Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why I Watch C-SPAN's Book TV: Brad Metzler, Gina Kolata, et al

Most weekends you'll find me tuned in to C-SPAN's Book TV to see what's going on with top nonfiction authors and books. I admit; it's an obsession. Usually I wait until my family is otherwise engaged so I won't have to listen to their groans or comments like, "Oh, no. She's at it again."

Actually, I'm used to their teasing, and on occasion you might even find one of them on the couch watching along with me.

Where else but Book TV can you watch Brad Metzler, best-selling thriller author and host of History's "Decoder" series, give a passionate talk to a group of children about stories, books, and writing?

In addition to being a thriller writer, Metzler is also author of a series of children's books about ordinary people who changed the world and who bring out "the greatness of us all." Two books in his children's series are I Am Amelia Earhart and I Am Abraham Lincoln.

Yesterday, after being asked why he became a writer, Metzler contrasted the wrong and the right reasons for becoming a writer -- "the wrong reason is to achieve fame; the right reason is to tell stories." He went on to describe books as "the houses that he builds with his own hands" and great stories as "what could happen, not what did happen." He also thanked the adult readers present, and in Book TV land, for buying his thrillers because their support helps him write children's books. His words were humorous, humble, and inspiring.

Yesterday I also caught a rebroadcast of Brian Lamb's 2000 interview with author and journalist Gina Kolata on her book "Flu," about the 1918 great flu pandemic. Although the interview is 14-years old, it's still informative and fascinating.

Although I had heard about the 1918 flu pandemic before, yesterday I learned a lot of the details. It was the worst infectious disease in recorded history, with estimates of between 20 million-100 million deaths, and more than 99% of the people who died under age 65. Here's something to keep you up at night: Scientists believe it's not a question of if, but when, a flu like this will spread again.

What also made Kolata's talk about her "Flu" book interesting was it was more than facts and figures--there's the mystery of the search for the virus that caused the flu. Kolata mentioned visiting the U.S. Government's military warehouse (started by Abraham Lincoln) in Maryland where tissue samples and medical records are housed. Who knew this place existed?

The most emotional part of the interview was Kolata's reading of Thomas Wolfe's moving description of his brother Ben's death from the flu. Reportedly, his brother's death was Wolf's inspiration for "Look Homeward Angel."

She also spoke candidly about the competition to find viable tissue samples for research. One small group of dedicated scientists searched without fanfare and at personal expense. Another group, led by a female Canadian geographer, solicited and obtained millions from the U.S. government and corporate donations, and she was accompanied by a mob of media.

Can you guess which group was more successful?

Here's a hint: The contrasting approaches by the two groups of scientists reminded me of Brad Metzler's remark about the right and wrong reasons for writing. For both dedicated writers and dedicated scientists -- being successful is not about being famous.

I'll step off my soapbox now and get back other reasons why I think Book TV is so great: If I'm not able to watch on the weekend, I can catch up anytime on what I missed by watching a Podcast. And the Authors on Writing series is one of my favorite Book TV features.


  1. This all sounds interesting, Donna. My family would groan too...but we don't have access to Book TV. Beautiful day here but to drop 45 degrees we go again. Hope you are getting some of the same sun today.

  2. Hi Claudia,
    It's sunny here now, but we should see the temperature drop soon as well.

    If you can't access Book TV, you should check them out online.

  3. Donna--I've been catching up on lots of missed TV via the online offerings, but mostly fluff stuff.

    You have my curiosity piqued with the Authors on Writing series. I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the link.

    1. Hi Sioux,
      You're welcome. Hope you enjoy; when I watch Book TV I don't feel so guilty about watching TV.

  4. I used to watch Book TV. Not that I learned anything. I just liked watching Book TV. Then my kids got to be time-consuming, so it fell by the wayside. As it should have. Now that they are self-sufficient, maybe I'll give it a go again.

    Is it wrong that "Gina Kolata" reminds me of Pina Colada?

  5. Don't you just love to get to know the authors on a more personal level? It's almost like a visit in their living room. That flu thing IS scary.

  6. My husband and I have met Brad Meltzer a number of times, way back when he was writing legal thrillers. He really is a nice guy. :)

  7. Hi Val,
    My husband's comment was, "I bet she gets teased a lot for having a name that rhymes with Pina Colada."

    Hi Linda,
    Yep. It is like having them in your living room or sharing a cup of tea with them.

    Hi Madeline,
    I was impressed with how personable he was. The kids loved him, and so did the adults when he talked about surprising his carpool once a year by taking them to Disney World. Must be fun to live in Florida and be so close to the magical kingdom.

  8. Every weekend I check the guide to see what will be on and record the ones that look good. Most recently, I watched Malala Yousafzai and her father talk about their experience standing up for girls' education in Pakistan, the activity that got Malala shot by the Taliban. She's a modern-day hero, an amazing young woman.

    1. Hi Pat,
      I missed that one, but I've heard about Malala's courageous stance.

  9. The military warehouse is where Indy stashed the Lost Ark, isn't it? :) I didn't know about this show, but I'll check it out now. Thanks for the head's up.

  10. Just goes to show that you can learn a lot from a TV show. ;-) (And a blog post, now that I think about it.)

  11. I like... being successful is not about being famous!

  12. Great - one more thing for me to get addicted to. ;) I'm going to check it out as well, thanks!


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