Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas

Overview

For nearly a decade, Booknotes has been an oasis of book programming on television, the only place where Americans can regularly find in-depth, quality discussions of books.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Overview

For nearly a decade, Booknotes has been an oasis of book programming on television, the only place where Americans can regularly find in-depth, quality discussions of books.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812930290
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Pages: 426
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, August 12th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Brian Lamb to discuss BOOKNOTES.


Moderator: Welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Auditorium! Brian Lamb, founding CEO of C-SPAN and host of "Booknotes," is here to discuss reading, writing, and the power of ideas. Good evening, Mr. Lamb, we're pleased to welcome you to the Auditorium!

Brian Lamb: Good evening. I'm glad to be with you.


Naomi from New York: I am a big fan of C-SPAN. Thank you for creating and producing such a brilliant network (and thanks to the cable networks for their support!). 1) What are your ultimate objectives in producing "Booknotes" (the TV show, the book, the web site...I saw a few days ago the "Booknotes" segment on your web site -- it's terrific)? 2) Where do you write? 3) What do you use to write? 4) What time of the day do you write? 5) Would you please give us your fundamental political points of view? I already have a copy of signed BOOKNOTES. Thank 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 from Hoboken: What was the most controversial interview you've had to date?

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.


Henry from Evanston IL: Of all the authors you've interviewed, who said the most remarkable thing?

Brian Lamb: Again, I don't remember anyone saying the most remarkable thing -- there were so many.


Harry Buford from Virginia: Can you tell us about the C-SPAN Education Foundation, to which you are donating all royalties from the sale of this book?

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.


Gary Davenport from Watch Hill, RI: Have you ever been inspired to write your own book? One of your own opinions? Do you think you ever will?

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.


Bob Gallagher from Pasadena: Why did you choose not to interview fiction writers on "Booknotes"? Does "About Books" ever feature fiction writers?

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.


Henry from Evanston, IL: How do you prepare for an interview? Do you simply read the author's most current book, or do you read previous ones? Do you look up other interviews and reviews?

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.


Norman Lewis from Pittsburgh, PA: If you could resurrect any author just long enough for a discussion on "Booknotes," who would it be?

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.


Rory from Florida: Hey, Brian, I have four questions for you: 1) I am planning to write a book of commentaries very soon (I am going into the eighth grade at the end of August and figured that December would be the perfect time to start). When I start writing this book, should I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do? 2)How do you overcome writer's block? 3) How much time do you spend writing? 4) How did you compile the research for this book? Thanks a bunch!

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.


Jack from Chicago: I would love to watch C-SPAN's author interviews, but they are not closed-captioned for the deaf. Is it possible that the interviews may be closed-captioned in the future? (I am deaf.)

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.


Robert Greene from Salt Lake City, UT: What kind of effect has the superstore influence had on writers' mentalities? Are they more commercially driven? Or are they discouraged by the flood of titles?

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.


Henry from Evanston, IL: Are there any interviewers whose work you have learned from? Studs Terkel, perhaps? If so, what techniques of theirs have you borrowed?

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.


Bill from Oak Park, IL: What would be your first question to Adolf Hitler?

Brian Lamb: Why did you write the book MEIN KAMPF?


Nathan from Virginia: What were some of your most memorable interviews?

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.


Deborah Goldman from Brooklyn, NY: Have you ever not liked one of the books you've read but interviewed the author anyway?

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.


Lisa Berendt from Boston, MA: Of all the authors you've interviewed, which has had an important influence in the formation of American opinions?

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.


Lisa from Publicity Firm: Has there ever been an author completely unwilling to do an interview? I am a booker, so I know what it can be like.

Brian Lamb: Once or twice that I can remember, but it was logistics more than anything.


Bill from Oak Park, IL: You seem to have a preponderance of historians on the show. Do you perhaps feel that out of all the academic disciplines, historians write the best prose?

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.


Henry from Evanston, IL: An interviewer once told me that his first question always deals with some obscure aspect of the author's book; in this way the interviewer demonstrates to the author that he cares about the book and has read it closely. Do you use such a device?

Brian Lamb: No.


Naomi from New York: what are the criteria of choosing the book/author besides a topic being politics/current affairs?

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.


Rossana Freeh from Washington, DC: I really enjoyed the photos included in BOOKNOTES. Do you usually take photos of your guests? Were there any that you were reluctant to include? Are authors generally agreeable when you propose taking their picture?

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.


Deborah from New York City: How does it feel to be in the hot seat -- to be the interviewee rather than the interviewer?

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.


Clare Goodwin from Oak Hills: What spawned the idea for the "Booknotes" series? How did you know literature would be successful on television?

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.


Elmer from Edina, MN: Now, why would you want to take pictures of everyone who interviews you in person? For your dartboard, perhaps?

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.


Nathan from Virginia: Are you happy with C-SPAN and "Booknotes"?

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.


Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Mr. Lamb. Do you have any final comments for your online audience?

Brian Lamb: Terrific questions! Thank you for being interested. Goodnight.


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