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From the Hardcover edition.
From the Hardcover edition.
Brian Lamb: Good evening. I'm glad to be with you.
Brian Lamb: I never discuss how I feel about issues -- that would defeat the mission of the network. The fundamental purpose of "Booknotes" is to let an author talk about his or her book for an hour without interruption so the viewer can decide whether to buy the book or not, and so the viewer can learn how the author went about his task. I don't consider myself a writer -- I'm an interviewer. The book is a compilation, not an original work. Having said that, we did all of the research and editing in a small room on the eighth floor of the building where C-SPAN is located on Capitol Hill. Most of the work on the book was done during normal working hours.
Brian Lamb: There's not any one interview that was the most controversial. However, the ones that got the largest number of comments were Robert McNamara, Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, David McCullough, Shelby Foote, and others. The main point is that these were not controversial but got the most comments.
Brian Lamb: Again, I don't remember anyone saying the most remarkable thing -- there were so many.
Brian Lamb: The Education Foundation was founded three years ago, and the original money came from members of the C-SPAN board of directors, who gave money in the name of my mother and father, who both died in the last six years. It was founded to offer scholarships to teachers and students interested in political affairs. It's not a large foundation, and its mission is still under discussion. The point we wanted to make with the educational foundation and the proceeds from the book is that no one, including me, would earn any additional money from the sale of the book.
Brian Lamb: It's not been a burning desire for me to give my own opinion -- especially about politics. Someday I might write about the foundation of C-SPAN.
Brian Lamb: "About Books" does feature fiction writers. As a matter of fact, we had three on last night. We have three simple rules with "Booknotes": hardback; author appears once only; nonfiction. Argue all you want, but this means 52 fresh voices a year.
Brian Lamb: Primarily just read the book. Once in a while, like in preparation for today's recorded interview with John Berendt, I read past articles and listened to the abridged version of his audiobook.
Brian Lamb: Benjamin Thomas, who wrote most historians' favorite biography of Abraham Lincoln. And Bruce Catton, who wrote A STILLNESS AT APPOMATTOX; Will and Ariel Durant, who wrote THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION; Stewart Alsop, who wrote a book about his dying of cancer and died back in the mid-'70s; Winston Churchill. And I'd love to interview Adolf Hitler about MEIN KAMPF.
Brian Lamb: Start with something you want to tell others. If it's nonfiction, it's more than likely at your age that it will require a lot of research. I'm no expert on writer's block -- some walk away from it for a couple of days, some write about another subject for a while. Norman Mailer says in the book that he's never gotten it. Paul Hendrickson, when he was blocked, went off and wrote an entirely different book; when it was done, his editor told him to write a letter about the book -- which finally unblocked him. The best thing to do if you want to become a writer is to write. Kurt Vonnegut, though, says the more you write, the harder it is to write.
Brian Lamb: Actually, I thought they were closed-captioned. I can promise you they will be in the future. Meanwhile, all transcripts are available on the Internet at www.booknotes.org.
Brian Lamb: I don't know, but I would guess that authors are not thinking about which store is going to sell their book as much as which publisher is going to buy their book.
Brian Lamb: When I was growing up, I copied from everybody in Indiana. But as an adult I have a style that reflects me, and so what you see very much reflects what I sense will work for this program. I realize it is not everybody's cup of tea. However, I give credit to my high school broadcasting teacher, Bill Fraser, for teaching me the importance of listening while interviewing.
Brian Lamb: Why did you write the book MEIN KAMPF?
Brian Lamb: You tend to remember two kinds of interviews. One, when something unusual happens, like when Coleman McCarthy pulled a squash out of his bag in the middle of an interview because he wanted to encourage me to become a vegetarian. Or two, when you find yourself learning things you didn't know, and that happens so often it would be impossible to recall all those moments. Example: I never knew Albert Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel in the late 1940s.
Brian Lamb: It happens all the time. Good question. When we decide to interview someone, I interview them whether I like the book or not, and we air it whether we like the program or not.
Brian Lamb: Well, you have to take that in segments. It's clear that Milton Friedman has had a strong impact on the conservative world, for starters, and the general population also. Neil Sheehan, David Halberstam, Malcolm Brown, and Peter Arnette all had a big influence on the information Americans had on the Vietnam War. Historians like David McCullough had an important influence on the image of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin on the image of FDR, and many more. And soon Edmund Morris on Reagan.
Brian Lamb: Once or twice that I can remember, but it was logistics more than anything.
Brian Lamb: I don't know. I interview mostly historians and journalists. Because I spend my time reading those books, I'm not an expert on other fields. And frankly, I don't consider myself a good judge of writing -- I tend to react positively when I'm learning.
Brian Lamb: No.
Brian Lamb: It's hard to list the criteria. We're looking for balance, diversity of opinion and subject matter. We want the audience to not sense that the same kind of book is always there. An example is John Berendt's MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL -- it doesn't fit your typical C-SPAN feature. In the next week you'll see Peter Gomes talking about THE GOOD BOOK, which is about the Bible, and Frank McCourt about ANGELA'S ASHES. But more than anything else, we hope that the author is interesting and tells a good story.
Brian Lamb: Of the 41 photos in the book, I had the pleasure of taking 29. Most authors we ask let me come to their home or place of work to take their picture. Two or three were not interested, but that's not a bad percentage. I did not automatically take photos of the guests in the studio -- that is done rarely. But on my book tour, I'm taking pictures of everyone who interviews me in person.
Brian Lamb: It's been a very interesting experience. I don't feel so much that I'm on the hot seat as that I have a requirement to be interesting. I don't like my interviewees to be subdued and quiet and ungiving, so I keep that in mind when I'm out there.
Brian Lamb: More than anything else, BOOKNOTES was an attempt to give the audience what they couldn't find on television anywhere else. It was meant to be the antidote to commercial sound-bite television. Because we do not have ratings, success is anything we want it to be. So even after eight years, we don't know how many people are watching. An encouraging note, though, is that the BOOKNOTES book is selling. Today it went in to its fifth printing.
Brian Lamb: No, because what I hope to do with the book tour is eventually offer copies of the radio and television interviews -- the printed reviews, and interviews like this -- plus the photographs to a college university professor to use as a study project for what happens in the marketplace when you try to sell a book.
Brian Lamb: It's my nature to never be satisfied with anything I do, and I think that's been helpful in constantly wanting to improve whatever I'm involved in. I'm not surprised that a certain percentage of the population is actually using what they get from C-SPAN or "Booknotes." But I know we can always do better.
Brian Lamb: Terrific questions! Thank you for being interested. Goodnight.