the story behind the book | kate tuttle

A super reader becomes a novel writer

(david wilson for the boston globe)

“George and Lizzie” is Nancy Pearl’s first novel, but it’s not her first book. Known for her “Book Lust’’ series of recommendations, the longtime NPR commentator and librarian has made a career out of advocating for other people’s books. With her debut novel, she said, “It feels entirely different. I wrote a series of nonfiction books about good books to read, and those were very dear to my heart. But ‘George and Lizzie’ feels so much more personal. It’s not my story but it feels entirely me.”

The novel chronicles a complicated marriage from the point of view of the wife (a lovable mess of a person, “not autobiographical at all,” Pearl pointed out, except for their shared love of poetry). It started taking shape before Pearl wrote a word. “I was lying in bed one night about five or six years ago, trying to fall asleep, and these two characters came into my head,” she said. “And I knew their names — it was George and Lizzie — and I knew how they met, and that’s all I knew about them. For the next four or five years I just thought about them all the time.”


She didn’t write anything down until the book was nearly complete in her head. “And so when I did sit down at the computer,” Pearl said, “it was like I was transcribing or debriefing myself and just getting it all down.”

The “George and Lizzie” book tour will offer a change of pace, but Pearl isn’t done with libraries. She worries about their future. “We don’t often do a good enough job in talking about how the public library is the heart of the community, and a community without its library is really in a sorry state,” she said, adding that “one of the problems of having a president who is not a reader is that the importance of libraries will be even further diminished.”


Pearl will read 6 p.m. Tuesday in Rabb Hall, Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at