friend, Xander. And then she goes home and she takes out the picture and it turns out to be, not Xander's picture, so something has gone wrong. And once Cassia starts investigating, many things go wrong.
INSKEEP: So let's go from a marriage that seems to be about to happen badly, to a story of a marriage that is finished. The main character is a widow in the book called "Emily Alone," by Stewart O'Nan.
Ms. PEARL: Stewart O'Nan, his books just seem to keep reaching new heights. I hope reaching new readers. His first novel is called the "Snow Angels," it was absolutely stunning. It was just so good. And then he's the kind of writer who doesn't write the same book twice. I mean he's not going to go back to what's familiar to him. He's going to always try a different genre or a different main character.
And the main character in "Emily Alone" is, indeed, a widow. And this is the story of basically a year in her life. She's in her 80's. She is - I mean she's content in the sense that she enjoys listening to classical music; she loves her dog, Rufus; she loves her trip to the botanical gardens or the symphony with her sister-in-law, Arlene.
But she knows that life is going on and on, and on and on, faster and faster, and faster and faster. And she can see the end, you know, not knowing the specific day or time or anything - but how to balance the sadness of things coming to the and with living what life you have left in a meaningful way to you.
I think O'Nan does a fabulous job with it. And I think those of us who read the books we read, fiction or nonfiction - because we want to kind of get into another character's brain - I think we're voyeurs and that's what we're looking for in our books. And I think that in Stewart O'Nan's book, you get to know her and you care about her. And she's not an entirely nice person and she's just very, very human.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, it's always a pleasure speaking with you.
Ms. PEARL: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Her latest book of many books about books is "Book Lust to Go," and to hear Nancy on MORNING EDITION from NPR news
(Soundbite of music, "Eleanor Rigby")
INSKEEP: I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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