STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's a breaking news story. It's been raining in Seattle. Last Saturday, the city had its 27th consecutive rainy day, which is just six days short of a record. Then, after a single dry day, the rain resumed. The wet spell amounted to an opportunity for Nancy Pearl. She's the Seattle librarian who brings us recommended readings, and now has a list of books for a rainy day. Nancy's in Seattle. Welcome.
Ms. NANCY PEARL (Director of Library Programming and the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library, Book Reviewer, Librarian): Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Okay, I've got this list of books in front of me, quite dramatic titles. The first one is called Torture the Artist.
Ms. PEARL: Yes, this is a fabulous novel. It is by a very young writer named Joey Goebel, and it's based on the premise that if all art grows out of suffering, if in order to produce great art you have to suffer, then why not pick some kids who seem to have promise in the field, various fields of art, and torture them, make their lives so miserable that they will inevitably produce great art. But can I read you a wonderful paragraph from the opening of the book?
INSKEEP: I'd be delighted.
Ms. PEARL: Okay, this begins with a letter to one of the young artists who's been chosen, and it begins this way.
Ms. PEARL: (Reading) 'I am so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you will never be happy. When I think of you, I think of a cartoon cloud hovering over your head, a private torrential downpour. I see you soaking wet, your entire being drooping, and you're always sick because you can't stay dry. Depressed by the bad weather, you cry yourself a little river, but the tears evaporate and form into another cloud that rains on you even more. You can't win.'
INSKEEP: And this is a perfect condition for creating art, isn't it?
Ms. PEARL: Absolutely, and in between sort of checking to make sure that I haven't started mildewing, or developed scales, ala mermaids, this is a book that really, I just was thoroughly engrossed by. I loved this book.
INSKEEP: Mmm. So that one's called Torture the Artist by Joey Goebel. Am I saying that correctly?
Ms. PEARL: Yeah.
INSKEEP: All right, and then there's another book here called Mothers and Other Monsters.
Ms. PEARL: Yes, this is a fabulous collection of short stories by Maureen McHugh, and the thing about Maureen McHugh is that you're going to find her shelved in the science fiction/fantasy section, and in the case, at least, of these short stories, that's somewhat unfortunate, because while these stories do have a touch of the fantastical, in Maureen McHugh's hands, you start with these ordinary situations, and when the fantastical occurs, you're so comfortable with the world that she's created, that you don't question it as being strange or unsettling.
INSKEEP: Here's a story that begins with a woman helping her husband through therapy for Alzheimer's, which is about as down to earth as you could get.
Ms. PEARL: Yes. Two of my favorite stories, though, in this book, one is called, In the Air, and it's the story of a young woman who meets a potential boyfriend at a dog obedience class. And the thing that is really bothering her the most is that she has to figure out how to introduce him to her dead brother.
INSKEEP: Oh, because that's a problem that we all face from time to time.
Ms. PEARL: Absolutely, absolutely, and her dead brother has this long history of not particularly liking any of the men that she's involved with.
INSKEEP: So, that's...
Ms. PEARL: And then, the other story that I particularly enjoyed is one called Ancestor Money, in which a bequest entices a woman to leave her comfortable home in the afterlife to take a trip to China.
INSKEEP: Let's read another book. It's called Berlin Conspiracy.
Ms. PEARL: You know, rainy days and those sort of grayness that we've had here in Seattle is just perfect for a new thriller that really focuses on conspiracy theories, and who killed John Kennedy. Now, there is an older title that was written about who killed John Kennedy by Charles McCarry, called the Tears of Autumn, which I still think is like the best spy novel ever written, but this new book by Tom Gabbay, called The Berlin Conspiracy, focuses on the possibility of an earlier attempt to assassinate President Kennedy when he was giving his famous speech in Berlin, and takes off from there.
This is a book that, when you sit down and you start reading it, you don't want to get up until you find out what's really happened, and the fun thing about a book like this that's so grounded in reality, or the possibilities of reality, is that you start losing track in your own mind of the history that you know so well, i.e., President Kennedy didn't get assassinated in Berlin, it took place a few weeks later in Dallas.
INSKEEP: So, that's Berlin Conspiracy. The next book on your list here in called I, Wabenzi; I, comma, Wabenzi. What is that?
Ms. PEARL: I, Wabenzi is the first volume in a projected four volume autobiography by a writer named Rafi Zabor, and it's really telling two stories in this first book. One is, the sort of horrific deaths of his elderly parents and then, along with that, going back another decade or so to talk about Rafi's interest in, and influence by the Sufis in the United States and Britain during a period in his life when he was very young and was trying to figure out some sort of spiritual dimension in the 1970's, when everybody was trying to find some sort of spiritual dimension in their lives.
The thing about this book is that the writing is so amazing. I just felt I couldn't breathe when I was reading this book, because the sentences were so gorgeously constructed, I just thought, how could somebody do this? And he can take the most prosaic sentence and then riff on that sentence. One paragraph in the book begins with the sentence that I think we probably all felt, and many of us have probably said out loud, which is, I wouldn't be an adolescent again if you paid me.
But then, Zabor goes on to say, it still seems to me that my early life's book was strangely and perversely written, that I behaved like an idiot with every fresh turn of the page, is beside the point. The tale itself was told by an idiot with a mean, pedantic streak. The plot devices were niggling in their pettiness, the humiliations pleonastic, the scenery glum, and the cast of characters, of course, insufficiently cosmopolitan.
INSKEEP: What's pleonastic mean?
Ms. PEARL: I knew it. I had to look that up too. I'm so glad you said that. It means, using more words than necessary to express a meaning.
INSKEEP: How confident do you have to be in yourself to write a four volume autobiography?
Ms. PEARL: I think you have to be either very confident in yourself, or very not confident in yourself, and you're going to use these four volumes to figure out who you are.
INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl is the author of More Book Lust, Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. You can find all of her picks for a rainy day by going to our website, npr.org. And by the way, we checked the forecast for today in Seattle. It calls for rain. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR news. I'm Steve Inskeep.
MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.